In 2003 I joined the National Trust on a 10 month project; the trust had had feedback from its visitors that when they visited properties they wanted to be able to buy something made in the local area to remind them of their visit. It was important that these products were not from large companies selling nationally or internationally but that we were supporting local artisan food producers and craft makers. This sounds like old news now but back in 2003 this was an innovative strategy and long before supermarkets were offering locally sourced food ranges. I had the fantastic task of working with the National Trust shop managers in each region to find the relevant producers with great products that would excite our visitors from fudge and apple juice in Devon to beautiful tartan textiles in Northumbria.
14 years later and I have just made my first trip to the British Craft Trade Fair in Harrogate. I left wondering why I haven’t been before! Having spent a wonderful day looking at inspirational products from an amazingly skilled set of people I am in no doubt that they can offer a lot to many retailers in 2017.
We constantly read about how challenging retailing is at the moment and how important it is for retailers to differentiate themselves from their competitors by offering more unusual products. Craft products could be the answer for many of them. Of course not everyone can do this by stocking craft products but for those retailers whose customers want to buy this type of product looking to craft producers could deliver some really strong sales results.
So what is it that craft producers can offer retailers? Essentially it is unique products which cannot be compared with products sold by their competitors and therefore give their customers a reason to come back to buy more exciting products another day!
Many of the products being made will be handmade so even if they are a similar size and colour, often they will be completely different in detailing or finish. For many independent retailers and galleries this is part of the products appeal but for larger retailers who need product and pricing consistency this can be a problem; they usually need the variations to be kept within certain parameters.
Some products like printed stationery and cards are easier to control so retailers wanting a consistent product often feel more comfortable with these lines. There were some great cards at the BCTF which depending on the type of customers who come into your shop could suit retailers large or small - the only question then will be over the volumes producers can supply and the cost prices they can offer. Here are a really interesting cross section of designs I saw at the Fair. As you can see they have huge potential. (Our Funny Family, Gail's Glass, Jane Revitt Mapworks, Rachel Morley).
All retailers need to refresh their ranges from time to time so they have exciting new things to tempt their customers in to their shop or to shop with them online. If handmade craft products are relevant to your offer the makers are often very happy to make new colourways and patterns for you so it can be very easy to have new products regularly.
However it is not always easy for retailers to work with craft producers as many of them are wonderfully creative but often find the business side of things more difficult so initially they may need some handholding while they learn what is required. That is not a reason not to do business with any of them but it does mean you should be prepared to take a little more time explaining what you need and not making any assumptions. I can cite you so many examples of small producers who became very capable suppliers who were a pleasure to work with...if you feel their product is right for your customers it is the worth investing a bit of time to support the producer.
There are some really interesting examples of businesses which support small producers so they can trade in the bigger market - one of which is notonthehighstreet who offer all of their partners support with marketing, logistics and all the other skills needed to run a business.
A newer business offering similar support to British producers is The Great British Exchange which is a trade destination for small to medium sized British manufacturers looking to sell their products to retail and for retailers looking to find and buy British made products. Matthew Hopkins Managing Director of The Great British Exchange says that ‘Britain has an abundance of quality makers, designers and manufacturers (collectively known as producers) of a wide variety of different products however there is little support for these companies in getting their products in front of a retail audience.
Retailers are in need of new and exciting products, and The Great British Exchange operates a unique business model which offers its exclusive and growing membership of over 2000 retailers a wide variety of quality British made products. The Great British Exchange currently offers products from over 1100 British brands and their retail network ranges from small independent retailers to large chains, creating continual opportunities for producer members to sell in small volumes or scale up to sell on a national and even international level.
An example of which is their partnership with John Lewis working to find fantastic British brands for their stores on a local level; a recent success of this collaboration is sister duo Martha and Hepsie currently selling extremely well in John Lewis Leeds store and online and enjoying working with The Great British Exchange to grow their business.
What this highlights is just how commercial a lot of this product is but it needs to be ‘found’ by the relevant retailers and larger retailers will often only stock products that can be supplied in the way they require.
Those producers who want to grow their businesses significantly have to be sufficiently motivated to get themselves ‘out there’ exhibiting at the right shows, sending in information to local, regional and industry magazines and entering the relevant industry awards so that they get noticed. And buyers need to do their bit by being out there looking and in the less obvious places - otherwise we will all end up with exactly the same product offer and it will be so dull that our customers will just stop coming in to our shops !