Tell me a little about the history of Whitecroft Essentials.
Whitecroft started out as a wire-forming company, mainly manufacturing safety pins, which we still do to this day. We then added paperclips and a variety of haberdashery and stationery wire goods. It still fascinates me to see fur hooks being bent and bound! Today we import products from many countries around the world, with an emphasis on continuity of supply and standards of quality.
Can you outline the key collections and product ranges you supply?
With haberdashery, we concentrate on three main areas. These are knitting, which includes knit pins, crochet hooks and sundries. We also stock sewing goods, including our hand sew range, machine needles, embroidery hoops and sewing aids. Lastly there's haberdashery, which comprises safety pins, dressmakers and craft pins, fastenings and sundries, all under our 'essentials' brand. We also have a stationery division.
Do you have any new launches coming up?
We have just launched our latest Craft Book Kit range, following on from the success of last year's version with an on-trend Unicorn Makes design. Each version has a super 48-page booklet, starting at the basics, with lots of inspired projects to make. We also have Softgrip crochet hooks arriving soon and plenty of other new items next year. In addition, we are busy promoting Olfa's pink cutters and mats, which are proving popular.
Where can retailers get to see your products?
The range is available at most haberdashery wholesalers across the country, and our knitting products are also sold through some of the larger UK yarn merchants. Retailers are welcome to ring our sales office to find out their nearest supplier and request information or samples.
What are the biggest current craft trends?
Our kits are doing well, and we're finding that there's a real resurgence in traditional crafts, so knit pins and crochet hooks have been selling really quickly. I think it must be down to yarn merchants offering inspirational patterns. Embroidery needles, hoops and craft pins are also proving popular; I often wonder where they all get used!
What sets Whitecroft apart from its competitors?
We would like to think consistent quality of product and service sets us apart. It is tempting to make changes to keep prices down, but the end user does expect a brand to maintain its standards. Service and being 'nice people to deal with' is still important, and we have had most of our customers for many, many years. The key to our business is to offer great products at reasonable prices.
How are you finding the current economic climate?
We started off the year with a bang and were way up on the previous year until the extreme heat arrived, putting a dampener on trade. I suppose it was not the best to sit in a heatwave knitting a chunky wool creation! However, autumn has recovered well and we are looking to end the year at about the same level as last. Export has been strong, probably because the pound is weak.
How often do you launch new products?
Not as often as we would like! A lot of research goes into new products to ensure that we can keep up quality while remaining competitive. Selling to wholesalers is different to supplying the public, and we need to make sure the volumes are there to buy high MOQs to get a competitive price. Then you need the backing of the wholesaler to distribute it to the market. We have recently introduced our own graphics and design team to speed up ideas, and we will be launching new products in the future.
Do you exhibit at any trade shows, either in the UK or overseas?
We haven't recently, mainly because we sell through the wholesale trade, who normally display our products. However, as these companies are not attending as many shows as before, it is something we may consider in order to make our brand more visible. We visit most trade shows to meet our customers and see the latest trends.
What's your take on the UK craft industry – would you say the sector is in good shape?
I think the craft trade is in a very 'all or nothing' state. Web content and blogs allow new trends to appear very quickly and disappear just as fast! There can be a surge in demand for a particular product line, outstripping normal stock holdings, which can be demanding with three-month lead times. Then the trend can stop just as quickly, leaving shops and wholesalers with dead stock. We try to make hay while the sun shines. There seem to be more people crafting now, perhaps inspired by articles on the internet. Examples include arm knitting and adult colouring, the first of which has gained pace rapidly, and the second is waning. I predict a buoyant but volatile future.
What's coming up next for the company?
We moved into new premises last year – the first time in over a century. You may have imagined that things have slowed down for a while, but Whitecroft has entered a new positive phase in its history, with a bright outlook. We will be looking at changing as the market evolves but keeping our core business of supplying everyday essentials is at the heart of what we do.
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