How one woman founder pivoted her company online while supporting small businesses

Eighteen years ago Susie Daly started Renegade Craft as a way to build a community of artists through in-person events. When COVID-19 and the corresponding shutdown put a stop to all in-person events, like art fairs, Susie had to quickly create a new strategy for her business. This plan involved seven virtual events, revamping an online shop for artists, cost-cutting measures, and selling a lot of face masks. Like most of us, Renegade Craft has been re-shaped permanently by the events of 2020. They will be continuing the digital efforts they pivoted to this year, but also hope to host their first in-person event in over 18 months later this year. Here’s how the business was able to move their community online, helping countless small businesses, when people needed it more than ever.

How do you describe your business, Renegade Craft?
I describe Renegade Craft as a curated marketplace of artists and makers.

When did you launch it and was there a specific moment where you really started to see your community grow and you knew, ‘okay, this really is going to work’?
I launched Renegade in 2003 so we were kind of the pioneers of this curated craft fair marketplace. I could see this demand right away because we had artists that came from all over the country to participate in that first event. We knew there was kind of nothing else really out there, so that gave me the idea to start growing it. I brought it to New York in 2005 and then gradually grew it from there over the next several years.

Amazing! Your job has been to build a community of craftspeople from the beginning. What has it been like during the last year, having to move that community online?
I think the community is still strong as ever, but obviously small businesses, and especially the smallest of businesses, have been hit really hard by the pandemic. We really saw our artist community struggling because they lost that revenue stream of in-person events, so we really tried to spend the last year creating more online opportunities. We really saw everybody doing an amazing job at pivoting more online and thankfully most of our artists already had an online presence they could build on. We did seven virtual fairs last year, and that was really cool and fun to see everyone’s home and studio setup. It was energizing to see that, and then we quickly were like “we need something a little more permanent, let’s do an online shop.” That was received really well, as well. So, it’s definitely been a challenge, but an exciting one, at the same time.

You touched a bit on this already, but it’s almost a year ago to the day where everything started to go on lockdown in this country. Our lives became much more screen first. Were there any other ways that it impacted your company, or even your life because those things kind of go hand in hand these days?
Yeah, we were only about a month away from our first event of the year, last year, so we had to scramble and reschedule things. And then it became quite clear, we were just going to have to cancel our entire year of events. I think we had 20 events planned in 2020 that we had to cancel, so that really shook up Renegade Craft’s business. Thankfully, we were already kind of a hybrid company, and we were already working to go fully remote. It’s really odd because we had just canceled our lease and moved out of our office, and then lockdown happened, like not even kidding, the next day. We really lucked out there, and we had this remote hybrid working culture already so that at least was not something we had to pivot on. But our business was up-ended. We were able to get some government loans and things like that to keep some of our staff on to stay open and basically create these new online initiatives to keep going.

And what did it take to pivot to those online initiatives and the online shop?
Well thankfully, Renegade Crafts had a brick-and-mortar and online shop. So we kind of had this experience that we could dig into to help. But then obviously e-commerce is just totally different today. We had to spend several months doing our research just to figure out how to make that all work. Researching online platforms and plugins and web development and things. It took us a good few months to really get it going actually, it took longer than I thought.

Absolutely, I mean it’s a pivot even if you already had it in the works, and I feel like we were also all adjusting to what our new life was, which was a pivot on top of that. As you moved online did you have any worries about privacy or safety online, for your business or customers as it grew?
We had some fraud instances, so we definitely had to look into filters and things there. That was new for us. I’m still kind of concerned about that. You see some kind of spam making its way through certain contact forums and stuff, so we’re always on the lookout for things like that. But honestly, I’m still worried about privacy and safety in person. Although, I imagine that will become more of a focus as we continue to grow this online platform.

Growing up did you always think that you would end up making a living working with artists?
I didn’t. I kind of just fell into this almost by accident growing up, I wanted to be a therapist and went to school for that. After college, I didn’t know if I was going to go on to actually become a therapist so I just took a year off and was making jewelry and things myself, just as a hobby. I started Renegade Craft just because there was basically no other event out there that I felt like I was a good fit for. There was very much this kind of burgeoning online craft community, and then in real life, there wasn’t a market to really showcase that. So that’s where the idea came from. I kind of just fell into working in the arts and I’m really happy I did.

What did you learn in 2020 that you want to carry with you and to 2021 either personally or professionally?
You know what I’ve taken away kind of applies to both. I think I’ve learned to just be nimble and adaptive, going with the flow, and not trying to control things that are out of your control. I definitely would love to keep that with me as I go into the future.

I would say anecdotally there definitely seems to have been a big boom and homemade goods, particularly for the home. Are there any trends, in particular, you’re noticing or areas that expanded in 2020 for Renegade Crafts?
Well, I think we all know, face masks were huge. More currently, we’re seeing a lot of popularity with self-care products, things to spruce up your home, and environmentally-friendly products for cleaning your home or self-care. People have been able to slow down a little bit more, and I think, be a little bit more conscious about those things, and so that seems to be what we’re seeing trending right now.

What other women inspire you right now?
I loved seeing Dolly Parton get the vaccine, the other day, the one she helped fund, Moderna. It was really inspiring and, in my mind, she’s just a hero in that regard. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is another one I admire. I like how she’s bringing so much transparency to governing and it’s really cool to watch her Instagram stories and see the behind-the-scenes.

So, where do you want to take Renegade Craft in 2021?
Well, we are hoping to resume in-person events starting later this year, so we do have some events planned for the fall and holiday season. We’re going to take the summer and plan those and take our time to do that, as well as we possibly can, and safely as we possibly can.

And still working on our online platform and kind of getting everything like to a tee there, and being able to build on that again for the next fall and holiday season

I’m very excited for in-person events to start back up again.
Me too, I cannot wait.

I’m going to shift gears a little bit into some quick response questions.

What’s your typical breakfast?
I’m usually just like two shots of Espresso.

Cats or dogs?
Dogs but I do love both almost equally. But I would have to go with dogs.

Car, bus, bike, or walk?
I love to walk everywhere.

Where do you get your news?
I read the New York Times every morning.

What is an internet gem you’d like to share, something that brings you joy on the internet?
I love those nature cameras. One I’ve seen and really loved is called Coral City Camera, and it’s an underwater camera that’s live-streaming from this urban coral reef in Miami, Florida. Plus they have a playlist you can download to go along with it while you watch. You can see all sorts of sea life swimming through the cam. You’ll see manatees or all sorts of different tropical fish. It’s just really pretty.

What’s something about yourself that people would be surprised to know?
I live in a cabin in the woods, which might surprise people with these art fairs happening in these large urban areas. But I actually live pretty isolated out in the woods.

That sounds really calming.
Yes, it is.

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