Does retail have a new market in pro home hobbyists?

Photo: @musiena via Twenty20
Mar 09, 2022

The pandemic has allowed a new demographic to go professional with their hobbies, according to a new UK study. If these crafters and makers keep up their careers, it could mean a new ongoing audience for retailers in related verticals to court and support.

A study by UK craft supplier LoveCrafts found that five percent of its survey respondents were moved to change careers and began selling their crafts full time during the pandemic, Retail Tech Innovation Hub reported. The craft supplier says that during the pandemic, thousands of independent crafters uploaded patterns to its platform. Edward Griffith, CEO and founder of LoveCrafts, says the era has been dubbed “the year of the hobby hustle,” and that the pandemic years have led to many figuring out how to monetize their crafts.

Mr. Griffith’s perspective is consistent with a New York Times article from June 2021 that reported on the phenomenon of pandemic hobbyists going professional. The article detailed anecdotes of hobbyists making thousands and tens of thousands of dollars selling items as disparate as homemade clothing, dollhouse furniture and home-bred crickets for reptile owners. A survey conducted by LendingTree discussed in the article found that half of the 600 respondents who had started a new hobby during the pandemic had turned it into a money-earning side gig.

In the early days of the pandemic, many throughout the U.S. and globally found themselves exploring new hobbies as lockdowns meant to stem the spread of the virus restricted an unprecedented number of people to their homes.

When government recommendations for the wearing of cloth masks went into effect, DIY home crafters discovered they could make money filling the need, and many small crafting businesses were born.

The phenomenon was pronounced enough that Etsy, an online marketplace for crafters that had long been waning in popularity, suddenly experienced a massive spike in traffic and stock price.

Etsy’s stock continues to perform well, most recently beating analyst expectations in its fourth quarter earnings report according to Investor’s Business Daily.

Ripples from the trend also breathed new life into craft-focused retailer Joann, which IPOed at $12 per share in 2021. Joann’s stock is currently trading slightly below its IPO price.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How likely is the demand for makers’ goods to remain strong as cases of COVID-19 ebb? Do you see crafts stores (Michaels, Joann, et al) and online platforms such as Etsy continuing to grow their businesses in this environment?

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"This demand was strong before the pandemic so it should continue strong regardless."

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13 Comments on "Does retail have a new market in pro home hobbyists?"

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Georganne Bender

Having been part of the creative industry since the early-’80s I can tell you that this isn’t some new phenomenon, and it is definitely not just pandemic related.

Those who made their living creating and selling handmade goods would bristle at the words “Pro home hobbyist.” They are “makers” and selling their wares is how they make their living. Their ideas keep the creative industry fresh.

Independent craft stores, Michaels, and Joann’s will continue to provide the essentials makers need to create. Yes, a lot of people started to craft during the pandemic but there is a difference between those who create for fun and the pros.

DeAnn Campbell

While crafting is a great way to express creativity and perhaps earn some money on the side, it’s very challenging as a small business to generate enough scale to earn a living. As offices, stores and public spaces reopen and mask mandates fade, the time and motivation to work on craft projects is already beginning to wane. The pandemic has helped many people discover new hobbies and talents that will boost the sale of crafting supplies in stores like Joann for years to come, but I don’t see consumer demand trickling down to support the maker’s products enough to generate a full time income.

Christine Russo

Most makers are building their community through TikTok and I expect that to continue. I think the middlemen like Etsy may see a decline IF the makers have the wherewithal to build their DTC business.

Brian Delp
6 months 16 days ago

As things open back up, I think this trend may start to fall back however, I do see it continuing to influence fashion and home. There is a major trend called the Gran-Millennial which includes fashion elements like crochet detail, patchwork applique, and other artisan crafty details. Consumers miss social activities, so there will be less time for hobbies but I expect to see those bar patrons outfitted in patchwork barn jackets.

Doug Garnett

This demand was strong before the pandemic so it should continue strong regardless. However any client who sees growth as a result of the pandemic needs to take care. Pandemic growth is unlikely to be long run growth.

Bob Amster

As with so many other things in retail and quality of life, the pandemic has made an indelible mark on many. Over time the sudden changes will normalize and there will be an uptick in many of these cottage industries, but not a significant amount in the long term.

Shep Hyken

Regardless of it being a hobby or a part-time side gig, new habits were formed during COVID-19. As people resume their pre-pandemic habits, some of the newfound hobbies will remain. (Note: Some, not all!) It is the opportunity for craft stores to properly promote to their customers in a way that keeps them engaged and returning.

Dion Kenney
6 months 16 days ago

The “maker economy” is only getting started. There is a huge market opportunity to serve people that want it “their way.” Ironically, as society becomes increasingly atomized, the strongest growth strategy may be to enable the artisans and customizers that can effectively deliver niche-specific products. Michaels and Joann may be a model for other large businesses to consider.

Scott Norris

In discussions here over the years we’ve talked about how new technologies like micro-milling for flour, digital looms, and of course microbrewing are enabling medium and small scale producers to create and exploit new markets. Distribution channels like Etsy and tech like mini diecutting machines are making this possible for a broader and broader selection of goods that are more tightly defined and customized — all the pandemic did is shift the curve ahead by several years. Here at least, the future is looking more interesting and fun!

Ryan Mathews

The maker’s market has been growing for decades. The demand for their work should continue to increase, at least incrementally, for some time. The real question is will those makers who “turned pro” – a poor categorization – stay with their craft or return to more regular employment? Only time will tell.

Melissa Minkow

As the COVID-19 cases wane, there will be other reasons for makers’ goods to remain in-demand. Heightened consumer care for sustainable products, an increased interest in buying local/supporting small business, and greater awareness of how many buying options exist all will lead to continued support of makers’ goods.

Craig Sundstrom

“…Monetize their crafts…” UGH! I can’t imagine a quicker path to killing enthusiasm for a hobby.

Anil Patel

I feel that the demand for crafts will continue to surge. However, the pandemic will no longer be the reason to drive this demand. Economic growth and benefits of social commerce would be two of the factors boosting crafts stores’ sales. As the disposable income of customers will increase, priorities will evolve and they will spend more time curating and searching for things that fit their hobbies and art interests. Secondly, social selling gave a great opportunity for all craft lovers to sell and explore craft products. While craft makers get a wider reach and direct access to their target market through social media, customers, on the other hand, can buy products directly from their feed on mobile devices. Win-win for both.

Additionally, online platforms like Etsy will play a lesser role in growing craft business since craft stores can establish direct engagement with their customers through social platforms.

"This demand was strong before the pandemic so it should continue strong regardless."

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