Many people who make crafts for a living, or to supplement their living, depend heavily on holiday sales to move their business into the black and make a healthy profit. Holiday sales can account for 40% of a retailer's business, and predict the mood of business in the year to come. This holiday was a struggle, as anyone who did craft fairs could tell you; it's not that customers weren't upbeat, excited and purchasing, it's just that in many cases sales were not as robust as holidays past. Shoppers stuck to their lists.
Now the first reports for retail sales are coming in and it's all in black and white: 2012 was the worst year-over-year sales growth since 2008 when the recession began. The Associated Press reports that even online shopping was down, posting only 8.4% growth since late October, far lower than the 15% to 17% seen in the 18 months before the holiday.
Why would that be? Spending was off in areas hit by Hurricane Sandy, of course, and shoppers may have been jittery about all the news reports that we're falling off a cliff, albeit a fiscal one. Not one American can tell you what they will be paying in taxes in the coming year, and even if there is no change, not knowing makes us uncomfortable.
The shootings of innocent children and teachers in Newtown, CT layered a veil of sadness over the holiday, and I have to say I felt it myself. To combat those blues, I took up Anne Curry's challenge to commit 26 acts of kindness in memory of the students. I paid the tip of two ladies having brunch in my neighborhood coffee shop after I almost knocked their burger platters to the floor with my giant Ikea bag of stuff I was taking to our booth in Union Square. In another case, I brought a cup of hot apple cider to a street vendor selling handmade ornaments on 14th Street during one freezing cold night. I'm up to about 12 acts of kindness and hope to finish by New Year's Day.
What can we do about lower than expected sales? Not much, in retrospect. But if this past holiday season is an indication of what is to come, it's time to put some prudent ideas into practice: crafters can try to use up inventory they've already paid for, take mark downs in spring on excess inventory from the holidays, reexamine prices, and consider how else they can find efficiencies.
Maybe the politicos will pull a rabbit out of a hat and by the May and June craft shows, consumers will feel a little more secure. Here's to a successful and profitable 2013 for all!
wink and flip