Wisconsin Business Energizes The Crafts Industry

By Kylie Gumpert
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Therese Hennessy, 53, thought she was going to work in the dental field for the rest of her life.

That was until crafting — something she’s loved since Catholic grade school, when the nuns would let her into the convent’s stores of fabric, glue and glitter — influenced her to leave her job in Minneapolis and move back home to Mukwonago.

That’s where Polkadots and More, Hennessy’s paper crafting store since 2003, resides and where she offers more card-making classes in a month than some crafting outlets do in a year.

Although the classes provide a natural boost to her sales of supplies, matching supply to demand is still more art than science.

“It’s hard to tell what’s going to be the next big thing,” Hennessy said. “Even when I teach a class, sometimes the customers will buy everything to make those cards, and I’m out of everything. But sometimes I order 40 of something, but only sell three.”

Fun fact? For Hennessy, Christmas, when she will have to make multiple handcrafted cards for her staff, is a time she dreads.

Even though she teaches classes, which requires her to make the same card over and over, Hennessy has a difficult time with the repetition.

“It’s one of the hardest things I do all year,” Hennessy said.

Paper crafting includes scrapbooking and card-making, the latter being what Hennessy accommodates slightly more in her store by offering $5 card-making classes.

She said her card classes are important because they keep customers interested and give her an opportunity to showcase new products and techniques, which in turn increases her sales.

“If people don’t know how to use them, they’re not going to buy them,” Hennessy said. “You can’t just open a business and hang out a sign any more. You have to be really active in the industry.”

Hennessy also participates in crafting workshops and consumer shows all over the country, where she attracts new customers by giving tutorials on card-making and home décor crafts, another area she says is on the upswing.

She noticed the industry’s shift toward card-making a few years ago. Manufacturers now produce paper with smaller patterns because standard scrapbook paper patterns, which are printed on 12-by-12-inch sheets, are often too large to create a card — at least a good looking one.

“Now the patterns are geared toward the card-making world,” Hennessy said.
Making connections

Stephanie Hunt, 30, is the owner of Bella Blvd, a scrapbook design company in Wauwatosa. She said her paper, which is sold at Polkadots, caters to card makers by offering card-sized sections and more patterns than are typically found on a standard sheet.

Digital crafting, which requires a computer program in order to create printable scrapbooking and card creations, is another industry shift, and Hennessy is working to include it in her store.

She says that with fewer brick and mortar stores out there, there is a market for it.

As of last month, Polkadots and More has also moved online, with products available for purchase through the store’s new website, although Hennessy says traffic so far is very slow.

With a customer base that skews toward women at retirement age, she said, the Internet approach isn’t easy for her customers to use.

“A lot of them are not comfortable using a computer or shopping online,” Hennessy said.

As for her brick-and-mortar store, Hennessy would like to move to a more visible location, but her current store offers good parking, and she’s getting a break on the rent because her father owns the strip mall where it’s located.

“It is too bad the strip mall doesn’t face the road, and we can’t have signage on the corner,” Hennessy said.

Looking ahead, Hennessy is establishing a Facebook page. She’s also working on planning her monthly events, which consist of rummage sales and “ladies’ days,” where her customers pay to visit different craft stores, complete projects and go to a winery or on a factory tour.

An ever-shifting market

Sue Butler, 55, and Dianne Hardtke, 61, are sisters who have frequented the store since it opened — when card classes were held in a closet that fit a card table while Hennessy instructed in the doorway. They said they find items to buy every time they visit.

“They really go out of their way to accommodate us,” Hardtke said.

But according to Hennessy, the industry’s constant shifts and overall trendiness makes it hard to accommodate everyone, because products are available to her customers for shorter amounts of time as companies have stopped reprinting product lines.

“Through the years, if people like something they almost have to buy it then, because if they come back six months later chances are it will be gone,” Hennessy said.

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