Crafting a niche

Balls of yarnThe thing about crafters is they always want a new project to tinker with; they are creative souls with a surplus of fresh ideas. Often, those ideas rely on catalogs brimming with material to marry concept with finished project. And that, even in a down-turned economy, has spelled economic success for Crafts Americana, a Vancouver-based company that caters to tole painters, knitters and quilters.

“For many people (crafting) is therapeutic,” said Carla Salazar, vice president for Crafts Americana. “Many customers tell us we’re cheaper than a shrink.”

Most of Crafts Americana orders are in the $60 range, with customers placing orders either via the company’s websites (separated by division –, and or via the call center, located in the company’s Vancouver headquarters.

Matt Petkun, president of Crafts Americana, wouldn’t give hard numbers when it came to the company’s revenue, only saying that it’s up 15 percent compared to last year and that the company has yet to have an in-the-red year.

Crafts Americana started out in 1990 as a catalog-based company serving crafting stores. But before long, Robert Petkun, Matt’s father and the company’s founder, eyed an underserved market: The 400,000 crafting magazine subscribers who didn’t receive any direct-mail catalogs with crafting supplies.

Petkun first filled that niche with tole painting supplies; knitting and quilting eventually followed. As Petkun tells it, business was booming until about 2003, when entered the craft book arena, prompting business model revisions.

With Amazon in the mix, craft books sales were no longer as profitable. So the business shifted to a satellite-type model: Selling books and related items for making crafts detailed in printed pages. Staying competitive also required the company to make large-scale, high quality purchases. Craft Americana sources its high-end yarns direct from mills, where alpaca, wool and silk yarns feature its name.

craft items“The only way you can go direct to the mills is to have the balance sheet to place large orders and place big bets,” Petkun said.

Most of that yarn (and other crafting products) resides in Columbus, Ohio – home of the company’s distribution center. Reason for an Ohio locale for distribution, according to Petkun: Customer orders, especially those on the east coast, will reach customers more quickly than they would if they were shipped from Vancouver.

Crafts Americana employs some 150 employees, with about 70 of them in Vancouver. That number is likely to expand with the opening of a new craft division, though Salazar would not say exactly what that division will be or when it will open.

What is clear is that Crafts Americana has found a niche that has shown little signs of slowing down – a point that is evident by the piles of fabric stacked on the company’s office floor next to cubicles where designers create new patterns with desktop publishing software. Oh, and don’t forget the luxurious and carefully stitched quilts hanging on the walls.

 “We’re in a segment of the economy that’s insulated from economic hiccups,” Petkun said.

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