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Building A Better Craft Business
Building A Better Craft Business

Crafts Direct's store manager shares the secrets of the business' success

What was once a struggling Ben Franklin five-and-dime store is now a thriving craft business thanks to the efforts of the Schlecht family over the last 20 years.

The family owns and operates Crafts Direct, a single-store operation in Waite Park, Minnesota, with 40,000 square feet of retail space and another 24,000 square feet of operations space. Here are three secrets to its success.

Improve your customer experience with better displays

The most foundational guiding principle for Crafts Direct is centered on the customer experience.

If the team at Crafts Direct can deliver the best possible experience to each customer who walks through the door, the company stands the best possible chance of turning traffic into sales and sales into repeat sales as customers develop loyalty to the brand.

"Our culture and philosophy is, simply stated, to keep the customer happy," says Scott Schlecht, the store manager. "There is a lot that goes into that, however. Customer satisfaction means nice display presentations. It means being a resource for any crafting-related need they might have. It means providing our customers with new ideas for their projects. It means making our store easy to navigate. It even means something as simple as greeting the customer when they walk in. Everything plays into a positive customer experience."

Schlecht believes the framework for a great customer experience is laid down before the first customer walks through the door, when the decisions are made regarding displays and groupings of merchandise. As a large crafts store, Crafts Direct serves as a shopping destination for craft enthusiasts in southern Minnesota.

Crafts Direct — located in the St. Cloud area — pulls from the Twin Cities for much of its customer base. Due to the distance — about 60 miles away — Crafts Direct is a day-trip destination for craft enthusiasts in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

But the store doesn't only draw leisure shoppers who have an entire day to peruse the store. As with any neighborhood crafts retailer, Crafts Direct also has a customer base that wants to get in, find it, buy it and get back to crafting. And store design plays an important role in catering to that customer.

"You need to have set departments to cater to specific types of crafters, but we also work really hard at developing end cap displays that cross over into other areas," Schlecht says. "For instance, we might pull wood items, paper items and stickers from different departments, with the idea of creating a display centered on a single kind of project. Or we'll show multiple ways to use the component pieces in the display."

The team at Crafts Direct is continuously looking for ways to construct end cap and standalone displays in a way that maximizes convenience for customers on a quick errand, while still serving as a point of inspiration for those browsing the store at a more leisurely pace, perhaps looking for crafting ideas.

"Customer service is all about finding better ways, better solutions, and ways to allow the customer to personalize a project — make it their own," Schlecht says. "You want definite sections for ease of finding particular items related to a specific kind of crafting, but end cap displays bring together multiple sections and highlight the materials in a way that inspires new projects."

That could also mean displaying project-focused items along with literature that instructs customers on how to make the craft project. "Every little bit we can add to the display, whether it's additional items or information, it's all going to add to the customer experience," Schlecht says. "Then you're more than simply a retail outlet. You're a resource that people will seek out when they have questions or are looking for more inspiration for future ideas."

Commit to employee training and development

To build a great customer experience, you need a team that understands what customers want and need. That's why employee experience — in terms of years on the job — is closely tied to the customer experience.

"We've been fortunate in that regard," Schlecht says. "Most of our team leaders in each department have been with us for 10 years or more. When you have team leaders who are very experienced in the arts and crafts space and have a high level of knowledge about what our customers want, it helps to fortify your culture. For us, it's part of our philosophy of leadership through example."

The hope of the Schlecht family is that new employees will, in the future, become experienced employees. A high retention is how Crafts Direct has grown from a staff of fewer than 20 at the outset to a current staff of 120. That means hiring team members who align with the company's culture and indoctrinating them with a formal orientation program that educates new hires on the company's background and what it means to work for Crafts Direct.

"Admittedly, we used to be not as consistent with our orientation program," Schlecht says. "It was kind of sink or swim, and over time, we realized we needed to improve on that. So we hired a dedicated person to focus on training and creating a good work environment, and I think our employees really appreciate that. Our orientation program is now well structured, and it gives employees a very good idea of what to expect. It gives them a good base to start from."

The arts and crafts space is well known for its seasonal spikes in sales volume. In particular, the start of the school year and the holiday season bring a lot of additional foot traffic and people to the checkout lines. That creates a need for seasonal employees, and those employees go through the same orientation as full-time, year-round employees.

"September to December is our busiest time of the year," Schlecht says. "That's when we have the most need for seasonal employees. Last year, we took a more formalized approach and had a job fair for the first time. We hired 50 employees out of that, and it really helped to streamline the whole process of finding people, interviewing them, hiring them and training them. It's another area where we've improved quite a bit over where we used to be."

Find the right marketing channels

There is, of course, another essential part to delivering a great customer experience: Drawing customers into the store. To that end, the team at Crafts Direct is constantly tweaking and revising its marketing means and message to reach the widest possible audience of crafters throughout southern Minnesota.

As in many other industries, the digital revolution has impacted marketing in the arts and crafts space. Schlecht says it has caused Crafts Direct to continuously and carefully examine how the company’s marketing dollars are spent.

"Even over the past year, we've made a lot of changes to our marketing strategy," he says. "We've been cutting back on print media dollars and on some billboard usage. We're constantly in the process of analyzing all of that, trying to find the right mixture that will reach and impact the most people."

Social media is the digital marketing vehicle that has paid the biggest dividends for Crafts Direct, which follows the larger trend of crafters migrating to sites such as Etsy and Pinterest to share ideas and products. "For a while, we have felt strongly about web advertising and social media as a way to keep us connected with our customers, as well as with emerging trends in crafting," Schlecht says.

"It also works for us especially well because of our large geographical area. Because we have such a wide radius that we draw from, and we have some customers who might only come to our store once or twice a year, social media helps us stay connected to them and keep them in the loop with what's going on here."

But that doesn't mean Schlecht is abandoning print. He believes in a varied approach to marketing, targeting different segments of the customer base with different forms of media.

"When we pulled back in print advertising, we went to every-other-week circulars, and we found it was causing us to lose some traction," he says. "People do check our circulars for products and sales, so we decided to go back to weekly circulars. You have to find a balance that reaches all of your customers."

As for opening additional locations closer to its outlying customer base, Schlecht says he and his family have looked at the possibility, but for now, they believe it makes the most sense to remain a one-store outfit, marketing Crafts Direct as destination shopping for arts and crafts enthusiasts.

"It comes down to a belief that we haven't yet fully capitalized on what we can do with the space we have," Schlecht says. "We've had growth, but we can still improve upon it. So while we have the capability to expand beyond our walls, we don't think we're at that point yet."

"No matter how, where or when we expand in the future, we want to make sure it's done in the same manner in which we've grown what we already have — with a strong adherence to our brand and our values, trust in our team and commitment to our customers."

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