How makers choose where to buy their patterns and materials

Craft? We're hooked.

Craft? We're hooked.

To find out, I love to visit trade shows — the Knitting & Stitching Show is a firm favourite.

I listen to crafters as they decide whether or not to buy something; have coffee with visitors and ask them questions; and quiz companies who are selling at the show.

People are drawn to businesses that very obviously have products for sale. The more attractive and eye-catching, the better. But not every stand with a huge crowd sells huge amounts: some visitors just look around, others ask questions.

And this is where support comes in.

Crafters who ask questions are already hooked and engaged, and the better the support offered, the more ready they are to take the leap and buy that new pattern, yarn or tool.

What support do makers need when they buy materials for a new project?

Most of the people I interview and listen to are keen to stretch their skills. Faced with unfamiliar techniques or materials, they're torn between their desire to try this and their fear of failure. 

Sewing and Dressmaking

By far the most questions tend to come up about following patterns. The new generation of pattern makers are worlds apart from those our parents used: they feature full colour photographs, usually there's no tracing required, they include jargon busters and sometimes even online video tutorials. Customers respond really well to this extra information. Bonus points for those companies that offer a more personalised support, as more makers are looking for help if they struggle to complete a step or need to customise a pattern to suit their body. More below.

Knitting and crochet

Knitting patterns are a bit notorious for not making any sense before you've actually started the project. Plus there are many different ways to write a pattern, from graphics and charts to abbreviations and essay-style recipes. Once again, those companies that are able to confidently offer 'after-sales' help fare really well. It's also a good idea to state the true difficulty level of a pattern or kit and gently guide crafters to something that's just a little step outside their current comfort zone.

A note on technical terms: People's facial expressions change when they're faced with knitters' jargon. It's so easy to take those skills for granted if you have them, but they scare off anyone who's not mastered them yet!

How do you support your customers after they've bought patterns or material from you?

Crafting has always been a social affair. Quilting bees, Stitch'n'Bitch, evening workshops... this is how many of us learn new techniques and help others with tricky projects.

The best thing designers and suppliers can do is join those groups or set them up themselves. There's so much to learn from the questions asked in such a forum. And no advice is more appreciated (and drives more repeat sales) than if it comes from the company you bought from. After all, they're the experts.

And how do you give that reassurance online?

Social media

Social media has created completely new craft communities. From ravelry to Facebook crochet-alongs, we're no longer bound by the local confines of our neighbourhood. These are safe places for makers to grow their skills in the company of others who may be able to help. It's also super convenient for suppliers, as these groups usually self-organise. One thing to be aware of though is the tone and quality of the community. You'll want people to associate a friendly and knowledgeable attitude with your brand. This is something you can't easily control in a group set up by someone else.

Owned forums

Some companies prefer to set up a forum on their own website. It drives traffic to their site and makes it easier for people to find each other. And it's the perfect place to jump into conversations with that extra piece of information or a new video, making sure users get the most out of the product they bought from you.

Email, chat and phone

The most personal support is 1:1. Luxurious! It's the most reassuring service you can offer, and really builds a connection with your brand. 

But where there are great rewards, there are also a few risks. Personalised support is more difficult to scale, and some conversations can be hard to close. Sometimes your ability to help may be limited. As your company grows, you may run out of savvy crafters who can give all the right answers without using a patronising tone. And the visual nature of crafts can make written explanations clumsy and excessively lengthy.

If that's something you've tried and struggled with, I'd love to hear from you! 

Over to you

What kind of support do you want as a maker? If you sell materials or patterns, how do you make sure your customers are happy and successful in their projects?