Maker Market was created to invite online businesses to do business offline. It seems like a pretty simple concept. But once you have a chance to delve into this idea, the concept becomes deeper and it becomes more interesting.
I began organizing craft fairs in 2009. That was a big year for me. I had my first child, my husband and I bought our first house. It was the year I listened to NPR dissect the plummeting economy. Every day. I didn’t have to listen to the radio to hear stories of people losing jobs or people who had just graduated from college undergrad and graduate programs alike to become officially underemployed-- it was happening all around me. And as a bartender with a masters degree I will tell you I could completely relate.
But 2009 was pretty amazing because out of this necessity of holding these less than dream jobs a lot of people I knew were so dissatisfied they became motivated to create their own dream job. Sites like Etsy and Big Cartel had been around for awhile and for a few pennies or for a few bucks a month anyone could set up their own shop. A lot of people did.
Hover Craft was my first craft fair and I created it with three friends because we knew a lot of people who were making things here in Milwaukee. We set the booth fee very low and reached out to people we knew were making things to sell and then sent out a call for vendors to try to reach even more people. The first year of Hover Craft had 35 vendors and it was at the Bay View Brew Haus right in the heart of Bay View. It was a raging success for a first show and we decided to do it again.
The first few years of Hover Craft were interesting to me because of the vendors. Hover Craft accepts applications from makers with no websites and no show experience. We also accept people who just want to describe what they would like to make, so if you seemed enthusiastic about your idea and we could visualize it we would give you a spot too. Our purpose was to encourage creative people to create and it worked. Every year we would get new vendors with new ideas. Some vendors would return having honed their craft from the year before and some vendors would get called up to the premiere craft fair of the season at that time Art vs. Craft. But one thing was consistent: there were shops that opened because of Hover Craft and then were able to stay open because of Etsy. Years of experience would inform these businesses and we were in the unique position to watch them grow and become more sophisticated.
I created Maker Market for the vendors first and the shoppers second. After experiencing the growth of these businesses through Hover Craft it became obvious there was a void in the show schedule here in Milwaukee. There are tons of farmers markets in the summer with craft vendors attached, but there wasn’t a place for just makers to come and showcase what they made. There was also a growing need for these makers to connect. A lot of these businesses were now viable sources of incomes for these makers and their families. At that same time I began to get invitations to meet up with makers in real life to talk about business more and more. Besides these meetings, most of these makers were toiling away in their studios holding all positions of their companies from customer service and shipping department to orchestrating marketing campaigns and implementing strategic planning all alone. There were no faces to look upon, there was no one to actually converse with - it was all done through email. It became apparent to me that the one thing missing from these businesses was connection.
Walking through Maker Market and speaking to each of the vendors I understood that this was what I was making for them. I was creating a connection. I was placing them into a community of like minded people to talk to about their businesses and at the same time I was giving them the opportunity to connect face to face with their audience. It’s fun to see someone’s face light up when they look at what you made. It’s also very motivational. More importantly though it allows the makers to stand in front of their work and represent it in the community where they live. These businesses are here. We just can’t see them on main street. They are housed in basements and guestrooms, at kitchen tables and the lucky ones are in rented studio spaces, but they are economically viable and they are important.
Now my goal is to help them. I am excited to bring Maker Market back for another season next summer to provide vendors with small handmade businesses an opportunity to connect with their community and with their buyers; to provide a place where these vendors can put their face on their business. I am also excited to announce my newest venture, which is to host classes on topics I have found have been of interest to a lot of new businesses. These classes are called Maker Sessions. These sessions will be taught by professionals who are experts in their fields ranging in topics from law to accounting to wholesaling, booth design and product photography. These are topics vendors suggested and I am excited to comply. These sessions will be specially tailored to these small businesses, they will be highly informational and straight to the point.
Since creating these marketplace events I have had the opportunity to watch many businesses find their footing and create something truly special. With this next phase, I hope to help them build on that to create a stronger creative community here in Milwaukee. Because really, what do you think would happen if every creative person could have their dream job?