Catriona Marshall is very fond of Jean. Sam must be handled carefully – but Emma is the one she’d like to get more attention from. Alison Tilley found out why the CEO of burgeoning pastime superstore Hobbycraft is a little obsessed with this trio…
“Jean is our core crafter,” explains Marshall and she ought to know. After six highly successful years at the helm of Hobbycraft – a business she describes as ‘a diamond in the rough’ when she took it on – Marshall has got to know Jean pretty well.
“Jean shops regularly, has three or four projects on the go, calls in frequently, looking for a bargain. Jean sometimes keeps her purchases in the car so her husband won’t see. It’s like an addiction.”
Sam is another animal.
“Sam is an artist. You have to be careful how you talk to Sam. You can’t call an artist a crafter. We rely on skilful colleagues to handle Sam.”
And then there’s Emma. According to Marshall, everyone wants a bigger piece of Emma.
“Emma is a mum. Emmas want to do the right thing for their kids. She’s most difficult because one minute it’s crafting and the next minute, it’s a sunny day and it’s ‘let’s go for a walk in the park’. Everyone wants her attention but it’s really hard to get Emma to stick. That’s what the club is about.”
The Hobbycraft Club is a community built via social media. Its blog is stuffed with articles on how to make, competitions for crafters and artists and profiles on up and coming talent.
It’s clearly the pride of the Hobbycraft team. The buzz among the 100 staff at the Christchurch HQ is palpable – but it’s been a tough few years to get here.
“We had to do a drains-up review of the business; change all the systems and ways of working. We just disappeared off the radar to do this massive programme of change.”
This involved pruning a flabby range of products, training its 2,800 staff to focus on customers over tasks, reducing the size of the stores and creating a new distribution hub in the Midlands.
“But whilst we were doing all that the world was changing. Our neighbours were suddenly Poundland and budget stores, so we had to be really hot on value. We now have more £1 lines than Poundland.”
With its friendly new website and a hardworking social media team, the Hobbycraft Club was launched in 2014. Its host of online and in-store activities – crafting groups, Knit & Natter clubs and Kids Club – are now at the heart of the Hobbycraft philosophy of constant communication with the customer.
“Over 50% of our revenue now comes through the club,” says Marshall. “Last year it was sunny from Easter to September so it was soft footfall in the stores, but the club members grew really well. We were talking to them two to three times a week and none of the members fell away.”
TV-led trends such as Bake Off, The Great Pottery Throw Down and Sewing Bee are key. The ‘Make of the Month’ contest adapts to what’s airing and during the last GBBO run 1,000 cakey works of art were uploaded. The blog site is now a vast resource and gets three million visits a year.
But it’s not all icing. The drop in the pound means a distracting focus on cost and increased sourcing within the UK; something which frustrates Marshall, who is hungry for innovation.
Her ambition, though, is undented. “We have 87 stores – but 150 in our sights. We could go up to 200. A smaller footprint takes us into places we couldn’t afford to be before. We’re edging into town. The website is 9% of our sales. Eventually we’d like that to be 30%.”
All this and more nurture of design talent.
And maybe just a little more time with Emma …