Business Angles for the Local Makers Movement

by December 6, 2017

How are local crafters cashing in this holiday season? (Image by rawpixel.com via Pexels, CCO Creative Commons)

Artisans and small-batch food producers do much of their sales leading up to holiday gift-giving, so December is a good time to explore how the local makers and crafting movements are unfolding in your area. While terms “crafting” used to conjure images of quilting grandmas, some arts and maker fairs now include higher-tech items like 3D-printed jewelry or laser-etched coasters. Some cities even have coworking-type spaces designed for crafters and makers, offering access to 3D printers, welding equipment and other gear. (The Austin Tinkering School and Double Union in San Francisco are good examples.) Fortune magazine reported last year that the “Maker Movement in Entering a New Phase,” and Mashable reports that NBCUniversal acquired DIY tutorial site Craftsy for $230 million earlier this year. Here’s a look at story angles to consider.

Maker fairs and crafts markets

If your local community has maker fairs or crafts markets on the calendar this month, see how you can unpack the economics behind these events. Is there an entrance fee for attendees? How much do vendors pay for a booth? How many purses/earrings/sock puppets does that equate to? Where do the entrance and booth fees go? Are there any surprising exhibitors such as typewriter poets? When it comes to transactions, is cash still king? Are crafters bringing card readers and accepting payment via Venmo or other mobile platforms?

Online platforms

While many makers and crafters display at physical events, online platforms help them reach a much larger audience. Etsy is the most well known platform, but Amazon is also getting into the market with Handmade by Amazon. Reporters can I.D. local sellers operating online by searching by zip code on Etsy or state on Handmade by Amazon. Since both of these retailers charge listing fees, some artisans are posting photos of their work on FaceBook or Instagram. You can find local Instagram sellers by searching geographic hashtags. Ask sellers about the specific challenges of selling online, such as shipping and returns. What kind of inventory is required before setting up shop? Is this a long-term endeavor or an effort to bring in a little extra cash for the holidays or to fill in the gaps during a period of unemployment?

Local cottage laws

You may have heard about kids’ lemonade stands being shut down for failing to obtain a license. In some states, cottage laws allow small-scale food producers to operate out of their homes provided their sales don’t exceed a certain dollar amount. For instance, here’s a list of FAQs about cottage laws in Texas, where the law applies to those selling up to $50,000 in low-risk food directly to consumers. Most communities have bake sales or craft fairs with canners selling jams for the holidays, so it may be worth interviewing local officials from your health department on how the law applies in their jurisdiction.