Innovative Retailer – Hobbycraft

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The Name: Hobbycraft

The Place: Around 70 stores but expanding fast, and online too

The Story: In 2010 Bridgepoint bought Hobbycraft for around £100 million. In 2011 Catriona Marshall was brought in as CEO with the mission (which she has chosen to accept) of overhauling everything. She was previously marketing director at Pets At Home, another Bridgepoint phenomenon, and here she is taking it to a whole new level. In less time than it takes to learn your cross stitch from your chain stitch Hobbycraft has perfected a whole new customer. I give you – Jean and Emma.

No, not Jean or Emma. It’s CEO Catriona Marshall.
Right. Super. And who are they? The personification of core customers. It’s really clever. Most businesses go out and research their current customers and then act accordingly on what they find. That would be Jean. But Hobbycraft has gone one further and created the customer type they need to expand with and she is the lovely Emma. Two totally different spenders.

What’s Jean shelling out for? Ah, now Jean is from the post-war generation. She bakes and cooks from scratch and believes in ‘make do and mend’ and lining your own curtains. She is the traditional golden goose of crafting. But there are not enough Jeans and she is, sadly, mortal.

So enter Emma:Indeed. Emma is the mum to Jean’s grandma. It’s still about nesting, it’s still about family but Emma is not a born crafter. She does this for her children and to spend time doing fun things with them. She’s not bothered about learning to sew as a life skill but she is bothered about sewing Hallowe’en trick or treat bags. She isn’t going to make her own icing but she wants ready-made seasonal cake decorations for her children’s cup cakes.

And the trick here is to not lose Jeanwhilst capturing golden gosling Emma: Correct. Not easy but Marshall has completely changed the business model. A year ago the shop window would have been dominated by embroidery, which is, like, so Jean. Now the shops have wooden floors, vibrant colours and a lot more signage for the uninitiated with big glass frontages.

Which is, like, so Emma? You’re catching on. Hobbycraft shops are now around 4,000 sq ft smaller than they were and have 35,000 SKUs down from 50,000. And guess what, smaller shops selling fewer products are making more money. Proof that Emma exists.

Forgive me for mentioning money but isn’t austerity the driver here?Categorically not. Both Jean and Emma are an affluent demographic anyway and this is not about thrift. Marshall thinks it is a return to good value and good values and is probably more about the pleasure of gifting than about not being able to afford to buy. It’s an emotional thing.

And are there many new shops to get emotional in? Yessir – 11 shops have been refurbished in 2012, 20 more will get the changeover in 2013. And 10 brand new stores were opened last year, 14 this year, and 18 are forecast to open their doors next year. But they are not on the high street – another blow for Jean as this is where she likes to shop – but retail parks and out of town locations. If you want to capture Emma you have to go where she goes.

The new look
She’s quite high maintenance this Emma character isn’t she? She certainly knows value for money. She won’t spend £5 on an activity that will only take the children half an hour, but it if can last an afternoon then it is okay. A lot of work has gone into Emma and she is paying off big-time. In the two years that Bridgepoint has owned Hobbycraft its turnover has increased 30% per annum and it is in Emma’s categories where the growth is being seen.

What are her faves? Up-cycling furniture, jewellery-making, deco-patches, paper crafts and her entry point – decorating cupcakes. She wants beautiful things but they need to look a teeny bit homemade. Think vintage 1940s tea parties. Oh, headscarves, scrummy scones, flat lemonade, pear drops, Kath Kidston aprons, children with funny fringes…

Alright, calm down. Back to business: What still needs to be done? Right now Marshall is working on getting some pace into the business. She has a strict five-year plan and by January 2013 the basic transformation will be complete. Products, shops, people and local markets have all been sorted out and the new website is launching this month. As Marshall puts it ‘the plumbing’ is now in place.

And next?Multi-channel. As from 2013 the drive will be on m-commerce, click & collect and the development of apps. Also up for discussion is the own-brand product strategy.

Surely other people must be hopping on to this crafting bandwagon? Yes, but it’s very fragmented. Lots of companies touch on it – Wilkinsons, John Lewis, The Range, The Works and Dunelm Mill. ‘They all do little bits well’ but Marshall feels the market can become radically bigger. And with the 2012 Retail Week Emerging Retail Leader of the Year Award under her belt Hobbycraft is definitely one to watch. 

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