An exiting employee from a crafts and fabric big box store sent me her suggestions for improving the store experience for customers and employees.  To protect the innocent, let’s just call her “JoAnn.”  Her suggestions are elementary for any brick and mortar store encumbered with an excess of real estate and a customer increasingly turning to the internet for “commodity” items. Let’s face it, there is no reason to go to a store if all you need is white thread, embroidery hoops, yarn of the same dye lot or a black 9″ zipper.

    Her common-sense approach: use the store to inspire creativity and make purchasing everything needed for a project easy.  This store has everything a crafter could want: scrapbooking, silk flowers, paint, fabric, foam models, beads and acres of fabric. But for a beginner or a bored crafter, what it lacks are inspiring end caps with complete project materials in one location.  Let’s say you want to make a beginner quilt.  Select a pattern from the books section, fabric from the calico wall, thread from the thread section, batting from the bolt aisles and take it to the cutting counter.  The entire trip will not be possible in under one hour – probably a minimum of 2 hours. You will leave wondering if you have everything you need.  You won’t.  You will be back.  Maybe.  Or the half-completed quilt will sit in your basement for years.  (Based on personal experience.)  Imagine, she suggests,  if the end caps featured a sample of the completed project and everything you need in one location.  Currently, this big box store sprinkles project sheets randomly throughout the store with materials lists that shoppers are expected to locate and select.  The end caps are boring displays stacks of glue sticks, ink stamps and scissors. Not exactly inspiring.

    And with this wealth of space, there is NO PLACE IN THE ENTIRE STORE to sit and work.  There are 6 stools at the pattern desk where seamstresses flip through large pattern books by Vogue, Butterick and Simplicity.  No change since the 1950’s.  With the simplest of interfaces, the patterns could be online.  Sure, they would have to partner with their vendors to make it happen.  But they are the last man standing int his space!! If they don’t have the market clout to pull together a solution, shame on them!

    I imagine an online pattern interface could be searchable (Skirt/Dress/Tops then everyday/formal/fashion forward, etc) AND a shopper could select the pattern and see it in a variety of fabrics and colors to “preview her work.”  Instead, shoppers do the same calculations on paper that they have done for decades; converting 45″ and 60″ fabric widths into required yardage and keeping track of everything in their heads or on paper.  They try to picture the bodice in an eyelet or a chambray.  They try to imagine what it might look like if the belt were pink or yellow. Welcome to shopping like my grandma!

    Oh, wait.  Did I say there was no place to sit and work?  There are a few seats at sewing machines in the store.  But only if you want to try one out before you buy it and only if you do it while being harassed by the commission sales person who will accost you and take your personal information like you returned from an extended vacation to the middle east. Like the cell phone sales people in Best Buy stores, they are employed by the manufacturers and not the store.  Which means they only care about selling you a sewing machine and they make a point of telling customers that they don’t know where anything else is in the store because “they don’t actually work for the store.”  REALLY?  Well, no wonder women are turning to the internet sites for their supplies.

    Finally, with all the space in the store, what is missing?  A regular workspace where there are scheduled events and meetings that creates a community of users and experts engaging in the store environment.  Sure there are occasional “Make and Take” events for Mother’s Day, for example, where kids can make a card at a table set up in the racetrack of the store.  But that’s not what we are talking about.  Meanwhile, stores like Archivers are creating a real community by opening up their workrooms and letting users have access to the equipment they cannot afford and are “renting” access to products which spurs an increasing amount of purchases and moves shoppers from light/occasional to heavy/loyal.  Who does this well?  Golfsmith with their virtual driving range, Gander Mountain with their shooting ranges and community meeting rooms, Whole Foods with their public community rooms.

    In a crafting world

    • being revolutionized by and
    • where edgy 20 somethings are making it hipster-cool to knit, crochet and sew everything
    • where the customers of the past are literally dying off
    This super store is not making changes fast enough to attract new shoppers into its stores with the kind of wit and creativity the shoppers themselves create.  It’s no wonder their store of choice is an iPad.

    What a natural and expected advantage this brick and mortar retailer has over all those internet sites.  If only they realize it before their leases come due and they downsize their stores to a level where they no longer have the option to be anything more than a crafts and fabric convenience store.