Scrapbook business becoming today’s ‘quilting bee’

The age-old quilting bee-a social outlet with a purpose-has a new rival called Creative Memories workshops.

As with its predecessor, people gather in groups to work on a common goal as they enjoy each others company.

In the modern version, men and women of all ages meet to create archival-quality scrapbook photo albums filled with their personal memories and photos.

“I always tell people, ‘Done is better than perfect,'” said Karen Miles, local sales consultant for Creative Memories, an international organization based out of St. Cloud, Minn.

“So I teach a lot of simple pages because I don’t want people to become overwhelmed with a project. I feel like a completed album is better than one sitting on a closet shelf unfinished.”

The idea for the Creative Memories’ company, involving individual consultants working out of their homes instead of retail stores, began in 1987 and now boasts more than 50,000 international sales consultants.

The goals of the company are to re-establish the tradition of the photo historian and storyteller, preserve photos and historical family information for future generations, offer quality photo-safe products and instruction, and provide profitable career opportunities and dignity for consultants and staff members.

There are several area consultants working with clients who want to have protected photos and creative albums chronicling the lives of their families.

Miles, Carolyn Brazil, Carrie Horn and Lynette Jost work out of Hillsboro; Robin Dicks, Nita Bittle, and Nicki Case are in Marion; and Laurie Cox and Gail Meyers are from Peabody.

Those consultants are part of Miles’ unit-a system devised by the parent company to encourage consultants to recruit and teach other consultants.

A unit is composed of a consultant and anyone he or she has recruited.

Miles recruited Dicks, Bittle and Case, and they are considered her first line. Anybody recruited by Miles’ first-line consultants in turn becomes her second line.

Consultants earn additional money in the form of commission checks each month from the parent company. The amount of the check is calculated by the sales made from those recruited under a consultant-called their down line.

The company has established eight levels of consultants. “And for every level, there’s a different commission you make from your down line,” Bittle said.

Miles said this marketing philosophy has been confused with the concept of a pyramid-marketing scheme.

“But it’s really a support system and not a pyramid,” Miles said.

It’s not uncommon for sales consultants to use their Creative Memories’ job as extra income to supplement income from other jobs. As they increase their customer base, they have the opportunity to eventually choose to do it full time.

Miles considers her job with the company full-time-working at it 20 to 30 hours a week in addition to her 15-to-20 hour part-time job as owner of The Hair Barn in a shop adjacent to her home.

Dicks teaches sign language at Butler County Community College, a job requiring about eight hours a week compared to her Creative Memories job of five hours a week.

And Bittle is a physician’s assistant in Marion in addition to her five to 10 hours a week with Creative Memories.

Bittle said she initially became involved with the company when she wanted to create an album after her son was born. At that time, Miles told her she would get a discount on her supplies if she had a Creative Memories’ class in Bittle’s home. Bittle now has a customer base of 50.

Miles, with about 200 people on her newsletter mailing list, has a new home with a basement designed to accommodate an office and 12 tables for her workshops. She also has an office assistant who works about two hours a week.

“People hear about me by word of mouth or on the Creative Memories Web,” Miles said.

When people contact her, the first thing she asks is if they’ve ever been to a class.

“I strongly suggest they come to one of mine,” she said. “Or they can have one of their own and invite friends and family they know who take pictures. And they can actually earn free products from their class sales.”

Miles initially offers two types of classes for the newcomer-a home show and a home class.

The home show is free and includes a 30-to 45-minute presentation about the product. No actual album work is done.

The home class costs $10 per person to attend, involves the same presentation as in the home show, but also includes hands-on album work designed to complete one album page.

“Everybody learns better with hands on because I don’t want them to take anything home they don’t know how to use or will stick in a closet,” Miles said.

The next step is to attend a workshop or crop. The workshop usually lasts about three to six hours and the crop can last all day. In each case, it’s a time to work on creating albums.

“I even have a couple of ‘Crop Around the Clocks,’ and I do those about twice a year,” Miles said. “We usually start Friday night at 5 p.m. and go until about 1 p.m. that next day. Most of them won’t sleep. We clean up and eat lunch before they go home.”

Miles is available to take product orders any time during the day or evening and also offers individual classes during something she calls Stop and Shop on Tuesday and Sunday afternoons. At those times, her basement is open for customers to purchase supplies, see new products, ask questions and work on albums without appointments.

Supplies for area consultants are ordered through the parent company in St. Cloud, which also has distributors shipping out of Sparks Nev., Yellow Springs, Ohio, and Colonial Heights, Va.

“Creative Memories supplies are all made acid free and lignin free,” Miles said. “Lignin is what actually causes the yellow staining in your pictures.”

Albums are available in a variety of sizes from 5 inches by 7 inches to 12 inches by 15 inches. The most popular album, the Premier, is 12 inches by 12 inches and comes with 30 pages for $36.

“Those can expand up to 45 pages or 90 sides and will hold an average of 500 to 600 pictures,” Miles said.

Miles has catalogs of album supplies available but keeps a large inventory on hand so her customers don’t have to wait for an order to come in.

Clients are encouraged to write information about the photos-called journaling-in their albums, Miles said.

“I would say pictures are worth a thousand words, but if you have writing to go with your pictures, they’re priceless,” she said.

Miles, Bittle and Case agreed that creating memory albums often satisfies customers who seek a creative outlet, but an artistic background is not necessary.

“I think creativity helps because you’re better at coming up with ideas, but we’ve got a lot of simple instructional-type things available,” Bittle said.

“And I always encourage people to come to workshops so they see what other people are doing.”

Typical albums display photos of weddings, children and family memories, but teens are eager clients as well, Miles said.

“And I had a gal who came to Stop and Shop recently, and she was working on her husband’s police-academy pictures.”

Explaining the attraction for starting a Creative Memories business, Miles listed five reasons:

it’s a social outlet;

it’s a creativity outlet;

it has income potential;

products can be purchased at cost;

it completes a personal mission-preserving the past, enriching the present and inspiring hope for the future.

Dicks said she enjoys being a consultant because she likes the relationships and the extra income.

“And I like to see people get excited about their pictures.”

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