July 24, 2020 • Sarah Schwartz
Pandemic-friendly DIY selections offer the precious gifts of distraction and connection
The coronavirus has cut a corrosive swath through America, upending businesses, families and lives alike as it rampages the planet. Interestingly, DIY product — once considered a crafty, negligible niche in the stationery world — is not just emerging from quarantine unscathed, but stronger than ever. If you’re looking for why, look no further than human nature.
“In times of crisis, art can help us find our way,” observed Michaela Yee, senior manager — insights and marketing of Sakura. “Now more than ever before, people are home with lots of time to explore colors, surfaces, materials and take more risks. We’re seeing so many projects being shared on social media and artists providing instructional live streams. Everyone is giving art and DIY a try, as they find therapeutic benefits while helping pass the time.”
In the card and gift domain, the DIY category encompasses a huge range of activities. Bullet journaling, calligraphy, jigsaw puzzles, cooking, watercolors and activity kits tackling every conceivable pastime — all share a definitive offline quality, noted Janna Willoughby-Lohr, owner of Papercraft Miracles, Buffalo, New York. “I think now, more than ever, people are starving for tangible ways to connect with each other. Now that so much more of our lives have been forced online and into other digital formats, good old-fashioned letter writing, journaling by hand and making special things for each other is so important.”
Best of all, every soul who wanders through your virtual or physical doors is your target customer, pointed out Christina Amini, executive publishing director for Chronicle Books. “First off, the DIY customer is ALL OF US right now. Obviously, it’s a time of uncertainty and high anxiety, so people are seeking a sense of purpose, a moment of calm — especially after homeschooling! — ways to engage our children — thank you children’s books! — and for meditative activities see puzzles, drawing, and journaling.”
For many, the pandemic brought with it a reevaluation of what’s important — and they’re finding meaning working with one’s own hands, described Bailey Rivera of Antiquaria, which offers its stationery and craft range wholesale as well as out of a Littleton, Colorado, shop.
“In our culture where being busy and working hard have become core values, we believe that slowing down and creating something purely for the joy of creating is essential to our mental well being. I think customers are hankering to try something new and continue learning. It’s a form of meditation and we all need these types of escapes. In fact, most folks that attend our workshops and purchase our DIY products are brand new to the crafts they select.”
DIY TO GO
Pre-corona, selling DIY was typically a matter of having a knowledgeable staff, great displays and engaging classes or demos, commented Emma James of Antiquaria. “For example, calligraphy supplies can look very intimidating, but stores that also offer classes or demos find that it’s easier to sell the supplies. It makes sense: Once people see it in action, they want to try their hand at it too!”
“We believe education is key for the DIY market,” agreed Brittany Luiz, marketing manager, Tombow. “The more education and inspiration you can provide the consumer, the more they will want to interact with your brand and purchase your products — even during tough times like what we’re currently experiencing.”
Some makers and retailers have begun offering virtual workshops and DIY kits. Willoughby-Lohr is currently in the process of transitioning her workshops online as well as adding new tutorials and craft how-tos, mostly from household items. “In addition, we are helping people facilitate virtual events with actual printed and mailed invitations, party favors, centerpieces and DIY make-along kits to help Zoom birthday parties and baby showers feel more personal and uniting,” she detailed. “We’re offering free 15-minute virtual consultations to help people create super fun online events.”
James and Rivera launched The Antiquaria Journal Club last fall as a team and community building exercise, featuring weekly meetups and images, tips and inspiration from the Antiquaria team. “Bailey’s daily calligraphy practice changed a lot since having a baby, and she was yearning to find something that was creative but could be done in short bursts of each day,” explained James.
Interestingly, COVID-19 has made the club more meaningful than ever, added Rivera. “Since we’ve all been physically isolated from one another, we’ve continued to share and journal each week. In this season, journaling can be a cathartic place to reflect on our personal perspective. A friend of ours recently uncovered her great grandmother’s diary from 1918, when the Spanish Flu hit the US. Seeing her words and knowing that she survived and thrived after gave comfort to her. It just shows that recording your days is important on so many levels.”
Whatever type of product they sell or services they offer, retailers need to go where their customers are, emphasized Amini. “Now, more than ever, it’s crucial for retailers to stay connected — to be online, to offer innovative engagement, and to communicate with customers. The more responsive a retailer can be to meeting people where they are — which, at this moment, mostly means meeting them at home, on their devices, or curbside — the better.”
Anything retailers can do to try to replicate the workshop and discovery experience online is appreciated, underscored Yee. “Retailers that are creating occasions, creating shopping baskets and showing the consumer how everything fits together are seeing a lot of success. Kits, solutions, easy pairings and how-to content are what customers are looking out for.”
EeBoo is well-known for its high quality art supplies and colored pencils whose packaging features the art of well-loved, well-known children’s book illustrators. “During the coloring book craze we sold our pencils to every type of store including museums, bookstores, toy shops, and grocery chains,” recalled Mia Galison, president and creative director. “After that madness ended we continued to sell to many accounts that had been introduced to our art materials.”
Now Galison has observed something similar happening with the coronavirus. “I believe open ended creative activities for children, like drawing, will continue to be popular, but the challenge for retailers will be to bundle supplies to get to a higher price point.”
THE GIFT OF CONNECTION
Although stationery and crafting are not regarded as essential businesses, what they provide their clienteles is precious. “People thrive when they feel connected, communicate and share energy,” noted Willoughby-Lohr. “I, for one, am so glad that my company has been inspiring people to share things safely through the mail with their friends and families through this difficult time.”
James and Rivera, meanwhile have found inspiration from their community itself. “This time has offered us a new space to reflect on what we want to do as a business as well as how to incorporate other DIY topics into our line moving forward,” finished Rivera. “As long time makers, it’s been really cool to see the things that we’ve loved to do come into the spotlight as people have more time at home. We will continue to do giveaways and tutorials via Instagram as a way to stay connected and give back to the community who has made our business flourish over the years. Our hope is that people can find a meaning in their craft that continues beyond this crisis and serves them for a lifetime.”