How small businesses are capitalizing on the booming DIY industry
Where you see a Pinterest project, savvy entrepreneurs see a business opportunity
Every month, more than 200 million people open Pinterest, the online pin board website, and start scrolling. While some of them might be looking for fashion tips, or tasty recipes, or design ideas, many are on the hunt for a different kind of inspiration: crafts. From flower boxes to bath bombs to hand-made wreaths, Pinterest is where DIYers go for ideas for their next project. But how many of those painted ombre vases or stenciled barn wood signs actually get created? One budding group of entrepreneurs is helping move DIYers beyond "pinning" to actually "doing."
The crafting industry is worth more than $40 billion, and it continues to grow. Across the country, small businesses are clamoring to secure a piece of that pie, one painted pallet sign at a time. Their plan? To gather wannabe DIYers together — in real life instead of online — in studios and storefronts, and provide them with the tools, space, and social setting they need to bring their ideas to fruition.
Jill Miller is one entrepreneur getting in on the DIY trend. She recognized that, no matter how easy the online tutorial makes it look, crafting can be hard. DIYers may have the inspiration, but they don't always have the space or supplies they need to bring their projects to life. Betting that fellow crafters would welcome help to keep DIY projects from becoming "Pinterest fails," Miller left her teaching job to launch Projects in Person, a workshop in a historic Main Street storefront in Hopkins, Minnesota, where people get together to build crafts like framed wooden signs, bean bag boards, and copper and wood ladders.
Miller provides crafters the tools, materials, and instruction they need, as well as the space. A two-hour project session costs between $55 and $135. One year after opening, her workshops have been selling out weeks in advance.
"I think it's just the value of being able to say, 'I did that with my hands," says Miller, whose engineer husband helps with Home Depot runs and project production. "So many people are stuck behind computers in desk jobs. It's just that feeling of, 'I really did this!' when those skills aren't being passed down the way they used to be."
Part of the draw of these workshops is the promise of getting out of the house, off the internet, and being around other creative-minded people. Miller believes this is part of her company's early success. People want to bond with other people rather than craft in solitude, she says.
"We offer about two public workshops a week. That gathers anyone — date nights, girls nights out, mother-daughter pairs, friends. We do corporate events too," Miller says.
Her most popular projects are centerpiece boxes and cutting boards — but all of the offerings have a very clean, farmhouse-chic feel — perfect for Instagram. Miller also set up a spot in the studio where people can take photos in front of the hashtag "#naileditatPIP." She knows her demographic, and she credits social media for helping grow her little business.
It's been a sunny and productive morning in the shop with this awesome group! Great building with you all, enjoy your Centerpiece Boxes J+J - #naileditatpip #centerpiecebox #centerpices #diyworkshop #diy #hopkinsmn #project #youcanbuildthis #tools
A post shared by Projects in Person - PIP (@projectsinperson) on Dec 2, 2017 at 11:16am PST
"It's so sharable," said Miller. "One person comes in and then four other people hear of it because they took a picture and posted about their experience."
DIY workshop businesses like Miller's draw on some of the fun and fellowship that has helped make "paint and sip" franchises like Wine & Canvas, which pairs drinks with step-by-step painting classes, so common. At DIY Bar in Portland Oregon, customers select crafts from a curated project menu that ranks projects by difficulty (leather luggage tags? Easy! Minimalist leather clutch? A little more complicated.) and by how many glasses of wine come included in the project package. Board & Brush, which started as a girls-night-out in its founder's Wisconsin basement, now has franchises in 35 states. Its most popular projects are personalized, stenciled wooden signs.
One particularly impressive success story can be found in North Carolina, where graphic designer Maureen Anders launched AR Workshop with partner Adria Ruff in 2016. They now have more than 75 storefronts in 25 states, where DIY lovers can create wooden signs, lazy susans, and painted canvas pillows.
"The DIY trend won't go away, it's what people want to create that will change. We have to constantly stay on trend with what's out there in the design world," Anders told the Charlotte Observer.
One measure of success for DIY workshop businesses is whether the projects actually end up on display in people's homes — and whether crafters will come back to make something else. So far, that's been an exciting part of owning a business for Miller.
"I see some of them more than my closest friends," she says. "I get a lot of return customers and great engagement. I see a lot of pride."