Transforming Craft Retail: Insights from the State of the Industry Panel at h+h Americas 2024 (h+h americas 2024 – Day 1)

I’m Darrin Stern, the show director for h+h Americas and Vice President at Koelnmesse Inc., based in Chicago. Today, we bring you a fascinating State of the Industry panel discussion from h+h Americas 2024. Our panel was graced by diverse experts from the craft industry: Tony Lipsy from TL Yarn Crafts, Gina Pantastico from Cloud9 Fabrics, Scott Stone from Genporia Craft, and Virginia Johnson from Gather Here. Together, we discussed the current state of craft retail, emerging trends, challenges, and the future of independent retail. Let’s dive into the key insights from this enlightening discussion!

Introducing Our Panel The panel kicked off with each expert introducing themselves and sharing their unique perspectives and experiences in the craft industry. From crochet design and fabric production to running independent craft stores and online platforms, each speaker brought a wealth of knowledge to the table. Tony Lipsy, a crochet designer and educator behind TL Yarn Crafts, focuses on inspiring and encouraging makers at the beginner and intermediate levels. Gina Pantastico, a founder of Cloud9 Fabrics, handles production, sourcing, and customer service among other responsibilities. Scott Stone, Managing Director at Genporia Craft, specializes in community-driven TV shopping and influencer partnerships. Lastly, Virginia Johnson, owner of Gather Here, creates a vibrant space for crafters in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Diverse Viewpoints in Crafting

As Darrin noted, the goal was to include a variety of viewpoints. Each panelist brought a different lens to the conversation, emphasizing the importance of trends, customer engagement, and community building. Tony emphasized fostering community early in the practice of crafting. Gina highlighted the importance of operational efficiency and personal connection in managing a fabric business, while Scott talked about breaking down barriers for new crafters and the importance of making the community feel welcomed. Virginia shared her steadfast commitment to making her store a third place for crafters—a home away from home.

The Current State of Craft Retail

Our discussion moved into the heart of the topic: the current state of craft retail. Each panelist provided their perspectives on what works for brick-and-mortar and e-commerce shops, and what no longer does.

Gina underscored the need to focus on younger crafters, bringing them into the fold and encouraging their involvement in this vibrant community.

Scott highlighted simplifying the entry into crafting, reducing the overwhelm that new crafters might feel with jargon and technicalities.

Virginia stressed the value of providing the tools, space, and instructional support needed for new crafters to thrive.

Changes in Consumer Behavior

Panelists also discussed the shifting landscape in how consumers learn crafting skills and purchase products. With the rise of digital platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok, consumers are looking to creators for both inspiration and instruction.

Tony brought a critical point about influencer partnerships. She emphasized the importance of brands approaching influencer relationships as partnerships rather than transactional engagements. A genuine relationship, where both parties respect and value each other, creates better, authentic content and trust with the audience.

Economic Challenges and Adaptations

The panel didn’t shy away from discussing the harsh economic realities, like inflation and supply chain issues affecting the craft industry. Scott noted the importance of transparency and communication in dealing with these challenges, while Tony suggested focusing on quality over quantity. Gina spoke about maintaining stable prices wherever possible and ensuring value is evident in every offering. Virginia shared the balancing act of passing on unavoidable costs to consumers while maintaining the integrity of her brand and ensuring her staff is well-compensated.

The Future of Craft Retail: Community and Connection The discussion wrapped up with a hopeful outlook on the future of craft retail.

Gina emphasized the crucial role of community, encouraging brands and stores to stay true to their unique offerings while providing value.

Tony stressed the need to educate consumers about the existence and benefits of local craft shops.

Scott noted that while big box stores serve as entry points, small shops can provide the in-depth support and community that big stores cannot.

Virginia rounded off the discussion with a powerful message: there’s no room for shaming how consumers enter the craft world. Whether through big box stores or local shops, every entry point is valid, and building long-term relationships is key.

Q&A Highlights

The session ended with a Q&A, addressing concerns about attracting younger customers and forming stronger connections between local yarn stores and online influencers. The panelists provided practical tips, such as creating special classes for younger audiences and leveraging community outreach programs, to foster these relationships.

Conclusion This panel discussion at h+h Americas 2024 highlighted the evolving dynamics of the craft industry and emphasized the importance of community, quality, and genuine connections. As we navigate economic challenges and shifting consumer behaviors, it’s clear that staying true to your mission and fostering meaningful relationships within the crafting community is more important than ever. Thank you to our amazing panelists, Tony Lipsy, Gina Pantastico, Scott Stone, and Virginia Johnson, for their invaluable insights. Stay tuned for more episodes of h+h Connect, where we continue to explore the vibrant world of crafts. Until next time, keep creating and stay inspired! —