Tuesday, 27 June 2006

It's not often that I get to apply my marketing skills to scrapbooking!

It is sad but true – quite a few of the more established UK scrapping shops have closed their doors recently. Some of these closures came as a shock to me, others not quite so but it has generated a lot of discussion on some UK boards. Some fear the demise of the craft, others think that it’s the wholesalers that are the evil ones, others blame “mainstream” stores for getting into the craft and lowering prices, etc.

I think it’s about time I presented my theory: and as it’s my blog I can do whatever I want!

As a marketeer, I think that what is going on is a combination of things. The first one and easiest to explain is the “boom and bust” theory. Mainly, an industry faces incredible growth but at some tipping point this growth becomes unsustainable and there are casualties. It’s a bit like what’s happened with the Internet bubble when it burst: lots of ambitious plans were abandoned but the industry as a whole is clearly still around. The bubble bursting just slowed down growth to more sustainable levels as well as adding a bit of maturity to a very young medium.

The other thing that is going on, I believe, is that most of the scrapbooking shops don’t have a very well defined “personality” (for want of a better word). I think that shops need to differentiate themselves from everyone else and the key to that is to decide if they want to be a specialist (say someone that sells an excellent variety of albums or everything that Scenic Route makes or every single color Bazzill or whatever) or a one-stop shop. Most shops in the UK fall between these two ends of the spectrum and do neither thing well. It’s amazing how many shops I’ve visited that sell lots of albums but not the refills or only four types of glue or a handful of patterned papers.

I realize that being a one-stop shop is difficult and involves a huge supply challenge so it’s actually easier (perhaps) to pick ONE thing they can be really good at (like sell every adhesive available) and work on that. Market on that strength, but of course be flexible enough that the shop can respond to changing trends.

This is probably a good time to mention that I am generally talking about online or online-only shops – B&M (bricks & mortar) shops have one advantage: they allow people to touch and see before they buy and also have the limited benefit of location. They are also more expensive to run, etc etc etc so they should be a separate case.

In very broad terms this is what I think. There are a few other things going on there (some shops could use a course in customer satisfaction, for example, and others price themselves out of the market entirely) but generally the problem with shops is the same as the problem with the magazines: too much of the same. This inevitably means that some shops survive and others don’t because of the market trend downwards and the fact that all the shops are the same anyway doesn’t help.

I predict that even more shops will close but that, like the internet bust bubble, should in the long run make for a stronger industry, with more defined marketing plans and more maturity. I don’t think these shop closures are the sign of a doomed end but rather the beginning of another phase in the development of the industry.

Wednesday, 14 June 2006

In the beginning... (long one!)

How did I start scrapbooking? Well, it’s more of a case of WHEN have I not scrapbooked!

I remember being about nine or ten when I thought I should start a diary. So I got a nice notebook and wrote letters to an imaginary friend (a technique which makes journaling easier, by the way, and that I still use today!), first in Spanish and then in English. The latter felt more comfortable so that’s what I’ve used since.

I wrote all about me, my dreams, my plans, my ideas, my activities, everything. For years I carried on journaling, and occasionally I would also include a photo or, most often, a drawing that would help illustrate what I was writing about. Also, these journals were always full of color – using differently colored pens for each paragraph or line or (once only) every word! I would also include colorful doodles along the edges (what a trend setter I was!). I think I spent more time journaling than doing almost anything else in those days!

Eventually I got busier so I couldn’t sit down and write everyday. I was in High School by then and things were moving but I still had to sit and write my thoughts out at least three times a week. I also started adding a few more photos of friends and fun activities I was doing.

Gradually these photos became too much for my journals and I started storing them separately – my first “scrapbook” is a few sheets of that awful self-sticky stuff tied together with yarn. Not very professional but I sure enjoyed putting it together. I included some photos of me, of my friends and a few bits of memorabilia. I kept it for ages until it got lost – and that awful sticky stuff is probably corroding the photos as we speak, anyway.

I then moved on to sticking photos and bits of paper on to notebooks, just plain old Mead notebooks. I would maybe include doodles, some journaling and photos. So that’s a scrapbook, right? At the time I also included lots and lots of newspaper cutouts – I would always find interesting stuff to keep so that’s where it would go. Why, I don’t know. But it may well be the reason I have always been interested in journalism and writing – I love words.

Fast forward a few years and I’m in Florida, nearly at the end of my Disney stint. I had of course taken hundreds of photos during my work experience there and needed somewhere nice to keep and display them. At the same time, I had been working on my “leaving book”. This is a Disney tradition for those of us in the International Program: it’s basically a book where everyone that’s leaving does a page for you. Some people only give you a few words, a photo and their address. Others go nuts and do whole pages for you, with lots of writing and words and stickers and such.

So I put these two together and thought: why not make a leaving book for me? I could use one of the same books (generally a journal or some other hardbound blank book) and put all my photos and bits of paper together in it. I could write down dates and include different sections like “first week”, “friends”, “trips” and so on. This project helped me keep my sanity in the horrible days when I went back home after living in Florida for a while. This book is a valued keepsake in the house now – it doesn’t shut but it does include lots of detail about life in Disney and Vista Way in 1995-1996.

A few years later I moved to the UK and once again I was having adventures and had photos that needed a home. So I bought a “traditional” photo album (not self-adhesive) and set out to record my memories of the first months in the UK. This is much closer to a scrapbook as we know it except that it doesn’t use any patterned paper but it does have lots of stickers and colored doodles. I made a few of these for my first years in the UK.

For some reason that I can no longer remember, I stumbled upon scrapbooking as an industry at this point. I remember doing a Google search for something or other which took me to a page about scrapbooking. I remember being absolutely amazed at the pages I saw – one in particular was about Brighton Pier and the creator had made a little pier made out of bits of paper: WOW.

I read more and more until I felt that I could have a go at this “scrapbooking” thing so I bought one of the Bitty albums so popular then. I got some paper and stickers (all proudly acid-free now that I knew better) and set out to create my first “proper” project: a book with the story of my husband and I, how we met and what we’d done in our first years of marriage. This was our 5th anniversary present and he loved it!

After that, well, the rest is history as they say. I haven’t looked back since – both literally and figuratively. I do have a ragtag collection of weird scrapbooks but I will not re-create the ones I’ve made already. They may not be very pretty or even acid-free but they remind me of a particular place and time where I was and that, on it’s own, is worth preserving. Some of the papers in my first “proper” scrapbooks are not very nice or even fashionable now but who cares?

I remember the excitement when I first discovered that it wasn’t only me doing these things but a whole group of people out there: all of them incredibly talented. I remember the thrill of discovering a new retailer here in the UK, of buying my first set of tools, of completing my first album. But even though I’ve been doing this for a while, the buzz is still there and I love it!

PS. I still keep a separate journal... I have about 13 of the notebooks, all carefully boxed and kept in the loft. It's nearly 30 years worth of journaling in there!

Monday, 12 June 2006

Form vs Function - that old debate

I have just finished reading one of my fave US scrapping mags and one little comment made me a bit angry: there is a tip on one page on how to type text and encourages others to use only a single space (rather than double) after the end punctuation in a sentence. All very good advice and all that... but it did strike me as a bit, how shall I put it? Nit-picky.

There are pages and pages in this same mag and others that try hard to encourage others to use their own handwriting on layouts: their imperfect, sloppy, messy handwriting, as this is truly beautiful and an embellishment on it’s own. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, they say, as long as it’s yours. Then I read the “one space after punctuation” tip and I get mixed messages.

I agree that it does look better to use only one space after each sentence – I do that all the time and have done so here. Makes text flow nicer and spacing works better. But, in the context of scrapbooking, does it really matter? If I’d been reading a design magazine, then it does matter but a scrapbooking one? I thought it didn’t matter HOW the memory looked as long as it was saved for the future.

I know I’ve ranted about this before, but this “beauty before substance” trend in the scrapbooking world makes me angry, because it sounds suspiciously of manufacturers trying to convince scrappers that only the best and most beautiful things should be used in your craft (read: the most expensive) and that handmade, quirky embellishments just aren’t good enough. Your family will think less of you if you handwrite your journaling rather than if it is typed and laid like professionals do.

I know we all want our pages to look pretty, but does it really matter that they are beautiful yet convey nothing? What do you think?

Thursday, 8 June 2006

Vacation scrapping - what's that all about?

The holiday season truly is upon us (for you Americans, I mean the vacation season, right?) and I for one can’t wait to get going.

We’ve got a few short breaks and then a nice long holiday booked: few days in Oslo, Norway during August, then another few days in Jersey, Channel Islands during September and finally the biggie: two lovely weeks in Florida in November. YAY!

Lately I’ve been reading posts on scrapping forums about die-hard scrappers that scrap while they are on vacation. At risk of sounding weird, I just don’t get that! Vacations are times to unwind, to get away from it all and booking a crop at my vacation spot just doesn’t seem very fair to my family. I can crop anytime but the time on holiday with the family is surely more precious.

I may be getting the completely wrong impression but I just don’t really get it. So do those holiday scrappers carry stash and tools with them? I have enough trouble fitting my hairdryer and shoes into my bags – plus I also have to pack all of my little boy’s stuff so don’t need to look for more things to pack. When do you get a minute? Maybe my vacations are more hectic than most but I find I scarcely have time to sit and read a book, let alone sit and work on a layout. Plus, scrapbooking isn’t really an outside thing, and as the weather in the UK is pretty much always bad, it’s nice to spend time outside when we go to places with nice weather.

Am I missing the point somewhere?

I do of course try to set some time for stash shopping if we’re somewhere like Florida but I don’t even want to take time away from other more enjoyable pursuits like visiting the theme parks or shopping at the Gap or even eating out.

I think vacations are for taking photos – not sitting down gluing them onto paper.

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