A view of the industry through the
eyes of a chain buyer.
Spark Crafts Needs a Spark
A great concept, but ....
by Jan Stephenson (November 3, 2008)
The excitement of planning for and launching a new
Absolutely the most innovative, interesting retail concept CLN
has seen in decades – yes, decades – is Spark Craft Studios in
the Boston area. To see why, visit the website, www.sparkcraft.com,
and read the interview published in CLN in Sept., 2005.
(Click on Benny Da Buyer, then scroll down the right-hand column to
"Spark Craft Studios: The Interview.")
The business grew substantially, but now needs help. Co-founder
Jan Stephenson wrote CLN:
I will be very candid with you in the hopes it might help others.
I get emails almost every day from aspiring small craft store
business owners. I cannot tell you how many people over the years
have written, called, or stopped in to say "I'd LOVE to do what
you're doing; Spark is a GREAT concept." People seem to
"get it" on a very basic level, what we were trying to do.
I truly do not know if the economics of the business model are
inherently bad (no one has ever been able to tell us this for
certain, despite our attempts over the years to get some
business/financial advice on this front), or if it is true that this
is a classic case of small business undercapitalization. I know
we've provided value to our customers and to our employees over the
years, and that in general people really want to see Spark exist in
I think someone with deeper pockets may have been able to
capitalize on this concept, but for us it was impossible to realize
our full potential and vision when so few dollars were allocated to
the venture, making every purchase and decision so much more
important. There was no room for the errors that inherently have to
take place for innovation to occur. The overhead to run a
shop/studio like ours just can't sustain slow growth; we had to be
doing huge volume quickly in order for it to work. I still believe
that could have been possible with a fully-stocked store, a real
marketing budget, staffing salaries to incentivize people to stay,
etc. All the things big companies know make the difference between
success and failure.
We started our store with $9,000 in retail products to sell and
built Spark Craft Studios into a store doing $350,000 in business.
We have been bootstrapping forever and took on debt in dribs and
drabs that ultimately did not give us the up-front leverage we
needed to really make a go of it. I think some businesses can work
with bootstrapping, but ours didn't turn out that way.
To really make a specialty store like ours work on a large scale,
I think it would take a big upfront cash commitment to do it. I
think of the Container Store, etc. But then again, isn't that what
Michaels did with Recollections and that didn't work. So, who knows?
I would love to see someone take on Spark Craft Studios and
really do the concept justice. If you want to mention it in CLN,
I would appreciate that. Feel free to print any of my above
commentary as well. I know real information from other stores was so
important to me and Amy as we were getting started and trying to
make our decisions.
Any sales inquiries can be directed to: Ira Rashap, The Burbank
Group; email firstname.lastname@example.org;
phone: 781-239-3399 / 781-354-9072.
(Note: To read previous "Benny" articles, click
on the titles in the right-hand column. To comment on this or any
other industry issue, email CLN at email@example.com.)