Katie Stackhouse of Midnight Creative shows some of examples of her punch needle items.
As individuals and businesses around the globe have been navigating the uncharted waters of work-from-home orders and physical distancing, it’s not only companies like Zoom and Nintendo that have seen a dramatic spike in sales. Though some businesses in the craft industry have been struggling or even folding, others have seen skyrocketing orders, specifically of project kits.
Stephanie Carswell, the owner of Hawthorn Handmade, designs and assembles textile-based craft kits out of a 3,000-square-foot facility in the south of England. She reports a 1000 percent increase in sales since stay-at-home orders began to be issued.
She attributes the spike to how easy a kit makes it for a crafter to get started on a project, saving them from having to shop for items from a variety of sources at precisely a time when they can’t shop in person and want to minimize the number of packages they receive through the mail.
“Having everything together in one simple package, and crucially not having to have a tool or other material or skill already, means someone can try a new craft, or even their first-ever craft, without having to invest heavily or find all the bits and pieces from lots of different shops,” Carswell says.
North Carolina-based quilt designer Wendi Gratz has been selling fabric bundles through her business, Shiny Happy World, for years, to pair with her quilt patterns. Her kit sales have at least tripled since pandemic-related restrictions began.
“Anyone who has ever bought fabric online knows that colors are not accurate,” Gratz says of the particular value to customers of purchasing a color-coordinated bundle. “Everyone’s monitor has different settings. So buying fabric yardage [online] is hard. Being able to buy a hand-picked bundle of fabrics that all ‘go’ together – picked by someone who had the actual fabric in front of her, in natural light – is really useful. It’s the next best thing to picking it out yourself.”
She makes the point that some quilters don’t enjoy picking out fabrics themselves at the best of times, which is why her bundles have been popular for years. “It’s not just a pandemic thing,” she says. Gratz says the key to creating a successful kit is listening to your customers.
“What do they constantly ask you where to buy? How to choose? What goes with what? That’s what they’d like a kit for.”
Questions from customers are what led Katie Stackhouse to start selling kits through her punch-needle and rug hooking business, Midnight Creative, based in Calgary, Alberta. “I started selling beginner kits in 2018 after hearing from followers on Instagram that they had trouble finding the supplies needed to get started. Or that they wished they could take a workshop, but there were none in their area.” A year later, she added intermediate-level kits to satisfy customers who were ready to move beyond the basics but didn’t know what to make next.
She’s received orders from many first-time customers this season, and also an influx from local customers.
Marketing for kits
Across craft niches and countries, each of these businesses has left their marketing unchanged from before the global crisis began.
“I have not changed how I market my items,” says Stackhouse of Midnight Creative, “and I’m not running any sales. My purpose has always been to help others craft a creative life, and that remains at the core of my messaging.”
Gratz has also not changed her approach to marketing, though she has released a couple of new bundles earlier than she otherwise would have. “I had already been planning to add several new palettes to my offerings,” she explains, “so those fabrics were actually already on order when things started shutting down. Normally I would wait to have some samples shown before I list them, but given the circumstances I decided not to wait.”
She’s been so busy cutting fabric for the bundles – she purchased a fabric saw to save time and ease physical discomfort from so much cutting – that she suspects her customers will beat her to it with sewn samples, posting their creations in her Facebook group.
Carswell has had to adapt her team to physical distancing requirements and is now staggering their presence in the facility; she also had to stop accepting international orders to keep fulfillment volumes manageable. She has used social media to post updates about these operational adjustments but hasn’t had time to focus on posting much more than that. “I’ve tried to keep things as normal as possible. I’m definitely not shying away from marketing as I’m running a business and need to support my staff and my own family, but mainly due to the incredible organic increase [in sales], marketing hasn’t been top of my to-do list for a while now.”
Stephanie Carswell of Hawthorn Handmade says kit sales have been up 1,000% in comparison to the same period last year.
Managing the supply chain
Relieving their customers of the burden of sourcing each component of a project – tools, materials, notions – means that kit sellers have to have a good feel for the availability of the products they rely on to compose their kits.
“I’ve been placing slightly larger orders than usual and ordering a bit sooner than I would typically would,” says Stackhouse.
With her favorite manufacturers located in New York and California, Gratz initially experienced delays in receiving supplies because their operations were shut down for a time. They’re back in operation now, with protocols in place for physical distancing, but Gratz is keeping an eye on the future. “I’m worried that things will shut down again if new cases spike in either of these areas, so I’m placing reorders sooner than I normally would, just to be on the safe side. It means a bigger inventory investment than I would normally make, but I know they’ll all sell through eventually so I’m ok with that.”
Understand what you’re getting into
With in-person classes and events canceled, along with craft fairs, shops, and markets, adding kits to an online shop may be a solid way to make up for lost revenue, but making and marketing a successful kit takes work.
Each business owner stressed the importance of including high-quality photographs in kit listings. Including beautifully styled photos of the finished project and a photo that shows every item included in the kit so customers know exactly what they’ll receive is vital. As well, detailed and clear instructions are a necessary element in keeping customers happily crafting.
“I would say be cautious, and be certain that it’s a direction you want your business to go in,” says Carswell of Hawthorn Handmade. “A lot goes into a good successful kit, and bad reviews due to missing or poor instructions or low-quality tools and materials could put a stop on any products pretty quickly. I’d ask yourself a few questions to help such as ‘Have you taught your craft before, and know how to write clear instructions?’ ‘Are you happy doing repetitive packing work for hours?’ ‘Are you able to respond to the emails and inquiries asking for help?’ ‘Do you know how to source wholesale components and figure out complicated pricing?’ Now could be the perfect time to finally get round to that kit or range you’ve always planned, but be sure to do it well if you want it to be successful and get people coming back for more!”
Kim Werker is a Vancouver-based writer who is building a community of creative adventurers.