The future of needlepoint

needle_chaplin

The most precious commodity for the single-proprietor LNS owner is time.

Even if your store is only doing a modest amount of business, which unfortunately I think is probably the case with many needlepoint stores nowadays (outside of certain parts country that have a vibrant needlepoint ecosystem), there are almost not enough hours in the day to do everything that needs to be done — if you are doing it yourself, as you are not doing enough business to hire help.

Which is why many LNS owners — who tend to be women — have their spouses, children, or relatives and pets help them perform as many of the more time-consuming routine tasks involved in running a needlepoint store as possible.

Let’s take trunk shows.

Other than checking in and pricing threads (if you happen to have an extensive thread inventory in your store), there is probably no activity that takes more time out of your day than setting up a trunk show online.

Obviously you first have to check each item against the shipping list sent by the vendor (you of course have to do this anyway), then you have to start taking pictures (often it is not possible to download suitable pics from a vendor’s site).

In the case of a vendor such as BoaF, this can result in your having to take hundreds of pictures. Assuming you are not a professional photographer, many of those pictures will not come out looking very nice.

You will have moiré problems galore (I discussed these extensively in my blog this past summer). You will see strange blue tints on your canvases, if you cannot take pictures of canvases in the sunlight, and the design colors will be often be slightly off. Choosing a suitable background for your canvases will be a problem, as you will soon discover that pinning them to a foam board will not work, if you use a flash.

Let’s assume you do find a method than does not consume all your waking hours for three days taking stunning looking pictures — providing of course you have invested in a good digital camera, and the time to learn how to operate it optimally to photograph subjects that, like needlepoint canvas, pose various technical challenges  — of your trunk: you still have to edit them.

This is not a difficult task, but it is also time consuming. You will have to load hundreds of pictures into Gimp or Photoshop, and rotate each pic so it each one is level (unless you have an incredible talent for taking pictures of rectangular subjects that are perfectly aligned horizontally and vertically). Of course, this is assuming you know how to use Gimp and Photoshop, which of course take time to learn. Lots of time.

Then you will have to color adjust each pic to try to remove those blue tints and moiré patterns, crop each pic to fit your online platform, and load each pic individually. This will also take lots of time.

And you are not even half way there.

Next you have to price each item, enter the vendor’s (or your own) item ID, enter the size and mesh count of each item, and finally enter the name of each piece (needlepoint artists typically name each of their designs).

Now imagine doing all this as you also trying to run your B&M. You know, that’s that maybe increasingly old school idea where you have actual customers come in your shop, and whom you spend a lot of time with individually, discussing threads, canvases, and maybe even the latest snow storm up North.

It is true that if you are mail order outfit selling on eBay (no pesky in-store customers to worry about!), that you can use something like Selling Manager to automate and simplify some of these uploading tasks, not to mention the whole side of managing your online inventory off the CSV files or spreadsheets that some vendors will send you.

Of course you have to know how to perform spreadsheet mapping, and everyone knows how to do that, right?

But if you are an actual B&M store, with a limited online budget, just some nice and simple Web store (not some Volusion extravaganza) that your neighbor’s geeky kid put up for you over a weekend, wouldn’t it be nice if there were some way that would simplify the process I’ve just described?

And, taking a step back, wouldn’t it make sense for the Needlepoint industry as a whole — which is rife with canvas production and technical inefficiencies — to address this particular systemic problem?

For it is not only you as a single LNS owner who has to go through this, over and over again, but also every store in the country that has to repeat this same mind-numbing process, year in, year out out … it’s insane!

I think the solution is obvious.

It’s time for a forward-looking needlepoint vendor, or, better yet, for a small consortium of vendors, to work together to create a needlepoint database in the cloud.

This would be a repository of quality pics of their canvases (in three downloadable sizes: large, medium, and small), as well as all the necessary attributes (size, wholesale price, mesh count, etc) associated with each canvas.

Vendors / store functionality could easily be added to this database, such that each LNS could choose which canvases they want to include in their trunk show from a particular vendor, and have the database software keep track of canvas availability (given that most vendors rotate their trunks around the country).

In effect, you could then have custom trunks, possibly even multivendor trunks. A side benefit would be that it would soon become apparent which canvases sell, and which do not.

Moreover, the availability of such a database would mean that a given LNS would be able to download all the data necessary (including pics, attributes, and other associated information) in one fell swoop, and have this trunk show inventory info available on their desktop in a spreadsheet, say, and an associated image folder.

The more sophisticated LNS owners who use virtual storefronts such as Shopify could bypass this step entirely, as widgets could be written to automate the process entirely.

Imagine that!

The time for overhauling the current manual, time-consuming, and error-prone approach to setting up online trunk shows is long overdue. It is time for a few brave souls to agree on some pilot project to test if this would work in the needlepoint industry as it has in almost every other modern retail environment.

Sure there will be challenges: pic copyright issues for starters, then who will pay for this, how will you get competitors (both vendors and LNS owners) to work together to establish some common standard, how do you overcome the reluctance of many in the industry to embrace modern technology?

But if the LNS is to survive, inefficiencies such as these have to be rooted out and solved, particularly as needlepoint retail transitions — along with rest of the retail industry — to mobile devices as an increasingly dominant sales platform.

In my opinion, nothing less than the future of local needlepoint shops is at stake — if the needlepoint stitching landscape is not, say within 5 – 10 years, to devolve into a few dozen well-funded LNSs in favorable needlepoint retail locales, an equally limited number of quaint LNSs that are not really for-profit enterprises (but are run as personal hobbies by retirees), with the bulk of needlepoint retailing consisting of mail order outfits that are able to commoditize the needlepoint industry and inexorably price regular B&M LNSs out of the business.

Okay, I’ve said my piece.

What do you think?

 The comments window is now closed.

Img Tramp Pillow from Jonathan Adler

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