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Monday, September 7, 2009

Marketing ideas for the Financially Challenged Craft Retailer

Labor Day has come and gone. The calendar is clear: you are entering into the most critical shopping months of the year.... months that can make or break a retailer's bottom line. Are you ready? Have you taken the steps you need to generate buzz and excitement?

No? Uh Oh. I know, I have been focused on getting the kids back to school. Money is tight and sales activity is down. You have been saving all of your cash for for new inventory and don't have anything left for marketing.

What is the crafty retailer to do?

Get busy! Fortunately, it takes more imagination and elbow grease than cash to turn your store into a happy hub of activity. Women enjoy the social aspect of crafting. Make your shop a place of "uncomplicated joy," where conviviality and community encourage a loyal fan base. Your promotions do not need to be limited to your store "genre." You can simply host a Friday Night Ice Cream social to get folks through the door! After all, the Ice Cream cone was invented in 1903 and is celebrating a birthday on September 22. Plan a party!

Push up your shirt sleeves and consider some other inexpensive marketing opportunities:

1. Partner with a neighboring business to share a marketing event. Is there a restaurant or clothing store near your shop? Offer to exchange coupons with them. You will give every single customer a discount coupon to that establishment and they will do the same for you. Take the initiative! Put together a coupon prototype for both businesses and schedule a quick meeting with the business owner to discuss it in greater detail.

2. Turn a "competitor" into an ally by scheduling an event that showcases both stores. For example, the Yarn Garage recently co-hosted a felting workshop with a nearby quilt shop, Quilter's Haven. Each store "owned" part of the project and both stores were able to benefit from the marketing to the "cross over" crafter.

3. Sponsor a "meet up" group in your store so that like minded crafters can fraternize. Provide snacks and the location and put zero pressure on the group to spend money in your store. You are planting seeds that will grow over time. Women like to socialize when they craft. The Quilting Bee concept of yesteryear is relevant in 2009.

4. Sponsor the prize for the monthly challenge event at your local craft guilds. One of the fun benefits of belonging to a guild is the opportunity to participate in "craft challenges." I was a guest at a spinning guild meeting recently and bags of fibers were being put together for the next challenge. The attendees were all anxious to participate and it is always fun to see the different projects created from the same set of materials.

5. Have a monthly creative challenge in your shop. Offer small kits that contain identical materials for participating customers to purchase. The materials must be used in the finished project, although other materials can be incorporated as well. Ask your vendors to sponsor prizes that will generate enthusiasm and excitement among the participants. One on-line retailer who has taken this concept and made it part of her brand is Scarlett Lanson of The Beader's Muse. Her contest is called "Use the Muse" and she has vendor's lining up to sponsor the event.

6. Schedule a "pick your discount" day, replete with food, drinks, and a festive atmosphere. My daughter and I were recently in a shoe store that had a large discount wheel prominently displayed by the entrance. We were encouraged to spin for our discount and spent more than was budgeted when we scored 25% off our purchase price. You could do something similar by putting the discount amounts in balloons or stacked in a deck of cards. Make sure to have a few "50% off" chances scattered in with the 10% and 20% chances to really generate enthusiasm.

7. Offer a flat fee "Class Pass." Jet Blue hit a home run with its latest marketing effort: $599 will buy you one month of flights...go anywhere, any time and pay only international fees and taxes. Consumers responded in droves and the press provided lots of free publicity. You can do the same thing with your classes. A flat fee entitles the purchaser to attend any class she wants for a month, exclusive of material fees.

8. Promote the fact that accessories are an economical way to change an outfit and show your customers how it is done. Check out The Uniform Project fundraiser where Sheena Matheiken has pledged to wear the identical dress (she owns seven) every day for a year, changing the look dramatically via savvy accessorizing. You can offer a less dramatic alternative with a store mannequin.

9. Designate monthly "themes" for your store to promote and use as customer talking points. For example, make October the month to be GREEN...feature projects that recycle, reuse, or upcycle in an effort to create something new and relevant. An old sweater can be felted and used as the base for a handmade purse or pillow. Grandma's costume jewelry can be "repurposed" into a more modern piece of heirloom jewelry. End the month with with a big event...a customer craft GARAGE SALE. Encourage patrons to bring in their stash "overload" to sell for store credit. Everyone who participates prices their goods to sell and you simply ring up the sales. Don't forget to issue a press release about your month of money saving craft events! The newspapers will love the timeliness of the story and you will love the publicity.

10. Make it a homemade holiday by having a store ornament exchange. No one appreciates the value of a personally crafted gift like another crafter. Display the creations in the store prior to the Exchange Event. The pattern for the cute Santa ornament at left is available free here.

11. Better yet, turn the ornament exchange into an ornament auction to benefit the local Children's Home. You can make it an evening "in store" event with food, drink and a silent auction. Get other craft stores involved in the event--each will benefit from the cross over crafter. Notify the press!

12. Sponsor a contest. Most people look to the holidays with equal parts nostalgia and trepidation. Ask participants to describe their best/worst holiday gift and have customers vote on a winner.

13. Another contest idea....have a holiday dessert extravaganza!
Participants bring in a festive dessert and customers vote on a favorite. Put together a book with the recipes to give out as a gift. Tap your vendors for the prizes. We are constantly giving out goodies to help customers with their events. It is an expected part of the business and I am always surprised by how few ask. ASK!

14. Promote a monthly "Bring a Buddy" event. Customers are encouraged to bring in a Craft Newbie for some "uncomplicated joy." Offer a free instructional project and a 20% discount to both individuals.

15. Plan a "Conditional Rebate" promotion. These events are guaranteed to generate incredible publicity for your store. Run an in-store promotion where every single customer who makes a purchase from your store between Thanksgiving and Christmas will get a chance to win back their purchase price if it snows 6 inches on Christmas day. Doesn't snow in your area? Pick a different weather event. There are companies who underwrite insurance for such occasions. Prepare a press release and watch the excitement build! should be hosting a major marketing event and 2 or 3 minor events EVERY SINGLE MONTH! The events can be promoted via e-mail newsletter, customer phone calls, and the "bag stuffer." Stores that do not have a weekly bag stuffer are wasting a great opportunity. This one page (or half page) flyer is handed out at the register and describes all of the crafty fun that is on the schedule for the month. It gives your employees some talking points and reinforces your status as the place to craft.

Here are some upcoming dates to consider for an "off the wall" promotion event:

September is the "National Month" for the following: chickens, coupons and Hats. This is National Waffle Week! September 20-26 is National "Keep Kids Creative" week. October is National Breast Cancer awareness month. Craft stores will be pushing everything pink, but consider something a bit about a contest for the best beaded bra? Crocheted bra? Think outside the box to keep things fresh and you will outshine the competition.

Tip of the Week: Get to know SCORE. The organization is comprised of retired executives who offer free/low cost counsel to small businesses. It is TRULY an incredible resource. I have worked with the group in the past and have nothing but good things to report. Check out the SCORE website .

Coming next week: More creative ideas to flesh out your marketing calendar for the fourth quarter!


  1. Love the ideas...I'm wracking my brain to come up with something for my 1st anniversary in November. Was thinking of Inspired Needle Cash where you earn some $$ for every $50 you be redeemed the following month when sales typically will fall. Maybe I can do a combination of things. Too many ideas and November is fast approaching! Thanks for the great retailing tips!

  2. Thanks, Cathy, and congratulations on surviving that hectic/exciting/scary first year! You are smart to be planning a celebration, and the bigger the better! Now is the time to call upon all of your vendors to donate door prizes, items for gift baskets, etc. Your "Inspired Needle Cash" program sounds great....Bounce Back coupons are a sure winner and it will be a good way to kick off the holiday season. By the way, I have been enjoying your blog!

  3. This is great info and very timely for me, as I am just starting out!! I have just discovered your blog and am reading back through everything now. Thanks so much!

  4. I am glad that you are finding the blog helpful and congratulations on your new venture! This is a scary time to get started on a new business but the rewards, both personal and financial, will make it worth your while. Where is your shop?