Home News Crafty Mart’s focus on education serves makers

Crafty Mart’s focus on education serves makers


AKRON, Ohio — After eight weeks of training to shape the home-workshop makers into successful small businesses, a group of local artists and crafters of every stripe are preparing to showcase their wares for the first time as graduates of Crafty Mart’s Beginner Maker Sessions.

The Launch Market is set for noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 21 at Carbon Black, Crafty Mart’s permanent space at Bounce Innovation Hub, a nonprofit that houses, trains and supports entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses.

What You Need To Know

  • Akron artists and crafters will showcase their wares for the first time as graduates of Crafty Mart’s Beginner Maker Sessions
  • The Launch Market is set for noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 21 at Carbon Black at Bounce Innovation Hub
  • Crafty Mart Executive Director Marissa McClellan began the organization’s shift to education in 2019
  • Crafty Mart was invited to move into Bounce in a partnership designed to serve craft entrepreneurs

Crafty Mart’s Launch Market is more than a platform for makers to display and sell their wares, said Crafty Mart Executive Director Marissa McClellan. It exemplifies Crafty Mart’s focus on education after years of being viewed as an organization that hosts craft shows.

“I think that people aren’t really aware of Crafty Mart, or if they are aware, it’s only that we have markets,” she said. “But at this time, markets are only 25% of what we do anymore.”

Crafty Mart launched in the Akron area in 2009 and became a nonprofit in 2015. The maker sessions started in 2017, but the big shift came when McClellan took the helm in early 2019, leading the group to create its first strategic plan and clarifying Crafty Mart’s mission statement to emphasize education.

“We assist makers, artisans and artists, with education, in markets — whatever we can do, basically — to help them with their creative business or their creative journey, whatever that looks like,” McClellan said.

Timing is fortunate for Crafty Mart ‘s evolution to solid ground and the nonprofits’ ability to offer strong support to artists and crafters. Valued in 2021 at $40.21 billion, the global arts and crafts industry is expected to grow by more than 8%, reaching $59.36 by 2026, according to Research and Markets.

The Launch Market is an opportunity for makers to put into practice everything they’ve learned, which are essential skills a retail business needs to survive and thrive — setting up a vendor’s license, branding a business, photographing merchandise, tracking inventory, budgeting and pricing, and using social-media for marketing, McClellan said.   

Crafty Mart’s Launch Market is an opportunity for makers to put into practice everything they’ve learned, which are essential skills a retail business needs to survive and thrive. (Photo courtesy of Crafty Mart)

The makers receive feedback all along the way, McClellan said, from their branding guide and market application to their booth design and display.

“So it’s kind of like, ‘Now take all you’ve learned and put it to use and sell it a market exclusive for you,’” she said. “Basically, just ultimate success is what we want. And then we hope that they feel confident enough to go out and have a successful market career.”

The beginner session, deliberately affordable at $100, opens for applicants each year in February and runs through May. It is funded in part through the entrepreneurism-focused Morgan D. Burton Foundation, and scholarships are offered, she said.

“We want to make it accessible to these folks because, especially the beginners, you’re just starting out, you probably don’t even have a penny to your business name,” she said. “You’re using your personal funds at this point.”

Crafty Mart support doesn’t have to end at the conclusion of the beginner session.

Master Maker Sessions also are offered every year, accepting applications for the session and for scholarships in mid-summer, and running through October. The eight-week sessions are geared for makers who have been successfully selling their wares and are interested in opening new streams of revenue.

“So maybe they’re tired of tromping around Ohio, and beyond, you know, selling at markets. So how else can they supplement that income?” McClellan said.

The master course helps makers drive more customers to their website, open new product lines, begin selling wholesale or move into larger spaces. The course takes an in-depth look at merchandising, funding options and business finances, she said.

The course culminates with Creative Catapult, a “Shark Tank”-style competition in which makers pitch an idea the public votes on, to potentially win a prize package and $2,000, McClellan said.

Recently two makers who won Creative Catapult won scholarships to participate in Mortar at Bounce, a 15-week accelerator that helps established entrepreneurs take their businesses even further. Both Crafty Mart makers won Mortar’s capstone project, its “Life’s a Pitch” competition, winning an additional $3,000, McClellan said.

Bounce COO Jessica Sublett, who will assume CEO duties at the end of the year when CEO Doug Weintraub retires, recruited Crafty Mart to move to Bounce.

“I think the premise of Bounce is that we want to connect people to entrepreneurship, but we are not the end all be all,” she said. “I’m so impressed by Marissa and I have just personally really wanted to make sure the crafting market has a space in the Bounce ecosystem and in the broader ecosystem.”

Sublett calls the partnership with Crafty Mart “symbiotic.”

“It’s just such a great synergy of realizing your strengths and realizing other organizations’ strengths, and then aligning the resources so that we can, at the end of the day, do the best thing for the entrepreneur,” she said.

Prior to moving to Bounce, a former B.F. Goodrich tire plant, Crafty Mart launched a Kickstarter campaign to convert the 7,000-square-foot space into a place for makers. The Crafty Mart team dubbed the space “Carbon Black,” after the original purpose of the space — tire finishing.

In another example of symbiosis, McClellan’s grandfather worked at B.F. Goodrich — as a tire finisher.

“I work in the same space he worked in, which is super cool,” McClellan said. “I love it.”

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