On the big pattern companies

Gertie and Carolyn have both recently weighed in on pattern sizing and ease issues. I think there are interesting points to explore as far as amounts of ease, size ranges and grading issues, the changing shape of North American consumers, and many other issues. But one reason I think the Big 4 in particular fail to meet the needs of their customers is that they sell patterns like they’re commodities, and the sewing market is not a commodity market – particularly now that sewing is a niche hobby.

Let’s face it; the sewing market will never be as big, per capita wise, as it was in the 50s. Selling a bunch of ‘general purpose’ patterns for a buck or two each is at best a recipe for slow decline. I suspect that both Simplicity and BMV are much more bare-bones operators than we might expect. I think indie pattern companies who seek to meet the needs of a niche market and who sell patterns at a higher cost per pattern are much more likely to succeed, particularly given the hugh influence of the Internet on the market these days. The only strategic advantages the Big 4 have anymore are their name recognition and their placement in chain fabric stores.

If the Big 4 could develop a few niche lines: petites/small sizes, something equivalent to the old half-size patterns (mature figure, but not necessarily plus-sized), and a few more along those lines, say, and update their ease amounts to join the 21st century, they could leverage their strategic advantages to stay around for another 100 years. Otherwise, I seriously doubt they’ll be anything more than a vestigial part of the market in a few years.

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2 thoughts on “On the big pattern companies

  1. I’m just catching up on blog reading and saw this post. I think an additional part of the problem is that pattern companies are printing companies at heart. And yes, printing companies are commodities sellers. Another interesting note – Simplicity is owned by Conso Trimming. Hence the trim-intensive patterns and crafty patterns that seem to abound.

  2. This is an interesting idea, that patterns are no longer commodities and to some extent, I agree with you. Mostly agree with you. Problem with the big 4 is that their operating strategy hasn’t evolved as quickly as it (maybe) could have leaving opportunities for independents.

    It’s no difference to me but big 4 have boxed themselves into a corner in that with $1 pricing specials, they’ve cemented a commodity niche for themselves. Worse, this effectively lowers the perceived value of patterns across the board, limiting what independents can charge (which could effect me). It seems folks have one of two choices. Charge aligned to the big 4, run the largest volumes you can and spend a pile or time on marketing. The other option is to charge more, custom plot patterns to order and bypass the marketing to depend on word of mouth. Since I have zero marketing skills, I’ll do the latter but with no money tied up in it beyond product development (no inventory), I’ll do okay and hopefully have a bit of fun. This wouldn’t work for people unless they have CAD systems and wide format plotters tho. It’s freedom of another sort. If you develop a dog that doesn’t move, it’s no big deal if you have no money tied up in inventory.

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