In the spirit of Halloween here's a little thread necromancy (bringing it back from the dead). It was the thread that prompted me to finally join the forum, although I've been chewing on a response for a while. For the record, I work on the Demand Generation Marketing team at my company (in the software industry), so the question of "How to get new prospects and turn them into customers" is something I always have to think about. This thread got all those marketing brain wheels turning for the past few days!
Now, I don't want to knock Tandy too hard. I do like some of the changes the new CEO has been making, and it is a tough situation to try to bring in new customers without alienating the current ones. But they do still have a long way to go.
Mainly, I think they (and other companies) need to put more effort into modernizing what leathercraft is all about. I think the assessment that Tandy is stuck in 1964 isn't wrong. I go to my local Tandy and it seems like it serves two groups of customers: 1) those who make tack and Western gear (or biker gear), and 2) Scout/camp crafts. Seriously, even the interior of the store reminds me of the arts 'n crafts cabin at the YMCA camp I went to back in the 80's. Now y'all who do saddlery and tack, and gun holsters and knife sheathes, and even wallets of all types (and lots of other items, just naming a few here!)...y'all keep doing what you're doing, because I feel like you've been a major force in keeping the industry afloat!
But the question is how to get NEW people into the craft itself.
(Just going to give some ideas of what I'm familiar with, so this is just some of my brainstorming!)
Camp craft kits are a nice way to introduce kids to it. You need to make sure the projects are small and quick to get kids started. I just don't think a kid these days will be really interested in making a key fob (do they carry keys of their own?), a bookmark (books on your tablet don't need physical bookmarks!), or a coin purse (especially with the coin shortage these days!), much less in a Sheridan style pattern. BUT...teach a kid how to tool their favorite Pokemon on a tablet case? How to make a bag for their Switch joy cons? Or for older kids, teach how to use leather in cosplay? Make dice bags, cups, and trays for tabletop gaming? Suddenly you're bringing in a younger market. Catch is you have to make it look easy to learn, but have cool results that will impress other people.
Another market that I think Tandy is finally touching but not actively going after is my personal interest: handbag design. Y'all, if women are willing to drop hundreds to thousands of dollars on a Louis Vuitton, and dream about dropping tens of thousands of dollars or more on an Hermes Birkin, then there IS a market that's not being courted. I noticed that Tandy just launched some new leather that looks like it can be used to make Brahmin look-alike bags, so I'm excited about the possible awareness of needing to go in this direction! BUT! Where's the hardware? Where are the patterns? I have to go to other sources for more interesting locks and clasps suitable for purses. Bringberry is constantly sold out of some of the more interesting hardware, so clearly there are people designing and making bags. Tandy sells a couple of pattern books with modern handbag styles, but not many...and they could be doing SO MUCH MORE to teach how to design your own perfect purse. If I'm a new crafter and not getting guidance on how to make a genuine leather bag with that $100+ croc-embossed side (or a genuine croc or gator hide!), then I'm gonna take my money to a fabric store or website and buy PVC vinyl for $20/yard, buy cheap Dritz hardware, a Simplicity pattern, and be okay with making mistakes because I didn't invest much money into it.
It shouldn't be hard for Tandy or other companies to make YouTube videos to show examples of what's fashionable (for men and women) and how to make something similar. I think it was Corter Leather who did the video on YouTube about how they made a blue gator wallet that looked like a $5000 one by Hermes. (Hey Tandy HQ, if you're reading this and want to send me a Sabana side, I'll stream making a Brahmin-inspired bag and plug your name! Just sayin'! )
And since the topic of "Why is scrapbooking so popular in comparison to leatherworking" was brought up, I think it's because the companies who run those industries do everything they can to make it look SO EASY and anyone can get good results. "Buy a Cricut and a variety of papers or materials, download these patterns for free or cheap, let the machine do the work, and you have a scrapbook in just a weekend!" There's a mysticism about leatherwork...seriously, watching other leatherworkers at work is like watching a wizard conjuring anything in their imagination. What will this hide become: A wallet? A pair of shoes? A bag? A freaking saddle? So much emphasis is put on the WORK it takes to make something high quality that it can be intimidating to potential new crafters. They freeze like deer in headlights and then go explore 3D printers instead because once again..."sure the printer was expensive, but just load this pattern you got for free or cheap, and let the machine do the work!"
And it's not just the companies who can change this mindset. We can too. When I was cosplaying, you'd see armor builds that were super impressive and looked really difficult...then along came cosplay crafters showing how easy it can be to create armor using EVA foam, Sintra, and Worbla, or how to add LED lights, or Arduino to control servo motors to make moving parts. It still takes a lot of work, but the tutorials make it look really easy and the cosplayers show confidence in how to use these materials. In the end it inspires beginner cosplayers with confidence as well. Nowadays you see a LOT of cosplayers building armor with LED lights...while a beginner's first cosplay might not be the highest of quality, they're still proud to wear it because they made it and weren't scared off.
TL;DR: Companies themselves need to expand their teaching of how to use leather for a wider variety of products. New leather and kits are all well and good, but they'd have more people coming back if they could see more examples of the possibilities for a modern market. And I think if we want others to pick up leatherworking, there's a need to emphasize--and DEMONSTRATE!--it's actually easy to get started, and to not be intimidated. Hook people with the idea that playing with leather with some basic tools isn't scary. As their interest is caught and they want to do more, they will naturally want to hone their skills. My personal wish is for more on teaching how to adapt patterns or how to make patterns from scratch, specifically for leather. Oh, and in the words of Bob Ross, telling people that their "mistakes" are just "happy little accidents" that make their item unique...or show them it's usually not impossible to recover from mistakes...will go a long way to keep beginners from getting discouraged.
Whew! Sorry for the soapbox! And this is only a small portion of what y'all got me thinking about! Great topic!