Craft store, rooted in hands-on learning, pivots online to survive
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When Amelia Freeman-Lynde started up her craft-supply store, she had a vision of a community-centered experience — hands-on learning, classes, interaction between people. Then the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, and her business model changed completely.
Freeman-Lynde owns Freeman’s Creative in Durham, North Carolina, which normally offers craft courses, including knitting, sewing and indigo dyeing, as well as community meetups. But the store has been closed to the public since last March, so she’s pivoted to e-commerce with curbside pickups.
“I said, ‘I really want to connect with people. I want to show them kind of the joys of handcraft,’ and suddenly, our whole model is now online,” Freeman-Lynde said.
The store, which had four regular employees before the pandemic, is now down to two part-time workers. While it’s been difficult navigating loan applications on top of running the business, Freeman-Lynde said she has a lot of hope that the store will make it through this predicament and rebound.
“Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal spoke to Freeman-Lynde about the process of adapting her business to continue operations online during the pandemic, and what she’s expecting for the future for the store.
Kai Ryssdal: Tell me about Freeman’s Creative in the Before Times, would you? How were you doing? How was business?
Amelia Freeman–Lynde: Sure. So we’re a relatively new handcraft supply store. We opened in the fall of 2017. We’ve been kind of growing steadily since then. Making a lot of friends in the community, having a lot of classes. And we ended up, you know, closing down March 15, 2020, and very quickly changed everything about how we do business.
Ryssdal: Tell me about the changes, right? Because I imagine, first of all, people stopped coming in the door to your classes and all of that.
Freeman-Lynde: Exactly. So it’s kind of funny, you know, when I was wanting to open this business, a lot of people said, “You know, everything’s online. Why not do an online business?” I said, “You know, I really want to connect with people. I want to show them kind of the joys of handcraft,” and suddenly, you know, our whole model is now online. And we’re doing, you know, we’re shipping, we’re doing local pickup, we’re doing virtual classes several days a week.
Ryssdal: A lot of the relief that is getting out from the government is, is in two forms. One is for people, the other is for businesses, but they tend to be larger than, you know, a couple of employees in a craft business in Durham, North Carolina. And I wonder if you feel there’s a safety net for you, as it were. Or are you forgotten?
Freeman-Lynde: I feel like that’s been kind of the most disappointing thing. The community’s been there for us. But the support from the government just hasn’t been what’s necessary. Everything that’s been put out has been to kind of get a business through two or three months. And we’re in this a year later. And that’s been really frustrating, especially knowing that some of those larger, corporate businesses that have, you know, a staff taking care of all that, you know, it’s me and two other people. For the most part, I have to figure that out on top of keeping the business running.
Ryssdal: Not only are you your own chief technology officer with no training, you’re your own chief financial officer, right?
Freeman-Lynde: Exactly. It’s a lot of hats.
Ryssdal: Right. Did you try for any of the emergency assistance, [Paycheck Protection Program] loans or any of that?
Freeman-Lynde: Sure. So we did [Economic Injury Disaster Loans], we did PPP, I have a loan. As a growing business, all the financial data they wanted was from the previous year. Well, we’ve, you know, grown since 2019. And so a lot of it didn’t really cover what our expenses were at that point, and I had to let employees go. It really wasn’t meant to carry us through kind of the long term.
Ryssdal: Yeah. So speaking of long term and carrying you through, here we are a year into this thing, almost to the week practically. Are you going to make it through to the other side, I guess, is the most basic way to ask that question.
Freeman-Lynde: You know, my least-favorite question has been all of my very kind customers, when they come to do their pickup, they say, “How are things going?” And you know, that’s such a kind thing to say, but it’s really hard to answer that question. We will rebound. But you know, I can’t plan because we don’t know what the next few months are gonna hold. So you know that so much of running a small business is trying to anticipate what’s coming next. And we can’t do that right now.
Ryssdal: Yeah. No thought of shutting it down? I mean, you’re, you’re making it enough to not have to worry about that?
Freeman-Lynde: There are a lot of times where I feel extremely fortunate. And I just see so often how it could go a different way. You know, I was able to kind of adapt the business model. I don’t have kids at home. You know, I have a partner who has a steady job. You know, this is something that I really want to be doing for, you know, 10, 15, 20 years. I hope that this is the future for me.
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