Image courtesy of Quiltfolk
The past year and a half has been very challenging. A global pandemic, civil unrest, and economic uncertainty has made each day feel like a hurdle. And yet, we’ve also learned we are more resilient and creative than we knew. We asked seven craft business owners to share the greatest lessons they’ve learned over the past 18 months. There’s so much wisdom in their words and we hope you’ll find their answers to be inspiring and motivating.
I think for us it has been a reminder to stay relentlessly focused on the things we can control as a team; work hard every day to delight customers, invest in our people and make sure they’re engaged and doing great work. When the future feels uncertain, like it has for much of the past few years, I find it natural to want to wrangle all the chaos and make sense of what’s the future holds. But in reality, we control very little when it comes to broader economic conditions and the many impacts of a global pandemic. So we just try to wake up every day and execute our plan. Make adjustments quickly. Take care of each other. And do our best to deliver ever greater value to our customers. -Michael McCormick, Publisher of Quiltfolk
Make hard decisions
I think the most important thing we learned was how challenging it was to make so many studied decisions that we ultimately wanted to be the best for many different (and sometimes competing) factions and interests. That includes our company, our business, and our employees, as well as our attendees, faculty, and exhibitors. In these Pandemic Times—like every other business both in and out of our industry—we had to frequently pivot (there’s the Buzzword of the Year!) as we were unable to have seven planned Quilt Markets and Quilt Festivals in a row. Some things we’ll try again with the new knowledge, and some we won’t. Though at times, if we took just the reactions on social media—instant, sometimes vitriolic commentary often made without knowledge of any background, factors, or situations—we now know how Goldilocks felt as we made any announcement. Some felt it went too far, some not far enough, and some thought it was just right. But we are happy to return to in-person shows! -Bob Ruggiero, Vice President of Communications at Quilts, Inc.
My business functions just fine without a strict schedule. I’ve always been taught to stick to rigid deadlines regarding product launches, marketing activities, etc. but that model has always stressed me out. The past 18 months have made precise planning pretty impossible, so instead, I now keep running lists of tasks and marketing activities, and I prioritize whatever makes sense for me and my partners in any given week. It’s easy to shuffle things around, and it makes space for the folks I work with to say, “this isn’t a good time for me” without worrying that they’re holding up the business or causing an inconvenience. I’m also much happier having no looming deadlines and infinite flexibility. -Lauren Venell of Maydel, a best in craft embroidery shop
Value and trust your employees
The most important business lessons I have learned over the last 18 months are the ability to adapt to changing times and place stronger value and trust in our employees, which has been reciprocated. With the pandemic, we all had to shift from working as a collective unit in the office to working independently from our homes. We know that our employees appreciated our concern for them and the flexibility we offered and in doing so, everyone really pulled their weight as an unbreakable team. In addition, the interaction with our customers needed to be reinvented. Rather than making in-store visits and meeting at trade shows, there were countless Zoom meetings and phone calls. We have an awesome team and everyone got the job done while working and navigating the pandemic. Because of this, I have learned there is no “one” way to be effective. If your employees are valuable treat them as such. Give them the flexibility to manage both their work and life demands. -Gina Pantastico, Co-founder and Director of Operations at Cloud9 Fabrics and Felicity Fabrics
Watch and learn
Flexibility is key. We couldn’t do in-person shows with either of my businesses, both of which rely on live events for the majority of their income. Adapting concepts in ways that work for you — in the case of my live holiday shows, we teamed up with two other complementary events to produce a retro-style holiday catalog like the old Sears Wishbooks that would direct shoppers to our participating sellers instead of doing “live” events on social media, which hadn’t worked for our sellers when other events tried to implement them. You have to be willing to watch and learn what’s working and what isn’t, and pivot as needed. -Shannon Okey of Cooperative Press and Cleveland Bazaar
Taking breaks is needed. This year I took a 3-month sabbatical from everything for my own health. Never thought I’d do anything like that but it was the best decision I could’ve made. I came back from sabbatical super focused, a whole new reset. Business is better now because of it. –Angela Sims of Purple Craft Diva
Stay true to your values
Have a clear purpose and stay true to your values. Building a profitable business that provides exceptional value to your customers is easeir when it stays true to your professional and personal values. When things got tough this year with growth challenges, by sticking to our “north star”, I was better equipped to navigate tough biz decisions and further develop a coherent brand that resonates with our customers. -Alison Hughes of Beatrice Forms
Great article and I appreciated the many comments on flexibility and customer focus.