BOOM or BUST? Will the Mega MULO Crafts Store Survive?

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As tech-centric as the world has become, handcrafts are still alive and well! Just look at Etsy, which has been steadily growing. Although the MULO (multi-location) crafts industry is not unraveling like an unfortunate knitting project, online competition has put a pin prick into big box store revenues.

The pandemic also eliminated many in-store events. Just as in the days of quilting parties, consumers gather to learn how to sew, crochet, scrapbook, and make seasonal decorations.

Some consumers now meet online for their crafts gatherings, cutting into store traffic like a pair of rusty pinking shears.

Here’s where some of the MULO crafts brands stand today:

  • Michaels has about 1,200 locations in the U.S. and Canada and is the nation’s largest crafts store. A massive retail makeover and consumer-centric campaign, along with an amped-up digital strategy aims to build and retain a massive influx of crafters (new and existing).
  • The media was abuzz with rumors of Hobby Lobby’s demise. Founded in 1972, the brand currently has about 1,000 locations.  Their devoutly Christian management decided to close stores on Sundays. Along with some of the company’s other policies, the religious slant has been polarizing. But that hasn’t seemed to impact the store’s popularity or revenue. In addition to crafts supplies, the store sells furniture and home decor items.
  • Jo-Ann, known primarily for sewing supplies and fabric, went through a bumpy 2023, including a massive restructuring.  Founded in 1943, the brand has about 900 locations.

Although DIY arts and crafts fall behind baking and video gaming as the most popular hobbies today, they are still a staple of our pastimes.

The concept of people gathering to make personalized projects is still alive and well. Many smaller and regional brands have emerged like:

  • Paint and sip” franchises enable people to drink and socialize while making their own works of art.
  • Craft Warehouse has locations in three states and offers a wide range of projects.
  • Spin Art Nation offers a highly specific activity (i.e., spin art) but appeals to all generations. After all, who doesn’t love making a mess while creating a personalized project?
  • Cooking and baking remain popular activities for singles, couples, and families. Sur La Table offers a wide range of classes across its 50+ locations and, along with many other regional and hyper-local brands, they encourage a wide range of consumers to find their inner chef.

Many other big-box MULO brands (like Home Depot and Whole Foods) have dedicated in-store spaces to teach consumers how to find their inner creators.

So, although many people are consumed with making Reels and TikToks today, others are picking up needles, yarn, acrylics, tiles, hammers, and whisks and channeling their inner crafters.

The “quilting bee” of the past is still alive and well…it just looks very different!

Nancy A Shenker, senior editor with Street Fight, is a former big brand (Citibank, Mastercard, Reed Exhibitions) marketing strategist and leader. She has been featured in, the New York Times and Forbes.