Here’s Why Craft Products Are Experiencing a Resurgence Nationwide

How makers of premium watches, beer and vinyl records approach their markets.

Shinola Watch Courtesy of Website“Craft isn’t a niche or fad. People want to be in the business of making things again. They care where products come from. And sometimes they just want watches to tell time,” said Bridget Russo, CMO of Shinola. She was a panelist at the recent Brite ’16 conference in New York, hosted by Columbia Business School’s Center for Global Brand Leadership.

“Consumers crave hand crafted items, and craft has come back in a major way. These products are analog, but they also do digital and social media well,” said moderator Mike O’Toole, president of PJA Advertising. Selected brands have also generated impressive publicity.

Among industries that have experienced a notable craft revival are watches, beer and records. All 3 were represented on the panel, and here’s a quick snapshot:

  • Shinola: a design brand based in Detroit that produces a range of products: watches, bicycles, leather goods, with plans underway to make turntables. (Bridget Russo, CMO)
  • The Alchemist: a family-run brewery in Waterbury, Vt., that makes Heady Topper craft beer. They have a private brewery now and another brewery in the works that will be open to the public. (John Kimmich, head brewer and co-founder)
  • Third Man Records: a record label located in Nashville that’s owned by musician Jack White of The White Stripes. They’re in the process of setting up a vinyl factory in Detroit. (Ben Blackwell, chief archivist)

Heady Topper Beer WikipediaThe conversation touched on purpose, publicity, location, quality, production and storytelling. Below are 6 takeaways, which can be applied to other small-scale brands and regional products.

1. Craft brands stick to their missions

Shinola’s creates products that last, even the boxes. They’re made in the U.S., except a few components. “Shinola wants to grow to be sustainable but not to the point where we’re too big. Maintaining balance within our organization is also a priority,” said Russo.

“People need quality and realness. Our end of the bargain is to ensure the quality is perfect. We also give our employees a quality lifestyle,” Kimmich noted.

“Good record labels should have different genres. If it’s interesting and compelling music to us, we do it. As a smaller record label, we’re also a good face for vinyl,” Blackwell said.

2. Publicity is often driven by laws of supply and demand

“We’ve experienced a steady amount of notoriety as word has spread,” said Kimmich. (Heady Topper was dubbed by Men’s Journal as the most coveted beer.)

“Part of record collecting is the hunt, so we’ve hidden records in helium balloons and other hard to reach spots, like our out-of-the-way home office,” said Blackwell.

3. Location is a key selling point

“The U.S. used to be known for making long lasting products, but over the years ‘Made in USA’ has become diluted. Yet made in Detroit conjures a specific place,” Russo observed.

“Vermont is a maker state and the younger generation sees that,” Kimmich noted. (Unilever now owns another local brand from Waterbury, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.)

Third Man Records Logo4. Quality products rule

“Consumers appreciate finely made timepieces,” said Russo.

“The craft movement is our response to the actions of giant corporations, who took over and watered down products. It’s been a long road to readjusting palettes. With craft beer, now that the genie is out of bottle people won’t return to drinking mass market brands,” Kimmich stated.

5. Limited production attracts more customers

“Third Man Records produces standard editions and limited editions with colored vinyl. We’ll continue making CDs as long as demand lasts,” noted Blackwell.

“We’re not trying to make our beer scarce, it’s customers who go to extreme measures,” explained Kimmich.

6. Consumers relate to product stories, becoming brand ambassadors

“For Shinola, storytelling through the supply chain is at the heart of what we do,” said Russo. When I see someone wearing a Shinola watch, they tell me the brand story, and they’re accurate.”

“Consumers desire to learn where products come from and who makes them,” said Kimmich. “There are beer tourists, and one guy even came from Florida. He bought his plane ticket the night before based on my tweet saying our beer would be ready the next day.”

(Images courtesy of Shinola, The Alchemist and Third Man Records)