By Samantha Clawson
Ben Franklin Crafts in Havre has been taking its business in a new direction. In addition to the crafts the store has traditionally sold, Ben Franklin now carries a large line of gifts.
"We've begun to add gift lines in the last year and a half," said owner Cecil Durbin.
Ben Franklin Crafts decided to start selling gifts for different reasons.
"Crafting sales weren't building," said Durbin. Craft sales don't grow because craft enthusiasts don't branch out into different crafts, and crafts tend to follow trends like stamping, where sales drop off after awhile, he said.
Cecil and his wife, Lorraine, also wanted to bring something new to Havre. "We're trying to pick up more exclusive lines, lines seen in big cities," Durbin said.
Some of the more popular gifts sold at Ben Franklin Crafts include Bearfoot, a line of ceramic figurines designed by Montana artist Jeff Fleming; Clayworks, ceramic houses and animals that are also night lights and candle holders; and Cowparade figurines.
Cowparade are cows that are based on the life-size fiberglass cows that were on display in the streets of New York, Kansas City, Chicago, and other cities. They are also expected to become very popular. "They're touting it as the next Beany Baby," Durbin said.
"Some of these cows are already retired," Lorraine Durbin said.
"If I was that hot, I'd retire too," Cecil Durbin said.
The biggest seller from the gift line are Bob's Boxes. These are ornamental boxes that can be purchased one at a time or in sets of up to seven. They were so popular at the Dallas World Trade Center that buyers had to take a number, Lorraine Durbin said.
Men have been rare customers of the store. But now LaseArt, a line of colorful laser-cut metal that depicts Western scenes or wild animals, has brought more men into the store.
Employee Teri Brix had a surprising encounter with one male customer from the Hi-Line. "He said, Wow, you guys have the greatest store I've ever been in' and said he'd come back," Brix said.
Although the crafts have been sold at the store for the last year and a half, the inventory has grown dramatically in the last six months and Ben Franklin has been struggling to keep up with the demand, Cecil Durbin said. "At least once a week we've been adding a line," he said.
The reason the gifts have been so popular is because Ben Franklin Crafts is the only shop that sells many of the new lines in the Havre area. Ben Franklin is also the only business in the area that is allowed to sell some of the merchandise, Lorraine Durbin said.
Ben Franklin Crafts will still keep up-to-date on crafts, Cecil Durbin said. The new gift line just "adds a new dimension." He had this advice for customers: "If they haven't been in lately, come on in. We're not just a craft store."