In the begining, I blogged
This has been a disastrous season across the board for many LNSs — although this experience isn’t, I’m happy to report, universal.
Let’s talk about it.
I’ll start off by reminding myself that I created the blog needlepointland.com in 2012 when I was literally running a needlepoint finishing business out of my car after helping manage a store for a decade but failing to agree with its new owners on compensation.
Readers thought I was joking.
After a year of plugging away at this, the blog became a hit.
Hundreds of unique visitors a day, 400 – 800 views a day, sometimes much more.
Of course I did not know exactly who these visitors were, as WordPress gives you little visibility as to who reads your free blog.
And no one commented. Like, ever.
A question no one in the needlepoint industry cares to talk about publicly: has the customer base demographic shifted to such a radical degree that an industry shakeout is imminent?
It was a warning sign, but I ignored it. After all, legitimate needlepoint fans love to talk. Just spend some time on any of the needlepoint groups you find on FB or elsewhere. Yes; them’s yakkers all right.
Yet they almost never commented on my blog, despite returning, over and over, for 2 years. Who were these people?
Eventually I took a chance that all this fantastic traffic would translate into a successful e-store.
This was after starting my very own B&M needlepoint shop in 2014 in Florida.
After a year I decided to launch needlepoint.land to make up for the six months of listening to crickets while the snowbirds were away.
So I moved my blog over to needlepoint.land (although you could still get to it via needlepointland.com), and guess what happened?
Traffic went from hundreds of views day to basically zilch.
Just like that.
Now why do you think that happened?
Then I woke up
Maybe part of problem was that the traffic that used to go to my blog consisted of lots of other needlepoint store owners — I used to call them Spypipers — who enjoyed my humorous recounting of the travails of starting up a needlepoint B&M from scratch.
When I moved the blog over to a hosted platform, maybe they preferred to remain incongnito, since they would know that I now had traffic visibility thanks to Google analytics. The spypipers could now be spied on, and they knew it!
No worries, I thought: what I needed were legitimate prospects, not needlepoint land flyovers.
Then again, maybe all that was magical thinking.
Another slice of traffic that vanished — I also thought, perhaps wrongly — probably consisted of needlepoint stitchers who loved reading my blog (so long as they did not have to sign in!), but were loyal to their LNS.
To them, needlepointland.com was like free entertainment about a hobby they loved. But once I started actually suggesting they might want to buy something from me, many bolted, as if the very idea were somehow unthinkable and in poor taste.
More magical thinking? Perhaps.
There’s another thing.
It’s nothing I haven’t mentioned before, but what I did not know until quite recently, until after my foray into FB in fact, was the following.
In the needlepoint business there are about 10 to 20 of what I call “outside funded” B&M needlepoint stores that have obviously become extremely media savvy when it comes to selling needlepoint online.
I had no idea, actually.
They are, it turns out, the ones who receive the bulk of needlepoint ecommerce traffic that goes to B&M stores in the US. I know this for a fact because I had my lazy tech crew investigate the situation and find out the numbers. In fact, much of the traffic seems to be concentrated on just a handful of these needlepoint businesses.
Now by outside funded, I mean B&M operations that are kept afloat by infusions from other business interests, such as needlepoint venture parternships, or other sources of outside income.
This is not to say that it is unusually difficult nowadays, if not impossible, to operate a needlepoint store profitably on a straight-up P&L basis, then again, maybe it is.
Now most of those fundies have been around online for a while, despite what some of their web sites may look like. Back in the day when Facebook allowed you to market your stuff without putting the kabosh on organic reach, most of the outside fundies were there. Ditto Instagram.
All the fundies had to do is find people (or relatives) willing to spend their days for a song endlessly putting up these huge Potemkin Village catalogs, and they were in the pink — so long as they had spare greenbacks and knew how use them to get Page One search engine result placement.
Full disclosure… maybe the real problem was that once I had my ecommerce platform up and running, I ignored the possibility that my once thoughtful posts had morphed into nothing more than transparently obvious product shills.
Just like everybody else.
Still another hurdle I encountered is the ruthless competition from online-only needlepoint stores. Them’s the outfits that by definition do not pay rent.
Their deal is this.
If you can find a way to get your hands on needlepoint inventory, legit or not, life is sweet: just throw the stuff up on eBay, or your own El Cheapo web site, see what sticks, do some crafty keyword ad buys, make sure you do seach engine friendly tricks like put SKU numbers right up on the canvas title and mesh count in plain HTML (despite how ugly this looks), and, presto, you will slowly eat the LNS competition alive, with the apparent blessing of the TNNA, mind you, by virtue of their official neutrality on the issue.
Similar to this, but less ruthless, are the stash resellers. These take to the form of stand alone web sites or user groups on FB and elsewhere whose purpose in life is to sell or trade fusty-musty canvases at a discount.
Lastly, and this is sensitive to mention, so I will tread gingerly here, but increasingly the competition is coming from those vendors who have elected to sell to the public direct.
In this evolving business model, the risk of underestimating or downplaying the level of customer service handholding that is typically required is quite common — which in the traditional needlepoint ecosystem was an activity perfomed by LNSs.
Such vendors count heavily on price sensitity to counterbalance any customer satifsfaction issues.
So now what?
As a result of this mulligatawny of bad news, the 2015-16 season has been horrendous. For example, the store where I used to work in Tequesta went under this past year. It wasn’t the only one.
And business is bad all around, for those of us still standing.
Not just needlepoint stores in Florida, but, based on insider LNS scuttlebut across the US.
Here on the Treasure Coast, we’ve had to deal with the impact of massive pollution from Lake Okeechobee that is ruining our beaches, and thus driving away tourists.
Florida LNSs are also contending with undeniable signs of global warming. No snow, no snowbirds. The season in Florida is literally becoming 3 months long. Many of my customers in fact are already leaving. One just said to me, yesterday: see you in January!
Think about that.
And in the online world, we also have to deal with pay-to-play on Facebook, Google, and Instagram, as we watch the organic reach of our posts with those media companies platforms slowly wind down to under 10%, or less. Anyone who has put up a business page on FB and wondered why they felt like they were in small room with no windows will know exactly what I am talking about.
So, is this the end of Needlepoint Land?
Another question that the industry has failed to address in any systematic way: has the dominant cadre of established needlepoint designers failed to change with the times and produce designs that attract and appeal to a new generation of needlepoint stitchers?
I still have a few tricks left up my sleeve, one of which you will see this coming weekend.
My sense is that the survival of the LNS as a viable business concept will come down to the support needlepoint stitchers in any given community.
Either they care about what an LNS represents and can do for them, or it will eventually be curtains for many of us.
The good news is the Loxahatchee River, near where I used to work up in Tequesta, is still quite beautiful, despite the toxic discharges from Lake Okechobee. And I’m going to Paris this summer, so life isn’t that grim — after all, the City of Light cannot be disintermediated.
Besides which, I’ve still got those cards to play.
You just wait and see.