11 Jan 2021
I’ve enjoyed my fair share of career highlights over the years, but there are three that really stand out to me. The first one is my first day as a sixteen year old working for Manchester United as one of the first FA sponsored commercial apprentices. I made the decision not to go college and just take this opportunity that was in front of me. I built a great career there, which was probably the reason I ended up taking the path that I did. It was an evolution of turning football into a commercial product. The second was selling the company I founded, Superstore TV Limited to a PLC. Creating something of value as a young man was special. I thought the final moment would be selling Ideal Shopping to the world’s biggest private equity company, but then I thought, no. It’s actually taking all the experience that I’ve gained and having the guts to do it all over again with Makers Superstore.
I’ve had so many opportunities to do other things throughout my career, but I decided against that and used the knowledge I’ve built up through working in the craft industry to create Makers Superstore. I wanted to do something different, and the work I’m doing today is the most enjoyable thing I’ve ever done. I have a smaller team than in my previous roles but that allows me to be more hands on with my business and I love that. It’s still difficult and stressful at times but I have a different view of it than I did 20 years ago.
Something that really drives me is forward momentum, in terms of what I want to do in business but also with developing people. I can point to senior people in this industry and others that I’ve trusted and brought on a journey. They’ve been able to fly the nest and be successful so that pleases me immensely. I can look at the craft industry that we know today and I love the fact that I’ve had some element of input into the development of many of those companies. I keep in touch with people that I’ve worked with in the past and I love to see others succeed. There’s such a need for innovation from the craft customer and that’s probably what’s driving me to come back, start up a new business and seize that opportunity. I have to be moving forward, I hate stagnation.
Running a business can be stressful, but stress isn’t a bad word if you’re positive and open about it. A lot of businesses in this industry have grown from being hobbyists into fully fledged companies. Through that you have trials and tribulations when it comes to shaping your brand and making profits. I would say don’t hide your problems away. If you don’t know how to overcome challenges, ask around, people are very giving with their time and knowledge. I cannot tell you how many people are running businesses and cannot calculate a margin, they have no idea how much money they’re making or losing. Make sure you have the basics covered, do you need an accountant or an advisor you can talk to?
It’s also important to understand what are the priorities for your own circumstances. A lot of people will come to you asking for urgent help and favours, but it may not be urgent to you. Make sure you don’t overwhelm yourself trying to please other people. Make sure your own to-do list gets ticked off first.
With regard to Covid-19, if businesses have been savvy and taken advantage of online sales, then the last three of four months should have been good. If they’ve been engaged with their audience and made the most of the stock they’ve been able to access then I hope they’ve experienced some good figures.
I think the small businesses that have a bricks and mortar store have a bigger opportunity than the bigger online competitors. The need for customers to socialise is going to build and build after everyone was forced to keep themselves shut away for so long. If companies can organise craft-alongs and socially distanced meet ups then they’ll become invaluable to their local community. Some of our latest strategies are focused on reaching out to community groups in order to improve mental health. It can play such a pivotal role in bringing society back to normal.
The lockdown has also been a good chance for businesses to take stock of the products and methods that are working and those that are not. Now is the time to make changes and adapt to these challenging times. We’ve had a once in a lifetime impact with this virus, after the Second World War experts said it would be the biggest economic hit our nation would ever see. Well COVID-19 has been even worse, so if you’re business that has survived this then I’d say well done, you’ve got a business that can pretty much survive anything! Use this as an opportunity to adapt and change rather than go back to how you were working before. Always strive for forward momentum.
In terms of the habits there is no doubt that consumers have been spending more, when they’re bored they will turn to creative pursuits. We had a surge of people buying our Disney ScanNCut machines recently, and with all this spare time our customers have actually sat down and learnt how to use it properly. Our boredom busters campaign in the national media was successful and we had several thousand new customers over two weeks who had never made a card in their life. The kits were reasonably priced, set people on a creative journey and encouraged them to come back to use to keep going.
Our Maker Meet-Ups allowed consumers to meet in person and craft together, but since that’s not been an option we’re now running it on Facebook Live. It builds a community that relies on us for knowledge, but we also rely on them for feedback. I’ve changed some of my business decisions based on the information this audience has given us. We’ll continue to roll this out and start more physical meet ups with the launch of our Makers Experience Days as soon as it’s safe to do so as it’s just such a valuable thing to do. It’s all about educating, and hopefully resulting in some sales too.
MakersSuperstore.com is part of Makers Retail Limited. I saw for many years the plight of the independent retailer. Even though people say TV shopping killed them, I actually think TV shopping helped support them. We knew that a lot of people would watch TV shopping channels and never buy anything, but they would go into a local shop and do so. I thought, what if, with our new business, we put the big brands that have partnerships with us into independent stores? There will be the consequence that the independent stores have to run Maker Meet Ups to inspire and engage with people. We’ll give them products that they’ve never had access to before, enable them to make margin and use working capital more effectively– by way of super affiliate or put physical products into their store. Most importantly, they have to commit to taking part in the Maker Meet Ups. Imagine having this network where across the country everyone has the opportunity to learn about new crafts and products. We are looking to roll out 25 of these collaborations initially but we are hoping to eventually have over 100 throughout the UK
Customer feedback is everything, over the next few weeks we’re going to be calling all of our customers who have recently bought a ScanNCut machine from us just to check in and make sure they’ve actually got it out of the box and had a go. One of the most common factors that stops people using their new craft machines is the fear of doing it wrong. We want to provide support to our customers and give them the confidence to make better and better things and enjoy what they’re doing.
Makers want innovation, as a business you need to be the connector to these creative activities. If you help them create a sense of pride and fulfilment, then you’ve got a customer for life and will always have the opportunity to build on lifetime value
During the lockdown all my staff were working at home, but myself and my family kept as a unit so it meant that we could go to the warehouse and organise orders. I got the chance to pack and send out orders to the customers myself and I loved it, the customers seemed to as well! I’ve learnt that consumers want to know who they’re dealing with – who you are as the person behind the business. They’re more forgiving when you’re open and communicate with them personally. Our customers are the most important part of any business, look after them.
To find out more about Makers Superstore, including Maker Meet Ups, exciting product ranges and how you can connect with them go to www.makerssuperstore.com
To view Tony’s fantastic talk for Craft Business Live! Visit the show now.