22 Apr Creative Community Building During the COVID-19 Pandemic
As social distancing becomes the norm, the thought of building community may seem like an oxymoron. But the opportunity to connect with fellow crafters is exactly what your customers are craving right now, and technology allows us to make these connections more easily than before.
Now is not the time to “go dark” online, which is where your customers are spending more and more of their time. According to the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer, consumers want to know how businesses are responding to the pandemic, and are turning to the brands they trust for resources, support, and empathy. This is your opportunity to build trust and loyalty with your customers by giving them the information and support they need to weather the crisis.
Today, we’ll look at creative ways folks in the craft industry are building community, making connections and giving others hope during this difficult time.
A Surge to Support Craft Stores
The past year has been full of reports of closures and acquisitions within the craft community, and even prior to the outbreak, brick-and-mortar craft stores have been particularly vulnerable. As shelter in place and lockdown orders have been issued, shops have had to transition to offering virtual shopping services for curbside pickup or delivery via mail. Thankfully, customers are on board with these necessary changes, and many shops are seeing a groundswell of support from the community at large.
Local Yarn Store day, a yearly event that usually takes place in April, has been rescheduled for September 12, and the Summer 2020 Trade show has officially been canceled. As other shows and festivals are rescheduled or canceled, it is imperative for shops and businesses to cultivate a strong online presence to make up for the lost revenue and visibility that these events provide.
Others in the community are doing their part to lend a hand: for example, The National Needlearts Organization (TNNA) and Vickie Howell have created lists for yarn shops affected by the crisis, making it easier for consumers to find & support them, a new instagram account called Support Indie Dyers has been sharing posts from makers affected by fiber show cancellations, and Fiber Artist Market is offering free listings to fiber artists and producers in response to cancellations of festivals and shows. Vogue Knitting Live has gone Virtual – check out their class offerings, vendor market and more.
Yarn manufacturer Brooklyn Tweed has come up with an interesting solution that supports both end consumers and their local yarn store (LYS): the Apart Together initiative allows customers to choose what they pay for patterns and yarn by receiving up to 30% off their purchase. Participating retailers will be credited back the amount of the discount for customers making their purchase via their LYS, or they can specify which yarn shop will benefit from the program when shopping Brooklyn Tweed’s online store.
Indie dyer Kim Dyes Yarn is also thinking outside the box when it comes to supporting LYSes: the Community Matters Program offers specially-dyed colorways each month for preorder & pickup through participating yarn stores.
Prior to the outbreak, looking for new areas of opportunity has been a key to success for Knit 1, a yarn store in Chicago. Co-owner Allyson Dykhuizen shared, “Even before we had to close the storefront, we started virtual shopping so customers could shop with us from their homes. Now we are continuing this option and have found customers from all over the US! It’s great to talk to people about what their project ideas are and help them find the perfect yarn. We are also teaching classes virtually through a sign up form, and offering teach-yourself-to-knit and -crochet kits at a low price point so stitchers can share their craft with friends who are struggling right now.”
Building a Virtual Community
Open your Instagram app, and chances are, several accounts you follow are going live right now. We’re all trying to stay connected during this time of isolation, and this is easier than ever thanks to Facebook and Instagram live, Google Hangouts, Zoom, and other free apps. As a small business owner, you can’t afford to go dark on social media right now – that is exactly where your customer and potential customers are spending their time online.
Many brick & mortar yarn shops have pivoted to offer virtual shopping services via Facetime, Google hangouts, or telephone, allowing customers to get what they need for curbside pickup or delivery via mail. Tammy Newton, co-owner of Thimbles Quilt Shop in Lockport, IL explains some of the changes they’ve made since the shutdown:
“All staff members have been furloughed—only the owners are coming to the store to fulfill orders three times a week for 4 hours a day. We have been posting Facebook Live videos showing customers new products and samples; customers can email or call the store to purchase anything they see. We have also hosted a Facebook Live club meeting and have discovered that our customers love being able to interact with us during the Live events. We are currently working on demonstrations that our clients would like to see for future “Live” content. One of our staff members is at home creating video content and we have been more focused on engaging with our clients through social media. We miss our customers and based on their comments, they miss being here, too.”
Knitting podcaster Anne Frost, host of the I Thought I knew how Podcast, has been hosting virtual knit-together for her listeners. She says, “Normally, I host a monthly online knit-together with my patrons, but I decided to add a weekly knit-together for any listeners who could make it. Because I have people who listen from all over the world, I open a zoom meeting at 1 pm and keep it open for seven hours. I usually ask people to think about a certain discussion topic ahead of time and I bring it up when things get slow, as naturally happens with any conversation. And, every hour, I share a positive news article to remind people that the world is still turning and good things are still happening. We don’t talk about the virus or politics. Instead the focus is on our current projects, ways we’re passing the time, personal stories and triumphs, and general encouragement. Listeners keep saying how grateful they are to have an outlet where they can get together with others and focus on something else for a while, and I have even had some ask if I can just leave the chat running for them when it’s time for me to move on with my evening. Since I’ve started hosting these knit-togethers, there’s been a lot more engagement on the podcast’s social media accounts, and I’ve gotten a much better sense of who my audience is.”
Of course, not everyone is comfortable on live video (or regular video, for that matter). Don’t worry, there are plenty of other places where you can engage in conversation with your customers or peers in a meaningful way. Facebook groups, Ravelry forums, or even the Craft Industry Alliance forums are all good places to start.
Freebies & Discounts
A generous spirit has dominated the craft landscape as knitwear, crochet and sewing designers have made some or all of their patterns available for free during this crisis.
Sylvia McFadden has offered her newest shawl design, Peach Tree, for free with the coupon code “mutual aid,” encouraging those who are able to donate the money they would have spent on the pattern to someone experiencing loss of income due to COVID-19.
Another designer who chose to pay it forward is Jen Geigley, whom you may recognize from Episode 50 of the Business of Craft podcast. During the month of March, she made the decision to offer free downloads of one of her popular pattern books. She explains, “If there’s a bright spot in these uncertain times, it’s seeing artists, authors, actors, musicians, chefs, yoga instructors and people with all different talents sharing their gifts online. I believe knitting is more than a hobby. It’s a healer, it’s a companion, it’s meditative, it’s productive and it’s creative. It’s the one thing I love to share most. So, during the month of March I decided to share my very first (and personal favorite) book, Weekend: Simple, Modern Knits and make it available to download for free on Ravelry.”
Many more designers are offering discounts on their patterns (too many to list here!), and they aren’t the only ones making their work or wares available for free right now: for example, Knit Stars has been releasing one workshop each week and Anzula Luxury Fibers offered free skeins of yarn with no purchase needed at the start of April.
While these gestures have been met with a positive response and are certainly from the heart, there is risk of devaluing one’s work in an industry where fair pay has long been an issue. For those considering offering freebies or discounts, ask yourself this: can your business sustain the potential loss of revenue as a result of your act of goodwill?
Remember that there are many ways to lend support to others during this crisis, and they don’t always have to come at a cost to you! We love this simple but creative idea from Abundant Earth Fiber, who just announced a series of weekly giveaways which anyone can enter by making a purchase in their online store.
Crafting for A Cause
The need for cloth face masks has created one of the most compelling efforts within the craft community to date. Virtually every crafter, from knitters to needlepointers, has taken up needle and thread to sew face masks for their friends or loved ones, or to donate locally to those in need. Many sewing bloggers are sharing free tutorials and patterns – for example, sewing blog Sew Can She has a round-up of 5 free patterns, found here. Big box retailer Joann Fabrics made headlines by providing free supplies to customers sewing face masks to donate to hospitals. Additionally, several fabric and quilting shops have stepped up to serve as collection points for donated masks.
Still More Craft-Alongs
Turning to crafts during times of crisis is nothing new, but there are countless craft-alongs popping up to give folks a sense of connection and purpose while staying at home. While there are far too many to list individually, we’ve chosen a few to spotlight here:
Anne from the I Thought I Knew How podcast is hosting a finish-along challenge where crafters must frog (rip out) or finish languishing projects that have been in hibernation. Think of this as spring cleaning for crafters, giving them a fresh start by cleaning out abandoned or forgotten projects – chances are, your fans have quite a few lurking in their craft rooms! Offer them support, supplies, and possibly even incentives like prizes or a coupon code towards their next purchase for customers who finish old projects, or you could even organize a swap for partially finished projects, giving others the chance to adopt someone else’s unwanted work in progress.
Over in the DreaReneeKnits Ravelry group, the March to May Sweater-along is an informal craft-along for anyone working on the designer’s sweater patterns. This is a great event to share with your own customers, and you could even offer project kits for specific patterns which are eligible for the event. Another option is to host your own craft-along based on the types of projects your customers like to make the most – for example, a bag sewing craft-along, shawl knit- or crochet-along, or a weave-along.
The Knit 1 yarn store launched a craft-along for sock projects back in March; co-owner Allyson Dykhuizen says, “We wanted to engage our customers in an accessible way so we started a Comfort Sock Along so knitters and crocheters could just grab a 1-skein project and turn their brains off and knit socks. Every Thursday night we’ve been having virtual sock along check-ins on Zoom for participants to show off their progress and check in with each other!”
Tying your craft-along to a charitable cause is another great option; for example, Knitter’s Pride is hosting a Spring Charity KCAL, encouraging crafters to knit or crochet socks to donate to those in need, and offering a free sock knitting pattern by Mone Drager for fans. If you need ideas for charities accepting handmade donations, check out this post from our blog archive.
We hope this post has given you lots of ideas and inspiration to connect with your customers during this challenging time. Contact us for more strategies to keep your crafty business moving forward – our team is here to help!