What manufacturers, retailers (and even designers) need to understand


I am a big believer in following shopping trends. If there is any TREND you need to keep up with, it is HOW people are purchasing goods. I am also a person that likes to figure out the psychology of a shopper. I think I was surprised myself by typing that.  Hey, what can I say? I am a curious girl.

There was a time in gift manufacturing circles, when  you thought no one was listening, you would hear someone say, “That design/product is for people in the mid West.” The reason it was whispered is because it had an element of disdain to it. Like it wasn’t really “cool” or as current as something you might get in a big city. Don’t act like you don’t know what I am talking about. Remember, “I’ve been everywhere, man.” (insert Johnny Cash tune here.)

There is an entire subcategory in the gift industry considered mainstream, mass market or for the “mid west.” It implies that the people that purchase from this category don’t have…well, high end taste or good taste. It never sat well with me. Frankly, it has always been a snotty attitude and now it is biting people in the bum. It is time to WAKE UP and shed this way of thinking completely. If you don’t, my prediction is that this way of thinking will run your business into the ground.

It used to be a shopper was exposed to high design or the lifestyles of the rich and famous on  a limited basis, through magazines like Architectural Digest. Even if you were exposed to high fashion, it wasn’t accessible. No more. Example: I just got done  placing an order of a  multilingual Fashion Illustration Book from a German publisher, authored by a Brazilian, whose published release date is 10 days from now. And guess what? It will arrive in 2 days. This is how the  real world is working now. I am exposed to it, can find it and purchase it without ever leaving my small town. Without ever leaving my house.

Today a shopper can live on a farm in Iowa, follow blogs that are pushing out high end content faster than any magazine can keep up with. She can curate her own Pinterest boards with an international following. She has 1,000’s of TV shows to choose from and if she doesn’t  like that she can go right online and watch videos that fit her rapidly changing tastes. This is the same person that manufacturers and retailers think will want to buy a mailbox flag with a duck (ok, a cute duck) on it. Sorry folks, those days are over. Designers if you are hanging on, working with manufacturers that are not trying to elevate their brands to a new audience, watch out. There is simply very little room left for you (or them) in that old market place.

I use the words NEW AUDIENCE because I don’t want you to confuse it with a YOUNG audience. A new audience has a smart phone, is on at least ONE form of social media and has high speed internet access that probably hooks into their TV. They come in all ages. These people could be my parents. They got iPhones so they could text their grandchildren with ease. They were given an iPad when they brought a new car. We Skype weekly and my mother is constantly redecorating. Technology is a huge part of their life. Even in their 70’s, they know what’s available to them now and they can purchase it.

All age groups are being exposed to good design and they want to buy things, clothes and electronics that reflect that.

1. Designers, you need to up your game. Push yourself. Don’t sit drawing the same circle over and over. Make a point to expose yourself to the very best art, architecture and fashion that is available. Discover what your own style is and then DIG DEEP  to figure out how you are going to express it.

2. Manufacturers quit dumbing down artists’ work, trust them more times than not. Being skittish is rubbing off on everybody, EXCEPT SHOPPERS. (And for Pete’s sake, update your websites!)

3. Retailers, what can I say? You are some of the busiest most hardworking people I know. You have been working so hard, you haven’t even signed up for a Facebook account. The thought of going online makes you reach for a bottle of gin.  At this point, you don’t have too many options.  Get a serious online strategy in place. You all are the last people on the planet still trying to get your teenage nephew to build your websites. Get a professional. Carve out the time and invest in your businesses by taking as much of your business online as possible. Be creative about it. Understand that it will cost something to expand your business but if you don’t, it will cost you your business. We are truly heartbroken when you go under. I am more than willing to hang out in your shops on a regular basis. My tastes are changing fast and yours need to as well. Get creative, try going to different markets than you are used to. Demand to see the full range of what your sales reps are offering not just what they think you’ll want.

Shoppers have not gone “away.” They have gone online with good taste.

The silver lining to this message is that,  this is the BEST TIME EVER TO BE INNOVATIVE.  There are not as many rules to how you design, manufacture and sell your products as you THINK there are. Shake yourself up before someone else does it for you. Look at the new, well versed shopper as an opportunity and not a curse. Opportunities bring out the best in people.


(images from Miracle on 34th Street)

  • Michelle Schneider

    fantastic! thanks monica.

  • Nicole

    Agree 100% percent Monica! Thank you for this!

  • Julie Dobson Miner

    Wow! Love it! I needed to hear this today. BTW, I’m from Minneapolis and tired of being pigeon holed. Thanks Monica!

  • well said! glad to hear someone stand up and say it out loud.

  • D Deroll (Falling-Star.com)

    Hi Monica, I appreciate your enthusiasm and sincere heart. I had a couple small businesses years ago. I know the thrill of making money and the heartbreak of unsold inventory. In a large business that means hundreds of thousands of dollars of “junk” on the shelves and the end of the buyer’s career, income, home and family. Retailers need enough income to carry them through the “off season” when sales are low. Most retailers live for Christmas to make enough money to survive a whole year. I recently tried to find pink-rose sheets and floral print comforters and nobody has them, but they had lots of gray and brown – that seems like a high risk inventory, but someone thought is was a clever buying strategy. Retailers are closing in an economy with high unemployment, where everyone is cautiously spending less. Let’s say “thanks” to those who buy from us and keep encouraging each other to think how to create more smiles for shoppers in “must have” fun colors so shoppers can’t even consider leaving the store without our designs. Keep up the good work!

  • Terri

    strong, eloquent, decisive, beneficial as opposed to apologetic, right? You best article yet.

  • Kathy Weller

    Awesome post.

  • well said – here here!

  • Melissa AuClair

    Fabulous Monica. Thanks. Another great article and insight into the real world of creatives today (on to updating the website!)