From the August 1998 issue of Startups

Retailing trends come and go, but one constant remains: Every human being is looking for a way to leave his or her mark on the world. In an increasingly high-tech society, people's desire to put handmade, personal touches on their environment has sparked a surge in crafts shops, stamp stores, paint-your-own-pottery studios and other businesses that let customers unleash their creative urges. Now, a new passion has taken hold: scrapbooking.

Keeping a scrapbook is nothing new, but this is no longer your grandmother's hobby. "I've been keeping scrapbooks since I was 6," says Lisa Bearnson, editorial director of Creating Keepsakes ScrapbookMagazine in Orem, Utah. "We used to use construction paper, tape and rubber cement to put them together. Today, `acid-free' and `photo-safe' are big buzzwords in the scrapbooking industry. There are oodles of products on the market now to make preserving your photos more fun--such as patterned paper, stamps, stickers, templates and die-cut [designs]."

There's never been a better time to start a scrapbooking business. According to the Hobby Industry Association, the scrapbook industry accounted for an estimated $165 million in sales in 1997 alone. "Two years [prior], when the association conducted its previous survey, the scrapbooking industry wasn't even large enough to measure," says the association's assistant executive director, Susan Brandt. "Now, however, it's a strong category, and we anticipate sustained growth for some time to come."

The success of Bearnson's magazine reflects the growth of the industry. She and partner Don Lambson, the magazine's art director, started Creating Keepsakes Scrapbook Magazine in late 1996 and now have a circulation of 185,000.


Patricia L. Fry is a writer in Ojai, California.

A Touch of Class

The social aspect of scrapbooking is a big factor in its popularity, Bearnson says. "Quilting used to be the big social activity among women. Now it's scrapbooking," she says. "A scrapbook workshop is a time when women get together, tell stories and reminisce while creating priceless heirlooms."

Robin Nash, owner of Curious Kitty Stamps and Stickers, a rubber stamps and scrapbook store in Holland, Michigan, agrees the social aspect of scrapbooking is important. "Classes are a must to keep your customers satisfied," she says. "We average three workshops per week."

But don't try to do it all yourself, Nash warns: "At first, I tried to teach all the classes myself. I soon learned that you can only do so much, and I began hiring customers who showed a talent for teaching. If they do a good job, the attendees end up buying a lot of goodies before they leave."

Nash offers classes on basic scrapbooking, stamping, creative lettering and card-making, among other things. The most popular activity at her store, though, is "cropping time"--when customers get together to cut, paste and work on their own scrapbooks.

At Impress Yourself, a scrapbooking store in Jacksonville, Florida, customers can come in and "crop" anytime the store is open, including Friday nights until midnight. "Our cropping time is free," says owner Becky Slate, 37, "and customers can use our nonconsumable supplies, such as paper trimmers, punches, circle cutters, rulers, templates and scissors."

Nash, 34, a scrapbook enthusiast herself, started her business in 1994, selling supplies from a shop attached to her house. "I wasn't satisfied with the products available locally," she says, "so I started researching and decided to open a business."

After an initial investment of $2,500, her business took off, and she moved into a small store. Soon she needed even more room, and in November 1996, she moved into a 1,750-square-foot space where she surpassed $100,000 in sales last year.

Slate's is a success story, too. "When we opened in 1992, we were a rubber stamp store," she says. "Our initial inventory probably cost $3,000. Within the past two years, we've evolved into more of a scrapbook store, and business has grown by leaps and bounds." Slate's store grossed $180,000 in 1997.

Nash believes one reason for her success is that she continuously asks customers what they want and works to provide those products and services. "[As a small store,] we have to be very customer-oriented and give the personal touch chain stores can't give," she says. "My customers like the fact that we know their names and are interested in more about them than just their money."

The Big Ideas

To draw customers into your store, you've got to provide more than products; customers are also seeking ideas. "Customers say over and over they enjoy coming to this store because of the plethora of layouts, ideas, tips and techniques they can find here," says Tamara Sortman, 34, who invested $30,000 to open Scrapramento in Sacramento, California, in 1997. "Also, whenever someone purchases a tool, I give them a few ideas for how to use it in creating layouts."

The strategy is paying off: After just seven months in business, Sortman's store grosses $800 to $1,000 per week, and she projects $300,000 in annual sales within the next five years.

The biggest challenge, Sortman says, is promoting her store. "Advertising is costly, so I rely heavily on word-of-mouth. Word-of-mouth is powerful in this business. If someone has a good experience in the store, they'll share that with others."

Nash uses a bimonthly newsletter with contests, puzzles, surveys and a class schedule to keep customers interested, and she sends postcards to remind them of upcoming sales and events.

Slate recently added a high-tech marketing technique: "We began asking customers for their e-mail addresses so we could let them know about upcoming classes, cropping times, special promotions and new merchandise," she says. "The response has been overwhelming."

Despite scrapbooking's handmade origins, technology has played a surprising role in fostering the industry's growth. "There's an amazing mass of [scrapbooking] information on the Internet--Web sites, support groups and bulletin boards for scrapbookers," Sortman says. "People can post a message and say, `I'm looking for a particular product and can't find it here in Oklahoma. Can anybody help me?' Some scrapbookers are actually doing entire scrapbooks on their computers and storing them on disk."

Who is the typical scrapbooking customer? "Scrapbooking appeals to everyone because everyone has photos," says Nash. The typical customer, however, is female, ranging from young mothers and middle-aged women to grandmothers doing books for grandchildren or special events.

Because the goal of scrapbooking is to organize photographs and other memorabilia, most hobbyists create large family albums. Others are cutting this often overwhelming task down to size. "We're seeing a focus on smaller theme books," Nash says. "Customers who don't want to tackle the big job of doing albums of their kids from birth are doing smaller books on [themes such as] vacations, grandkids, sports and Christmas."

Bootscrapping Success

Scrapbooking is a hot industry right now--but success, warn those involved, isn't guaranteed. "You must be willing to work hard," says Nash, "and you have to love doing it. The hours are long. In fact, this is pretty much all I do--even at home. I can't tell you how much time I spend researching new products and information. Your customers rely on you to know about--and to have--the latest."

With such hard work involved, it's no wonder the biggest requirement for success is a passion for scrapbooking. These entrepreneurs also recommend starting small. "[Expect to spend] three to five years getting your business off the ground," says Slate. "You won't be able to take home a paycheck for a while, because you have to put money back into inventory. The first three years we were in business, every penny after fixed expenses went back into inventory."

But make sure you put your money into salable merchandise. "Start with a basic inventory, then bring in small quantities of new products to test," advises Sortman. "I've seen stores order anything and everything their customers ask for and end up in financial ruin. Take a cue from your actual sales to determine the kinds of items that are selling in your area; then stock those."

A Look Ahead

Entrepreneurs believe scrapbooking will continue to expand to an even wider audience as new variations on a theme offer something for everyone. "From what I've read, [the trend is toward] more variety," says Nash. "[In addition to scrapbooks,] we'll see more memory boxes, small books and journals, collages with photos and so forth. These projects might appeal to those with a more artistic side and those for whom the traditional just won't do."

Bearnson at Creating Keepsakes Scrapbook Magazine sees no end in sight. "This is such an exciting field," she says, "and what's great for retailers and for companies that make scrapbooking products is, it's a consumable industry. When I use up the paper I bought for my scrapbooks, I need more paper. When I use up my stickers, I need more stickers. There are more and more `toys' on the market [every day] targeting scrapbookers. And, of course, people are never going to stop taking pictures."

Resources

Creating Keepsakes Scrapbook Magazine, 354 S. Mountain Way Dr., Orem, UT 84058, (888) 247-5282. The subscription rate is $19.95 per year (6 issues).

International Scrapbook Association, P.O. Box 295250, Lewisville, TX 75029-5250, (972) 319-0492, http://www.scrapbooking.com . Sponsors conventions and publishes two bimonthly newsletters for its members: Scrapbook Trade, for tradespeople, and International Scrapbook News, for consumers. Newsletters are free with membership, which costs $21.95 per year.

Scrapbook Expo presents scrapbooking expos throughout the United States. For information, call (888) 252-EXPO or visit http://www.scrapbooking.com

Contact Sources

Curious Kitty Stamps and Stickers, 650 Riley St., Ste. E, Holland, MI 49424, robin@mibusiness.com

Impress Yourself, 11018-103 Old St. Augustine Rd., Jacksonville, FL 32257, (904) 260-4640

Scrapramento, Howe 'Bout Arden Ctr., Sacramento, CA 95825, http://www.scrapramento.com