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A view of the industry through the eyes of a chain buyer.

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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 the world.

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 ira@theburbankgroup.com; 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 mike@clnonline.com.)



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