By Paula Jones
This summer I received an invitation to visit the Darice facilities in Strongsville, Ohio. I knew that Darice was a large craft company with gazillions of craft products, but I had no idea of what to expect. Darice is a privately held, family run business and the family feel is immediately evident when you enter the facility. I visited the day after the company celebrated its sixtieth anniversary. There was a huge outdoor tent where they hosted a company wide picnic still on the lawn when I arrived. From the moment you stepped into the facility, whether it was being greeted by the friendly receptionist to the genuinely enthusiastic staff, the atmosphere was welcoming and a hive buzzing of creativity.
The fourteen thousand square foot show room was amazing! It is larger than most craft stores, complete with sample project ideas and “Trend Caps” so that visitors and retail buyers can be inspired and informed of their latest products and ideas. Local stores who purchase from the show room are given a scanner to scan the items they want and the information is sent directly to the warehouse for pick up or shipping to their store.
I was particularly impressed with the new “LockerLooks” product display which Darice predicts will be a big hit for the back to school season. It included glitter paper wall liners, fuzzy soft mini mats, a battery operated chandelier to hang at the top of the locker, and magnetic containers that held all of the accessories you could possibly imagine.
From the show room I was escorted through a maze of office suites and introduced to various departments. Along all of the walls were motivational and inspirational posters. It was clear from speaking with the employees, many of whom had been with the company for decades, that the company practices what they preach.
The 500,000 square foot warehouse was overwhelming! The pick, pack and ship process was explained to me, and I was shown three levels of conveyor belts that feed various packing stations which are fully automated and help achieve over a 98% fill rate on each order. There is a constant loading of huge transport trucks at docking stations and delivery of shipping containers from overseas sourcing. The automated system can track contents of shipping boxes, refill packing stations, identify customers preferred shipping methods and get it out of the building for the most part within less than 24 hours. Overseas shipments have special attention to detail to ensure everything is as perfect as possible and minimize the hassles of errors with tariff codes and import duties.
Darice also distributes for many companies, owns several previously independent companies and also has its own brand of products. The company ships to retail customers all over the world and gives back to their local community, which was evident from the various philanthropic endeavors in the town, including the local community complex.
After the warehouse I was given a tour through the rest of the office. They have an entire department dedicated to marketing and social media, a “Darice University”, to upgrade employee training. Then it was on to my favorite area, research and development. The R&D department was like going to craft heaven. 3D printers, huge laser cutting machines, piles and piles of supplies to play with and ideas hanging from ceilings and walls.
I particularly loved the plastic tie and the necklace display chandeliers. The design staff could not wait to show me what they were working on and demonstrated how their tools worked and even cut out some samples for me. I was in designer heaven! I also met the trade show booth designer who creates all of the cool ideas that they show in their CHA booths.
Next up was the play room where I met a gentleman whose job is to play with the products and come up with sample ideas to help promote them. He was playing with a plastic fork, paint and a paper plate and created the picture to the left. The walls were floor to ceiling full of every imaginable craft product, I wanted to stay and play, fancy being paid to do that work, sign me up!
Next to R&D was the photo studio where the projects and products are photographed. Darice designs their own packaging and creates its own images. On the way back to the show room we passed by the wellness wall, which contains literature and information on employee health and benefits. Darice takes care of and values their employees.
The next day I was introduced to buyers from various craft segments that walked me through the show room again to show me the latest trends and hot products as well as upcoming projects. The bead and jewelry buyers explained the close links to fashion and how they spend significant time and energy following trends and pantone colors to predict and produce products ready for the next season release. The children’s craft buyer showed me how their own branded products integrate with other craft lines and how products are developed at different price points for various markets.
The Director of Programing Planning and Sourcing showed me some of the products Darice had developed, how they contine to evolve and the process that Darice goes through to get products to market. For example, a children’s hand puppet program was developed at a low cost price point and included a door frame puppet stage. This program is now being upgraded with better packaging, QR Codes for more ideas to use in the open stock kits and even its own app, where kids can pick a puppet they have made and make a video on an iPhone about the character. The Director also shared a new secret project she is working on, and allowed me to share my ideas on how this product, currently thought of as a “grandma” craft, could be updated for children of the twenty first century. I came away inspired and anxious to see how this project will develop.
Darice is an exceptional company. They imagine, innovate, source, create, test, safety approve, package, publish, market, educate through social media, display, sell through retailers, pick, pack, ship and provide support both to their retail and end user customers. After 60 years they are constantly evolving with the market, giving back to their community and caring for their employees, truly impressive. To learn more about Darice and their products go to www.darice.com.