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Trend or Fad?

How to identify the difference — and drive sales for both

The craft retail space is never a fixed target for store owners trying to gauge the next hot-selling items that will be flying off the shelves.

Is it burlap? Marquee letters? Coloring books for adults? Or something else you’ve seen on Pinterest or Etsy?

Is it a trend that will be around for a while? Or is it a fad that will dry up in the span of months? How do you determine which it is, and how do you react without overreacting?

They’re all valid questions, and none has a completely predictable answer. However, there are some steps you can take to prepare for the next big thing without betting the farm on a product line that will be passé by the start of next month.

Telling the difference

In order to market to a trend or fad, you have to know the primary difference between them, and it starts with scope. A trend tends to encompass large-scale craft concepts, such as wedding décor, and can last for the span of many months or several years. A fad is short-lived, with a lifespan of weeks or a few months and usually encompasses a single product or product line.

For example, burlap was more of a trend. People used burlap and other natural materials in weddings, home décor and other projects that tend to have a larger scope and its popularity spanned several years and continues to have a following.

Rubber band loom bracelets, by contrast, proved to be a fairly short-lived fad.

The general rule is that fads last for a few months or a year. You might sell $1 million this year but only $100,000 next year. Trends are more consistent across a longer time period.

Playing your hand

Because trends tend to have a larger scope and more endurance than fads, there is less of a chance of retailers overreacting to them. A shipment of burlap could have a number of decorative uses, meaning more customers might purchase it, allowing your store to turn more profit on that product. In short, the sales predictions are usually more reliable with trends.

With fads, the spike in interest — and subsequently sales — is immediate and sharp. When people want it, their appetite is insatiable. Instead of steady brisk sales like you might see with a trend, you may have a difficult time keeping a fad item in stock for a few months. As soon as the shipment hits the floor, it starts selling.

That’s why it’s much easier to overplay your hand when it comes to fads. And that’s how yesterday’s license to print money becomes today’s clearance-rack item.

How do you guard against putting too many eggs in the fad basket? Inventory control is the key.

In order to control inventory, air-freight most of it, possibly on a weekly basis. This will give you the short-term stock you need, and you can get more when you need it. That way, when a fad cools off, you still have stock for what you’re selling, but you’re not way overstocked.

Look at different suppliers when possible. Compare rates and availability, and go with the supplier who can get you the short-term stock you need, and get it to you quickly. There is a sweet spot with fads — you want to be aggressive enough to capitalize on the selling power of the fad without going overboard and finding yourself with pallets of unsold backstock should the fad suddenly die out.

It’s not an exact science. Trying to hit that middle ground between aggressive purchasing and not going crazy can differ between stores and depends greatly on the nature of the fad. But if you buy weekly and try to minimize overstock, that’s usually the best plan of action.

Scanning the horizon

No trend or fad is risk-free. But careful observation of what is emerging can give you a good idea of which risks are worth taking.

Trends usually start on the coasts. Paying attention to what’s developing in New York and California is a good idea to see what the future may hold. If stores in New York are starting to sell a lot of a particular item, investigate further to see if the item makes sense for your store.

In the end, you will probably have a few misses with your predictions no matter how hard you try to avoid them. When it happens, don’t dwell on it. If you’re wrong, you’re wrong. Just do your homework and be prepared for when the next trend or fad hits. Because when it hits — particularly with fads — it hits fast.

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