This Is Not How This Ends

Posted by Loren Feldman on Jun 25, 2024 9:26:51 AM

This is not how this ends



This week, we bring you what we’re calling an Entrepreneurial Fish Bowl with Chris Hutchinson. As you may remember, we recorded one of these at our 21 Hats Live event in Fort Worth, where I shared some of my challenges trying to build 21 Hats and got feedback from the group. We recorded that conversation and turned it into a podcast episode. This time, we’re doing the same thing except it will be Jaime Echt, founder and CEO of The Crafters Workshop, who is going to explain her challenges to a virtual group of 21 Hats entrepreneurs. As you’ll hear, Jaime’s challenges are real: Her sales are down. Her customers are aging. Her lease is up. And she’s not sure what she should do next. We’re going to see if a group of 21 Hats Founding Members can offer some support and advice.

— Loren Feldman


This content was produced by 21 Hats.

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Podcast Transcript

Full Episode Transcript:

Loren Feldman:
Welcome, everybody. Thank you so much for coming to this without having any idea what you were coming to. I really appreciate it. I think this is going to be really interesting and something that we’re going to want to do again, but we’ll see what happens. This is a little bit of a trial for us, although Chris Hutchinson has done this many times before. We saw him do it in Fort Worth, and I’m really confident we’re all going to get something special out of this. Chris, why don’t you give us, again, just a real quick overview of how you’re going to do this.

Chris Hutchinson:
This is a simple process of us getting to clarity together as entrepreneurs on behalf of an entrepreneur who’s going to share her story about what’s happening in the business and sort of asking us for some support. So we’re going to first have a process where we listen to our entrepreneur. We’re going to do the interview. We’re going to capture some of that context. And then each of us, all of us, will be invited to step up to the microphone, as it were, say their name and business, and offer a question—an open-ended question. Not one, like: Don’t you want to try X? It’s more about understanding what’s happening together. I get to moderate that.

And then, once we have those answers, the entrepreneur will look at those and say: I want advice around this piece. It’s come out that this is kind of an important part, this nugget. And then, we’re gonna go into breakouts so that we can, in small groups, come up with a next step, a cautionary step, or a success tip. Those will all be collected. We’ll do some magic behind the scenes. And then each of those folks who have the most liked questions will come up to the mic again, share those, and that’ll help our entrepreneur at the end. Hopefully, one to three pieces of that advice is just stellar, and we’ll help them commit to that and support them.

Loren Feldman:
All right, so let’s get going. I’m delighted to introduce our guest of honor, Jaime Echt. Jaime, tell us where you are and what you do.

Jaime Echt:
I am in Elmsford, New York, which is just north of New York City. I own The Crafters Workshop. We’ve been in business 27 years, I am the founder and CEO. We manufacture, design, distribute arts-and-crafts supplies, specifically stencils and mixed-media products.

Loren Feldman:
And you’ve been in business for a while. Take us back. How did you come to start the business?

Jaime Echt:
The fashion industry led me into doing crafts, selling crafts, teaching crafts. So I opened a store in 1997, and the only thing missing was stencils. I mean, there were stencils out there, but there weren’t stencils that the more sophisticated fashion-trend-oriented person was looking for. So I drew my own, had them made, stuck them up on my pegboard in my store, and they sold really well.

I mean, well enough that they actually—I was a destination store, so people came from all over on their way on a business trip or on a family trip. And then my stencils would end up in Florida, California, the UK, Canada, and I’d get calls from other stores asking if I could sell them my stencils, which I thought, “Sure I can do that.” And little by little, that’s how my wholesale business grew to the point that I made the decision to close my retail store in 2005, and just focus 100 percent on wholesale.

Loren Feldman:
For those of us like me, who are not all that familiar with crafts, can you tell us a little bit more about stencils? Why did they connect? How do people use them? What’s this about?

Jaime Echt:
Yeah, because I know the first thing you might be thinking is, “Oh, this is a kids’ product.” Well, actually, my customer tends to be an older woman—and by older, like over 50, 55, 60, 65. She is very into card-making, scrapbooking—we call it paper arts—journaling. She might be dabbling in mixed media. I have crossed over into the fine arts area where artists are using stencils to add texture background designs. These are very pretty stencils that help people who aren’t necessarily artistic feel creative.

You know, even for myself, if I want to draw a lovely tree, it’s gonna take me eight or nine tries. And if I already have this beautiful background, and I don’t want to ruin it, I want to be able to put a stencil on top and go, “Oh, that’s right where I want that tree.” And I can trace it. I can put some of our modeling pastes [on]. We have our own particular piece called stencil butter. We have 43 colors now. And these are dimensional colors that don’t leak underneath the stencil. So it’s definitely a finer craft, if you want to call it that. And it’s definitely geared, currently, for a more mature audience, somebody who has time and a little bit of money. She might be a nurse, a nursing assistant, a teacher, a teacher’s assistant. So big chunks of time off, and some extra spending money to spend on herself.

Loren Feldman:
You told us that you initially had a retail store, but you closed that after a while, correct?

Jaime Echt:
I did. Well, in New York, it’s very competitive. And we were open seven days a week. I opened with a two-and-a-half-year-old, and soon after that, I had a newborn. So, doing a seven-day-a-week gig with two little kids who were with me the entire time. I was in a marriage that wasn’t the most supportive, let’s say. So they were always with me.

I ran 30 classes a month out of my store, some of them I even taught, and then, running this wholesale business on top of it. Oh, and I had an 82-year-old father-in-law who lived with us who was in a wheelchair and on dialysis. So I kind of had to look at my life and see what was working and what wasn’t. I had to stick with the marriage for a little while. But the retail business, I think, was taking the most out of me, and I learned a lot from it that I could apply to my wholesale business. That was more than you asked for!

Loren Feldman:
No, no, not at all! When would you say the business was at its peak? What were the best days?

Jaime Echt:
Good question. I would say 2012, ’13, ’14, it was amazing. And I would say, looking back, the reason is that we owned the stencil arena. We were the only ones making very unique stencils. And that is still what we predominantly do, and we were known for that. But little by little, other people would add stencils onto—they made rubber stamps: “And we do stencils, too.” Let’s say we make papers, beautiful printed papers: “Oh, and we make stencils, too.” I do make stencils for some of those people. So I do OEM, and therefore I get a little piece of that pie, which is great. But little by little, all the me-toos coming in, and also making stencils, started nibbling away at the piece of the pie that we had—even though the pie was probably big and getting bigger.

Loren Feldman:
Can you give us a sense of how big the business was at its peak?

Jaime Echt:
Under 2 million, but close.

Loren Feldman:
And how many employees did you have at that point?

Jaime Echt:
At least a dozen. We manufacture in the United States, and we assemble right in Elmsford. So all the assembly, the shipping, the billing, everything happens out of our warehouse office.

Loren Feldman:
So now, if you would, bring us up to date. Where do things stand now? How’s it going?

Jaime Echt:
So, I track my sales in 12-month increments, so that kind of takes out seasonality. We had some really, really positive months, years during the pandemic. And I mean, I know a lot of people suffered, but people were home, and they were kind of getting in touch with the things that brought them peace and made them happy. And crafting was one of those things. So, we did well. I mean, I totally understood that it was gonna be here, and then it could be gone. But I was hoping we wouldn’t lose ground. But unfortunately, I feel like we’ve lost more ground as people travel more and aren’t going back as much to their hobbies.

But I’m also hearing that people are feeling very, very concerned about the money they’re spending at the gas pump and the money they’re spending at the supermarket. So I’ve seen a real dip. I was hoping that our trade show, the art trade show in April, was going to give us the shot in the arm that it normally gives us. It’s always been a good place to kind of get that boost. You see a little dip before the trade show as people save up money, waiting for those great deals. And then the trade show comes, and people were like, “Here I am.” But it wasn’t that same flurry of orders or the kind of orders that we’re used to.

My distributors, my number one and number two customers, also, I’m not seeing as much from them. And they too are now getting into the space that I’m in. If they don’t manufacture their own products, they’re buying companies that do. So now I’m kind of competing with my numbers one and two customers. Numbers three and four are direct-mail companies, and they also have their own lines that I compete with. So the marketplace is definitely changing. And I’m not getting those nice bumps that I used to get.

Loren Feldman:
You mentioned that the age of your customers might be a little higher than we anticipated. Is that a cause for concern on your part?

Jaime Echt:
I feel like that’s more of a long-term concern. But still, I mean, I used to say that my customers might be 55 to 70. And now she’s definitely mid-60s, getting close to 80. And, I mean, God willing, they all live to be 100. But the reality is, I’m thinking of the basic things like arthritis. Arthritis could be a big killer of doing handcrafts, being able to have that dexterity. I do come out with products that make holding things a little bit easier. I have a line of brushes that are nice and chunky and easy to hold, have good balance. So I’m addressing that. But I’ll jump ahead with what people are probably thinking: Currently my customers are like Linda, Susan, Barbara, Debbie, and I need to get in touch with Nicole, Danielle, Emma. I need to find my younger consumers. I need to figure out what she wants and how my needs and my abilities can fill those needs.


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Topics: Entrepreneurship, retail, business strategy, risks, small business owner

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Hosted by Rich Armstrong and Steve Baker the Change the Game podcast highlights true life stories of organizations influencing positive change by doing business differently. They’re teaching people how business works and closing the gap between the haves and have-nots. It’s capitalism at its best. Inside each episode, you’ll discover stories of entrepreneurs who are Changing the Game.

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