Taking Care of Your Craft Business During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Taking Care of Your Craft Business During the Coronavirus Outbreak

by Sandi Rosner for Stitchcraft Marketing

The coronavirus that causes Covid-19 is here. Since the first widely reported cases in China in late January, the coronavirus has spread across the globe with stunning speed, bringing widespread economic disruption, illness, and sometimes death.

As of this writing, there are more than 3300 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection in the United States. That number will surely grow by the time you read this. This country’s lack of access to testing for the virus, combined with the fact that infected people can spread the virus before experiencing any symptoms of illness, means that thousands of people are going about their normal routine unaware that they may be sharing the coronavirus with everyone they meet.

How will this global pandemic impact the yarn industry? What effects are we already seeing? What steps can you take to protect your business, your team members, and your customers?

We are a Global Industry

Take a look at the yarn on your shelves right now. There is a good chance that most of it is labeled Made in China, Italy, Germany, or Peru. Even if your inventory is mostly from boutique hand dyers, their yarn bases are probably spun overseas. 

This is the time when the big spinning mills are creating product for next fall. As major manufacturing centers experience staffing shortages or shutdowns, we can expect to see shipping delays and inventory shortages. Even if their warehouses are full, domestic manufacturers and distributors may be slow to ship as employees are asked to stay home in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

What can you do?

Make a list of the products you reorder often. These are the yarns and notions that keep your cash registers ringing day in and day out. Bring in additional quantities of these items now, so you’ll have stock on hand if your suppliers are unable to ship. Identify alternative products from other suppliers and be prepared to offer your customers substitutions, if necessary.

We are an Industry That Likes to Gather

For many of us, fiber festivals, consumer expos and trade shows set the rhythm of the business year. As large gatherings are officially discouraged or prohibited, 2020 will see us dancing to a different tune.

VKLive, scheduled for March 13-15 in Seattle, WA, was postponed to an undetermined future date. Handarbeit & Hobby, the major international trade show scheduled for March 20-22 in Cologne, Germany, was cancelled. STITCHES United, scheduled for March 26-29 in Hartford, CT, was cancelled. Smaller, regional shows are also being cancelled or rescheduled.

While there is no question that these and similar event cancellations were both necessary and wise, the financial repercussions will be felt by organizers, vendors, teachers and consumers alike. 

Spring and early summer are prime time for fiber festivals. We do not yet know if the coming of warmer weather will slow the spread of the coronavirus, as it does for seasonal flu. We may see additional event cancellations in the weeks and months to come.

TNNA is moving forward with plans for the Summer Show 2020 in Cleveland, OH, May 27-31. TNNA is  working closely with their event and industry partners in Cleveland to ensure they have the broadest array of safeguards in place for attendees. Watch the TNNA website for complete information and updates as we get closer to the event.

What can you do?

Plan for the best, and prepare for the worst. Because COVID and CDC recommendations are changing by the minute, we can’t say for sure what May will look like. As of now, we recommend vendors continue planning to attend and exhibit at industry events, but review the cancellation provisions of your booth contracts carefully. Try to limit sunk costs. Avoid non-refundable airline and hotel reservations. Check with your airline. American, Delta, United, JetBlue, and others are waiving change fees for tickets purchased prior to March 1. Wait as long as you can to ship product to a show; you don’t want to learn of a last-minute cancellation after you’ve already shipped and get stuck paying freight for a round-trip.

When a consumer show is cancelled, not only are the vendors left with unsold inventory, consumers are left with an unmet desire to buy. Be creative in coming up with ways to meet that consumer need.

If you had planned to be a vendor at a cancelled event, consider holding a “virtual fiber festival” to mitigate the loss of revenue. Make sure your website is updated with available inventory, including anything you would have offered as a show special. Use your mailing list and social media channels to reach out to potential customers. Begin by letting them know you’re disappointed you won’t be able to see them in person, then invite them to shop your “virtual booth”. Consider offering a special discount coupon code, or discounted shipping, for the dates when you would have been at the event. Be prepared with staff and supplies to pack and ship these orders promptly.

In the wake of the cancellation of VKLive in Seattle, Knitrino quickly developed a website for VKE – Virtual Knitting Extravaganza. VKE offers consumers the opportunity to take classes via webinar technology. The site also includes a Marketplace section, with links to the websites of vendors who had planned to be at VKLive and special coupon codes for use when ordering from these vendors.

We are a High-Touch Industry

Both the products and the people in the needlework industry tend to be touchy-feely. You may be used to greeting regular customers with a hug. These customers proceed to touch everything in your shop. As you demonstrate a tricky stitch or examine a problem with a customer’s project, you lean in close.

All of these behaviors must change if we are to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

What can you do?

The CDC has recommended “social distancing” to help prevent transmission of the virus, which includes staying 6 feet away from other people when possible. As a quick guide, that’s about double arm’s length. 

Come up with a standard greeting that doesn’t involve physical contact. Make eye contact. Smile warmly. Say hello. Offer a little wave. In a retail shop, this is less awkward if you stay behind your counter. Here are some sound suggestions for greeting without a handshake.

Many shops are closing now such as Fancy Tiger Crafts in Denver or Uncommon Threads in Los Altos, CA.  They are offering phone-in ordering, free local delivery and/or curbside pickup. This needs to be your call as a business owner. Should you remain open, let your customers know what you are doing to protect them in your shop. Join Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, and other major retailers in sending an email to your customers detailing the steps you’re taking to prevent the spread of the virus. Spell out enhanced cleaning practices and changes to store policies. Reaffirm your commitment to the health and safety of your staff and customers. Post signs in your shop with similar information.

Step up your cleaning routine. Show your customers you care by letting them see you wipe down all high-touch surfaces with disinfectant frequently throughout the day. This includes door handles, counters, class tables, handrails, touch screens, pens, and styluses.

Soap and hot water are effective in killing the virus, so wash your hands frequently and encourage your staff and customers to do likewise. Provide hand sanitizer at your counter and your class tables.

There is no need for you to wear a mask unless you are ill, or you are caring for someone who is ill. And don’t bother with the knit-or-crochet-it-yourself mask patterns which have sprung up in the past several weeks. They are not effective against the virus. Unless you are wearing a medical-grade mask underneath, you’ll just look silly.

Above all, if you are sick, stay home. Even if you usually tough it out and come to work when you’re ill, don’t do it. Don’t be the person who spreads the virus in your community. Make contingency plans now for back-up staffing in case you or your employees need to stay at home for a couple of weeks.


We are an Industry That Takes Care of Each Other

The needlework industry has a long tradition of compassionate action. We’re at our best when times are tough.

In the weeks and months to come, we’ll all feel the impact of inventory shortages, cancelled events, and reduced foot traffic. Even if you are one of the fortunate ones who avoid contracting the coronavirus, you’re sure to know someone who is personally affected.

What can you do?

Stay informed. The New York Times is doing a great job of disseminating up-to-date, reliable information, and they’ve pulled their coronavirus coverage out from behind their paywall.

Keep communicating. Talk to your suppliers and your customers. Let them know what you are doing to respond to the virus. Listen to their concerns and ask how you can help.

In a recent survey of consumer buying habits conducted by Stitchcraft Marketing, 37.2% of responders said they were most likely to shop for yarn and craft supplies at a local store, 11.6% were most likely to shop at a festival or event, and 51.2% were most likely to shop online. We’re likely to see these numbers shift in the months to come as customers choose to shop from the relative safety of their homes. Embrace this shift by making online shopping as easy and rewarding as possible.

For retailers, reach out to customers who may be choosing to avoid leaving the house. In many areas, people over the age of 60 or with underlying health conditions have been advised to stay at home. Use your email list and social media channels to remind these customers they can shop on your website or by telephone. Can you offer virtual shopping via Skype or a FaceTime call? Can you employ a college student who’s campus has closed after spring break to provide same-day delivery to local customers’ doorsteps? Could you set up curbside pick up?

Take a look at the product listings on your website. If your customer can’t come into the store to touch your product, how will you convey enough information to make it enticing? Is the style “just the facts, ma’am”? Consider expanding the descriptions to include more enticing, qualitative information.

If you generally have a “no refund” policy for class fees, consider temporarily suspending that policy. If students face a financial penalty for missing class, they are more likely to show up sick and risk spreading the virus.

We don’t know how long this will last. Strict containment measures in China have been effective in slowing the rate of new infections there. We don’t know if the viral spread will slow in the summer months, only to come roaring back next fall. And we don’t know when another new virus will appear.

Through it all, patience, kindness, and compassion will go a long way. Be well, take care of yourself, and take care of each other. If we are successful in flattening the curve, we’re looking forward to seeing you (but not hugging you) in Cleveland at the end of May.

If you’d like extra support or feedback on your preparations for Covid-19, we’re offering our readers a FREE 30-minute one-on-one session with us to talk through your plans. Available now through March 30th. Contact us today to schedule a meeting!

Sandi Rosner
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