A Lesson On Staying Relevant
I've been a fan of superheroes since the age of four. I'd watch the tv shows, read the comic books, and then act out my own adventures in the backyard. But a superhero isn't a superhero without a mask and a cape which is where my mom came in. Mom was a Jacqueline of all trades and, above all, she was a master seamstress. Now, knowing this and believing Mom could do anything, I asked her to make me superhero costumes. Her first was a Batman cape and cowl when I was four and her last - and perhaps greatest - was Iron Man armor when I was 12. All she had to go on was her son standing next to her with a comic book pointing and saying, "That's what it should look like." She never disappointed in what she created from scratch with no patterns other than a comic book drawing. Looking back on it all, I marvel that she was able to craft what she did almost out of thin air and realizing she should have been given sainthood for putting up with my "requests". But she didn't just create my superhero costumes. Mom sewed my clothes. In fact, I didn't have a store-bought pair of jeans till I was a Senior in high school.
Sew - sorry, couldn't resist - what does this have to do with my lesson on staying relevant? Enter JoAnn Fabrics. Can we agree that Home Economics is a thing of the past and that fewer and fewer women are sewing? Shouldn't they be nervous about their customers eventually dying off and them with it? Maybe not.
JoAnn Fabrics - in an era where they could be in danger of disappearing from existence - has embraced cosplay (or Costume Play for the unfamiliar). JoAnn's not only has how-to books on their shelves but they have signage in their stores proclaiming them as "Cosplay Headquarters". When I first saw this signage and did a little investigation, I was dumbfounded on many levels.
First level - the genius of JoAnn Fabrics in seeing how they were uniquely positioned to take advantage of a growing segment in our culture who are proudly making costumes of their favorite pop culture figures - whether it's superheroes, movies, video games or anime - and want to custom make their costumes to look as authentic as possible.
Second level - being able to pivot without alienating their base sewers/crafters. That's a tough trick for any business segment. And history is replete with businesses who crashed and burned trying to do so. Kudos, JoAnn Fabrics.
Third level - realizing that Mom and I were OG cosplayers. She didn't live to see JoAnn's pivot and would have gotten a laugh at how we were cutting edge in her sewing room all those years ago.
The lesson learned here is that "old school" doesn't have to mean outdated. What societal or cultural trends can your business adopt to keep yourself relevant with a new segment? Once you figure that out you open yourself up to new revenues but, more importantly, you open yourself up to a new generation that allows you to stay in business. Remember, JoAnn Fabrics didn't change their business model nor attempt to create new product lines, they found out with a simple messaging pivot they could attract an audience to use and to experience their products in a slightly different way that keeps their cash registers ringing. Whoever came up with that idea should get a gigantic raise.
Oh, and yes, the picture below is that of me just after Mom finished my Iron Man armor. No patterns, just a kid with a comic book standing next to her at the sewing machine. She was amazing. And I was one incredibly lucky son.
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