“We joke that we’re the bologna in the middle of the sandwich,” says Clint O’Rear, president and owner of Creative Sales Consulting, a firm that helps brands get their products into big box craft stores. “We’ve got the retailer’s needs on this side, and the supplier’s needs on that side. And we try to be the link between the two, to just help the relationship work effectively and efficiently and help everyone save time and make the process to market quicker.”
O’Rear bought the company from his longtime boss in 2015 and says that today, the Euless, Texas-based Creative Sales Consulting works with craft suppliers on strategy, sales, and account management.
When it comes to placing a product in a big box craft retailer like Michaels or JOANN, O’Rear says it’s important to understand the retailer’s priorities. “The biggest thing most retailers are looking for is what the consumer wants,” he says, thinking back past craft crazes including slime as an example. O’Rear says social media influencers including The Crafty Girls introduced homemade slime to the market through the videos they were making and sharing with their audiences.
“So that one is one, where some companies in the industry saw what was happening on social media and brought it to the retailers and said, Hey, there’s something trending here, it’s getting a lot of engagement, and here’s how we think we could put product to it and help people do it from a DIY standpoint.”
For any craft product, slime or otherwise, it’s a matter of telling a compelling story and showing the buyer that there’s consumer demand. “That’s how we build our presentations,” O’Rear explains. “We say here’s what we’re seeing on social media, or here’s some consumer insight from research, and show them what the consumer wants and is looking for.”
“That’s what the retailer wants, right? They’re wanting to put stuff on the shelf that they know the consumer is going to respond to.”
Clint O’Rear bought the company of its founder after having worked there for over a decade. Most recently, Creative Sales Consulting acquired The Burgess Group, adding a new sales force to its team.
The evolution of a sales business
O’Rear says he doesn’t have a crafts background. Rather, it was the entrepreneurial spirit of crafts businesses that attracted him to the field.
After majoring in finance at Texas A&M in 1993, he went into banking, focusing on commercial lending. “It was so far from arts and crafts,” he laughs, but it was in that role that he had a career-changing realization. “I’d be in these meetings and you’d have makers on one side of the table, and then us bankers in three-piece suits all stiff and stuffy on the other. It was the makers, the business owners, that seemed to be enjoying their life and pursuing their passion. I was like, I want to be on that side of the table one of these days.”
A friend suggested that he try a sales position as a way to break into entrepreneurship so O’Rear left his role at the bank and began working for one of his former clients, a packaging business. Soon he was doing sales for a few different packaging firms, including International Paper and that is where he met Randy Putnam of Putnam Associates, a sales firm that also worked with suppliers of arts and crafts products.
“Randy was helping clients to grow their businesses and get products placed with retailers like Michaels and Wal-Mart,” he says. “They were people trying to break in, and people that had a foundation of a business but weren’t quite sure what was next and really needed help on how to work with retailers.” O’Rear was immediately intrigued.
This was the late 1990s and Putnam and his team would visit individual stores to see what they needed, then write and fax the orders to suppliers. Sometimes Putnam would demonstrate how to use specific products while at the stores, too.
“He was kind of like a sales rep, a service rep, and a demonstrator all in one. He was boots on the ground for the suppliers,” O’Rear says. “He wore multiple hats back then.”
O’Rear was 30 years old and working with Putnam gave him a chance to learn the crafts industry and grow his sales and strategy skills. He remembers his first client was Garden Ridge (now called At Home), a home décor store that had a craft department at that time. On his first assignment, he went to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in July to set up a new Garden Ridge store including all of the fixtures and products. The installation took an entire week. “So that was my start in business,” O’Rear says.
By the time Putnam was ready to retire in 2015, O’Rear was in a leadership role at the firm and took over as president, eventually buying the business in 2018 and renaming it Creative Sales Consulting.
Today, the business is still an agency that goes beyond just sales. O’Rear gave the example of how the firm worked with one client, DecoArt, on a three-year plan. “We determined what they wanted to achieve in the market. Then we worked together to identify where there were opportunities for their product, and we dug into the nitty gritty, put product presentations together, and coordinated with and presented them to retailers.” Creative Sales Consulting follows the process all the way through to a decision for the retailer to place the product in stores and then completes a sales analysis to see what’s working.
Although some larger companies have in-house teams that perform these sales and strategy functions, many turn to Creative Sales Consulting for services related to their crafts division.
Duracell, for example, is a huge company that contract with O’Rear for strategy and sales for the DIY market.
Bringing a new product to market
If you have a product that you’d like to sell to a big box craft retailer, working with Creative Sales Consulting can help you prepare for a successful effort. They can help refine your packaging, and ensure your logistics and supply chain are set up properly. They’ll help you put everything into place so that the retailers are going to be ready and willing to work with you.
A few months ago, Creative Sales Consulting acquired The Burgess Group, a sales team in Bentonville, Arkansas. Combined, the company now has a 17-person sales team with accounts at all of the big box craft retailers plus Dollar General and Walmart.
Their overall goal? “To help provide some shortcuts,” says O’Rear. “To just kind of make the process a little more efficient for suppliers and for retailers.”
Interested in learning more? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Abby co-founded Craft Industry Alliance and now serves as its president. She’s a sewing pattern designer, teacher, and journalist. She’s dedicated to creating an outstanding trade association for the crafts industry. Abby lives in Wellesley, Massachusetts.