As an independent retailer with a brick and mortar operation, it can be daunting to break into the world of online commerce. John De Fusco and Carla Canonico of CRAFTalytics broke down their mission, offered advice for those looking to take their business to the web and discussed their partnership with AFCI.
AFCI: How long has CRAFTalytics been helping local craft businesses?
CRAFTalytics evolved from Carla's passion for the needle arts and my passion for using technology to grow businesses. In 2005, we quit our day jobs and launched A Needle Pulling Thread Magazine, a multi-craft print publication, with the objective of promoting needlecrafts, and needlecraft designers.
The 2008 recession then hit us with a major change in the publishing industry. Large numbers of magazine readers started going online for their information and inspiration, and we recognized at that point that we needed a new strategy to remain relevant.
Going digital with our publication was part of that new strategy. We launched a branded app on ITunes and Google Play, and started making our projects available as PDF downloads on our website. However, the key element of our new strategy was playing a more active role with suppliers and retailers. So, in 2009 we launched an online directory, The Needlework Pages, and a package of marketing services for retailers leveraging both our print and online properties.
Then, in 2014, we launched our content marketing service for brands and suppliers, including our QUILTsocial.com and KNITmuch.com blogs and digital magazines.
In 2016, we completely re-invented our retailer package to adapt to the changing nature of the customer journey and the new marketing opportunities available through Google and Facebook. We branded it as CRAFTalytics and brought our content marketing services under the CRAFTalytics brand as well.
Since the 2016 launch we've continued to grow CRAFTalytics incorporating new services, technologies, and social media platforms as they become available. In 2019 we also launched an innovative service allowing craft brands and suppliers to run online marketing programs through independent dealers by offering them as "plug-ins" on the CRAFTalytics platform. We also expanded CRAFTalytics to multi-location business to offer the benefits of digital marketing at scale.
We're now in our 15th year and we continue to publish A Needle Pulling Thread magazine in both print and digital formats, and we run our CRAFTalytics service for retailers, brands and suppliers.
AFCI: What are some of the major challenges that local craft businesses face both online and in the marketplace?
Having worked with craft retailers closely, we understand what a craft business looks like. It always starts from a passion for the craft, which leads them to say, "You know what? I love this so much I could do this all day long! How can I get more involved in this awesome craft?" One thought that comes up is, "I'll open up a shop!" Besides the passion for it, there's the skill to see it through.
Little do they realize the full scope at the time they have this strong calling, that endeavoring in opening up a shop will take them farther from engaging in their craft, because there's so much to do in running a viable business. Challenges like dealing with manufacturers, suppliers, customers, their website, and now, social media platforms, with minimal staff, if any staff at all. Wait what? Social media platforms? That's another facet of business very real and necessary today. If you're not online, are you really there? It's now the norm for customers to look online for options before visiting a shop.
As if the brick and mortar store isn't enough, there's all the online work to do requiring a new set of skills. What business owner has the time for that? Are they proficient enough to do it on their own? It'll need to get done every day, like brushing one's teeth. If not, they'll need someone to do it for them, so now extra cost is involved and finding the right person to do it, yet another challenge. Creating an engaging online experience for the customer is just as important as creating the in-store experience.
It's a tall order for the love of a craft. And yet, an online presence is becoming increasingly indispensable to attract new customers, offer great customer experience and earn loyalty.
AFCI: What are some reasons local crafters become intimidated at the idea of taking their business online and establishing a web presence?
This ties in a little with my other point, it's like tapping into the unknown in a way. Store owners know about the necessary online presence and that it will require learning new skills, time and money to make it work. The amount of work involved is never clear until one dives in.
Working in a brick and mortar store is rather comfortable as you quickly get a sense of what customers need as they come through the door. It's not the same online, there's a lot lost in terms of understanding your customer immediately. So, an online experience needs to be created ensuring the desired responses.
Another intimidating factor is deciding which platforms to focus on, one or more? Perhaps one works better than another based on your customer base. Here too, there's a lot of planning and testing to figure out 'what's best for my store'.
Here's another scenario: a store owner hires a marketing agency to do the work, this comes with locked-in contracts for 6 months to a year. Faster feedback is needed to find out what's working and what isn't. And you don't want to be locked in because if the plan isn't working, you need to be able to navigate quickly and change marketing direction.
Store owners are also intimidated by the new transparency and vulnerability that comes with an online presence. The beauty of CRAFTalytics is that the store owner is made aware of all reviews/comments across the web and is given the tools to respond quickly and effectively.
AFCI: Why is having an online presence along with a strong marketing strategy so important for business/revenue growth/attracting new customers?
The customer journey has changed, and COVID-19 has accelerated the internet of things overall. Customers research products and vendors online, check product and vendor reviews online, and check through a vendor's website before making a purchase decision. It's critical to have a strong online presence on all of these touchpoints to attract new customers and grow your business.
AFCI: How did the decision to partner with AFCI come about?
AFCI is a natural fit with our passion for crafts. We've been members for many years and share the goal of growing a flourishing craft industry. The AFCI membership has always been a key target for our CRAFTalytics platform, and we're very grateful for the partnership opportunity.
AFCI: What are you most looking forward to in partnering with AFCI and what are some of the benefits of this partnership?
Bottom line, we look forward to getting more people crafting, and helping craft businesses succeed. This is what we originally set out to do 15 years ago, and it continues to be our prime focus.
Our laser focus on the craft industry gives us an advantage over the many competitors in the digital marketing industry. We're able to build in everything we learn from our magazine readers and the craft retailers and brands we work with to optimize the platform for the craft industry.
AFCI looks forward to partnering with CRAFTalytics and nurturing our membership’s desire to scale their business and become more intuitive in the ways they can expand their online presence.