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Business Observer Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020 1 year ago

New craft supply company stands out by focusing on collaborations

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For Maker Forte, collaborations with influencers and creating products for sometimes-overlooked demographic groups are key.
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

In some ways, it’s the perfect time to launch a craft supplies company — given the pandemic-driven boom for activities from baking to biking to crafting.

Maker Forte is capitalizing on that surge. The company, based in east Manatee County in University Park, launched this September, and CEO and Managing Partner Alexandra Stapleton-Smith says it was a fantastic fall for the firm. The company has a base of customers and already received reorders for some products. “Covid has meant that more people are crafting,” says Stapleton-Smith, a crafter her whole life.

Courtesy. Maker Forte sells ink pads, stamps, stencils, marshmallow paste, powders and other craft supplies.

Maker Forte sells ink pads, stamps, stencils, marshmallow paste, powders and other craft supplies. The company is on a growth track, with more collaborations with crafting influencers in the works and big expectations of hiring more staff to meet demand. The company is differentiating itself through its collaborations, but it’s also standing out in another way — providing items for a variety of demographic groups, from people who celebrate non-Christian holidays to users of American Sign Language.

Prior to Maker Forte, Stapleton-Smith created a crafting blog about three and a half years ago called The Hedgehog Hollow. Stapleton-Smith, who is British, previously worked in global business development for Jaguar Land Rover. She also worked with craft retail giant Michaels to create samples and in-store demonstrations. Those experiences helped her build her blog, and now they are helping her build Maker Forte. Her background also includes a degree in mechanical engineering, which has come in handy as Maker Forte develops crafting tools.

‘We’re quickly getting to capacity. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the reaction from the craft community.’ — Alexandra Stapleton-Smith, Maker Forte

Stapleton-Smith worked on The Hedgehog Hollow for fun at first. But she soon realized she was on to something. The blog became an influencer and video production brand creating content for big box craft stores, Crayola and other brands. She had a full video studio in her Ohio basement before moving to Sarasota to be near family and friends. Through The Hedgehog Hollow, she also launched a craft supplies subscription box.

But Stapleton-Smith wanted to go beyond the box to launch a full suite of supplies.

Maker Forte is the answer to that. The company’s products are aimed at crafters in a variety of demographic groups. “We sell everything any paper crafter could possibly need,” says Stapleton-Smith, who has invested about $60,000 in Maker Forte.

Courtesy. The company is standing out by providing items for a variety of demographic groups, from people who celebrate non-Christian holidays to users of American Sign Language.

The biggest challenge ahead for the company, she says, is expanding its audience. Between The Hedgehog Hollow and the company’s other collaborators, it has about 100,000 engaged audience members. Now it wants to reach beyond that, even to people who don’t consider themselves crafty. Destigmatizing the word “crafty” will be key. The company’s tagline speaks to that mission: “You can be a maker, too.”

To broaden its customer base and make crafting more accessible, the company has released American Sign Language rubber stamps. It also has products geared to a Black audience and for non-Christian holidays, such as Passover. The collection is one of the company’s most popular and has already received reorders.

Maker Forte’s collaborations with designers and influencers are also important for it to stand out. Some collaborations were forged through Stapleton-Smith’s existing relationships while others came through social media.

Most of the company’s products are made in the U.S., although a couple are made in China. Stateside, some products are made at its University Park headquarters, including stencils and specialized paper. Although the company is young, Maker Forte already needs more elbowroom. “We’re quickly getting to capacity,” says Stapleton-Smith. “We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the reaction from the craft community.”

Courtesy. Maker Forte sells American Sign Language rubber stamps, products geared to a Black audience and items for non-Christian holidays, such as Passover. The collection is one of the company’s most popular and has already received reorders.

Part of that success, she says, is due to brand recognition from The Hedgehog Hollow. Plus, other Maker Forte designers have followings.

Customers buy Maker Forte’s products on its website and in independent retail stores. The company is also increasing its customer base through shopping television in the U.K. Shopping television in the U.S. could be in the company’s future, too.

Soon, Stapleton-Smith would like to be in a craft supply chain like Jo-Ann Stores or Michaels. “We would like to look at expanding into chain stores in the next 12 months,” she says.

On the brick-and-mortar front, Maker Forte is considering opening a retail store that could host craft classes. During the pandemic, virtual events have encouraged sales. “We do regular YouTube tutorials for every level of crafter,” says Stapleton-Smith. “It’s a great way to boost sales.” Instagram has also been a revenue-driver.

Today, Maker Forte has four employees, but its early growth means Stapleton-Smith is recruiting two more. Plus, there’s additional expansion on the horizon. She says, “I think by the first quarter of next year, we will probably be a team of six to eight and scaling from there.”

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