Independent Retailer recently spoke with President & CEO, Andrej Suskavcevic, of the Craft & Hobby Association (CHA), the international, not-for-profit trade association. CHA consists of thousands of member companies engaged in the design, manufacture, distribution and retail sales of products in the nearly $30 billion U.S. craft and hobby industry. Suskavcevic discussed a broad range of topics, including the state of the industry, social media, and how to help customers fulfill their needs for creative expression.
IR: What is the state of the industry?
Suskavcevic: Given the level of exposure that the industry is getting, and the level of engagement of new companies that are sprouting up, particularly on the Internet, I would say that this industry is strong and thriving at the moment. A proliferation of online stores are selling DIY and craft merchandise now, because the barrier to entry to get into the business is very low in comparison to brick-and mortar, which is a bit more cost intensive.
We are also seeing a lot more brick and mortar stores that are developing an online presence, and are really getting savvy with social media engagement within their marketplace. They are expanding their borders, so to speak, from what is within driving distance of their store. I think all these things, particularly with the trending of activity in the DIY movement, speak to a healthy, vibrant and growing industry.
IR: What is the DIY movement?
Suskavcevic: The DIY movement is a form of creative expression using any type of medium to do that, whether it is painting, beading, jewelry making, paper, stamping, knitting, or crochet. For retailers, this means consumers want to create something themselves. This can range in difficulty levels from, “Hey, I would like a little kit because I want to keep my children occupied on a snowy day,” to, “I really want to learn a craft, because I want to make a gift for my significant other tomorrow.”
IR: What do you foresee in the future for retail, crafts and hobbies?
Suskavcevic: The economic recession was horrific for everyone involved, particularly retail. As the economy slowly but surely recovers, there are going to be more opportunities to engage customers, and more dollars in the market that people will be willing to spend. The important thing for retailers to do is to involve the community they are in, from engaging their school systems to the local boy and girl scouts clubs. A retail store can be a forum and a place to gather and learn about different crafts. We’re seeing the most successful independent retailers in our membership are the ones that are community activists. They have classes for people, they allow birthday parties to happen at their stores, and they are a place where people can come and express themselves creatively.
IR: How else can retailers help customers fulfill their needs for creative expression?
Suskavcevic: We have a consumer awareness initiative called Cre8time. It’s a mission to engage and raise awareness about the need for creative expression. Every time you post something on personal social media, if you hashtag #cre8time it will show up on the feed. This is another platform for the retail community to be able to show what they do, and display the creativity that they have going on in their stores. All it takes is to add a hashtag. Encourage your customers to join the movement.
IR: How has social media affected the industry?
Suskavcevic: Social media has been huge. People are finding inspiration online, and want to translate that into a tangible purchase. It is important to stay connected to your customer and build a relationship with them when they are purchasing, and when they are not. Understanding their needs, their wants, and being on top of what is going to excite them tomorrow is a whole new area of marketing that social media plays a huge part in.
IR: What is the mission of the Craft & Hobby Association?
Suskavcevic: In three parts, it is about networking, knowledge and advocacy, meaning we want to represent the industry and help connect it. We are here to help members’ businesses grow and sustain themselves, increase awareness about the industry overall, and help promote consumer participation and sales.
IR: What benefits will retailers receive when they become a member?
Suskavcevic: There are a number of benefits for retailers to participate in, which include access to the vast network of similar businesses that are already members. This provides the opportunity for retailers to expand their personal network, and connect with folks who are doing similar things. In turn, they are able to assist one another in answering questions and helping to solve the problems of the day.
We also focus on providing education. Not only do we provide business education to help businesses understand the best practices in merchandising, social media marketing, cash flow management and all the nuances of running a retail store, but we also provide education on selling products and engaging your customers in product demos. We put on the largest marketplace event globally for the craft industry. Our annual MEGA conference and tradeshow provides different events for people to understand and get engaged with their respective niche of the market.
For more information about the Craft & Hobby Association, visit www.craftandhobby.org.