Monday, April 16, 2012

megastore vs indie retailer

Today my focus is on the craft and fabric megastore, Spotlight, and its comparison to indie retailers like Little Red's.  Whether you're a newbie in the craft world or an old hat, chances are you've visited your local Spotlight store.  We all have (let's just call it our dirty little secret).  Love it?  Hate it?  Think it's a necessary evil?  Whatever your opinion, I'd like to detail some issues I feel are important and would love to know what you think.

I visited said megastore today because I wanted some sparkly yarn, and as I have a shop policy that ensures at least 90% of my yarn stock is pure wool, I have to venture out on occasion in search of items less...woolly.  I headed straight for the yarn department in search of the sparkly product and of course, I browsed their selection of yarns. 
 I must say I do get a little envious of their capacity to purchase every size, style & colour of every product - if only!  I digress.  The first thing I noticed upon seeing one of the same lines that I stock at Little Red's (an Australian brand of wool) was that they are more expensive.  And not by a few cents but by 10 - 20%.
But, how can this be, you wonder?  You would naturally assume that a megastore, with its massive purchasing and negotiating power, would offer products at or below the recommended retail price...right?  Well, not so.  And the reason for this is that they have their own brand of yarn which they sell at very cheap prices.  How?  It is manufactured overseas, mostly in China.  Oh, and did I mention that most of the yarn is made from artificial fibres?  So, naturally, they like to promote their own product over that of another manufacturer.  Usually I'd be cool with this however this seems to be very much in the same vain as the major supermarkets - they offer their own brand of internationally grown/processed product to you at a lower price, knowing that in most cases 'price' wins over 'origin' and also knowing that peoples' general lack of awareness of the latter renders them naive to the fact that they are supporting the big pay packet bosses over middle class blue collar Aussie workers.  So it seems a little unfair that they reap the reward of major sales under the misinterpretation that they are offering the best product and the best value when in fact, it is neither.
That felt like a rant and I'm sorry but it is something I feel passionate about.  My husband is a blue collar worker.  My friends are blue collar workers and I like to think that by buying Aussie made, I am helping to support my family and their families.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not immune to buying overseas products but I do try to make informed choices and make the most ethical choices I can afford.  Let's face it, it comes down to that in the end.  Sad but true.  So that's my first little tiff.  I think I was honest and fair and not too unkind.  

My second issue with said megastore is the MESS!  I resisted the urge to take photos as that would just be nasty.  But when I say mess, I mean there were bolts of fabric on the floor, fabrics unravelled and whole collections just resting against shelves.  I had to step over and around bolts of fabric to get through the department.  Not only does this look untidy and careless but surely it can't be good for the condition of the fabric?  I know I don't vacuum as much as I should and I rearrange stock during opening hours but I like to think that my little store is neat and the stock well cared for (at least the front of the shop.  the back room is my own, personal, disaster area!).

Last but not least is the lack of passion at said megastore.  When you walk into Little Red's, I hope you see all the little projects that have been lovingly made by myself and other crafters.  I hope that my friendliness and enthusiasm overshadows the stains on the carpet and clutter of the cutting bench.  And I really hope that my love of crafting shines through and that I help to inspire you in your projects.  I mean, I'm selling my stock with my personality right?  If I was a grumpy and unfriendly person with no knowledge of my stock, you'd probably never come back, right?  Well, that doesn't seem to be the case for the megastores.  Staff are passionless and often know nothing of the stock they are loading onto the shelves, but then again, why would they?  They're only employees, they haven't got their livelihoods invested and they don't have to worry about who's paying the electricity bills.  So really, who can blame them if they seem a little passionless.  But that, mixed with shiny white floors and fluorescent lights, does make for a rather unpleasant shopping experience.

Having said all that, there are some positives that mustn't go unnoticed - sometimes you get served by a really lovely cutting-bench-lady who'll give you a discount even if you left your coupon at home, a plastic bag when you forgot your eco-friendly tote and who'll apologise when you had to wait half an hour for your number to be called.  It's also nice to see new lines of your favourite brands which you might not find in your indie retailer and you do come across the occasional bargain that just can't be passed up.  There are also some pretty projects on display using the new fabric ranges and if you're after some cheap fillers for the kids' craft boxes, you'll always find something on sale.  See?  It's not all bad :)

Taking all that into account, if you are looking to try a new craft, want to see a new and complete product range or you're after some inexpensive fabrics to do a cost effective project, they do have a lot to offer.  And even after all the negative things I've written, I will still go there on occasion and won't hold it against my lovely customers if they go there too :)
I think that most of us do make the best choices we can, based on the information, money and time that we have available and next time you do visit an indie craft shop, take a second to think about why someone opened that shop.  Cos I assure you, we're not all in it for the big bucks!  We may not be able to stock everything that the megastores can, but often we can offer an alternative, point you in the right direction or even order it in for you.  And I think we counteract any shortcomings with enthusiasm, honest pricing and I like to think, general awesomeness!
Now that all of that is off my chest, I'm going to go do some crochet...with my sparkly yarn.
P.S if you happen to see a free range sparkly sheep out there somewhere, do let me know :)


  1. I get you! I love getting party stuff there, but I have to find it all in different spots. I haven't bought wool there because I like pure wool and their yarn area is so messy.

  2. Hi kate!
    I had the same experience as you today! And to add to your rant- this megastore makes you pay $2 to use a toddler-containing-trolley and if you don't happen to have $2 (like me) it's a lot easier for a 2 year old to run amok in a megastore than in a small indie retailer. I confess that my little j contributed to some of the general chaos and mess at spotlight today. However, in their favour, the wilderness yarn I wanted was on VIP discount. But their button selection was sadly lacking and expensive.
    Do you have any suppliers of nice chunky wooden buttons? Toggles and flats?
    It was good to meet you today and looking forward to being a regular little red customer. :)

  3. I totally agree with you. I'm a big supporter of the little guy & small business.

  4. Hey Kate, well I had a totally fabulous small, local yarn store experience today, and although they didn't have "exactly" the sparkle I was looking for, I found a sheen that will probably make me and my natural fibre addiction happier! Then tomorrow I will have another totally awesome small local bus experience at your shop!!! :-D
    Awesome post gorgeous! I do go to Spotlight occasionally, but I hate it more and more each time I go - those lights bore through my face! LOL

  5. Thanks for all your comments guys! It's nice to know we all appreciate the finer things x