What business to start in 2012: Hobby and crafts
Why this year could be the perfect time to turn your crafting skills or hobby into a business
Why is it so promising?
Britain has always held artisan craftsmanship in high esteem; the UK has long had the biggest cultural industry in the world as a percentage of GDP. But, right now, things are getting even better. With the explosion of pop-up shops, the revival of fairs and markets, and a cultural shift away from bling and labels towards quaint and quirky boutique designs, the arts scene is in the middle of an extremely lucrative renaissance.
According to figures from the Crafts Council, the total UK market, encompassing both active and potential buyers, comprises 26.5 million people. And it's never been easier to get a craft business off the ground. According to Doug Richard, former Dragons' Den panellist and founder of the School for Creative Startups:
“The problem for a craft producer over recent years has been that you can't build to a large scale, and you can't serve a huge marketplace. But the web is changing the latter fundamentally. For example Notjustalabel, a platform for young designers, wouldn't have existed 10 years ago. Now people can represent themselves globally, and still be small and independent.”
Furthermore, a series of advice and mentoring schemes have been developed, such as Crafted, so there is plenty of support available if you choose to go down this route.
What are the specific opportunities?
Jewellery making, ceramics, glass-blowing, textiles – whatever your craft, hand-made chic is in. It is also the perfect business to start off part-time, from home, allowing you to test the water and learn what sells before taking the plunge into full-time entrepreneurship.
The sector or specialism you choose to pursue will obviously depend on your own skills and knowledge. There's no point starting a pottery business if your main specialism is jewellery design. In terms of competitors, there's little difference between any of the major industries. According to recent figures, 34% of contemporary craft businesses operate in the textiles sector, with 30% specialising in ceramics and 21% in jewellery.
Furthermore, it's hard to pinpoint one specific sector within this space, because all the major trades appear to be flourishing. A 2009 report from Mintel forecast 11% growth in the UK's jewellery and watches market between 2010 and 2015, and at the moment this bullish prediction appears justified. However there has been equally significant growth in other sectors; for example, thanks to the efforts of start-ups such as the Cambridge Satchel Company, Britain's boutique bags have captured the attention of celebrities around the world.
Whatever you choose to do, it's important to keep in mind that this is not a hobby, it's a commercial operation which has to be scalable. You might enjoy making, say, tables or wooden toys – but will you be able to ramp up your production levels to keep up with demand? If not, you'll need to think about employing other people to share the workload.
And you also need to consider your sales and marketing strategy. As we said earlier, there are loads of exciting routes to market. In addition to Notjustalabel, NotontheHighStreet promotes dozens of start-up and home-based designers in a range of sectors, from weddings and childcare to toys and home furniture, while Etsy and Folksy specialise in hand-made wares. Similarly, ASOS provides a fashion marketplace for boutique as well as big designers. If you speak to the right people, you'll give yourself a great chance of flying start.
“The problem for a craft producer over recent years has been that you can't build to a large scale, and you can't serve a huge marketplace. But the web is changing the latter fundamentally”
Who's doing it?
Dickie Wilkinson, DWRM
“I'm a designer and I work with silverware, specialising in cufflinks. Although I don't make a lot of my own products, I do insist on having every product made in the UK.
“We started the business when I met Doug (Richard) at the School for Creative Startups in September 2011, although I already had some samples. I wouldn't say it's fully taken off yet, not in terms of sales anyway, but I'm now stocked in four stores, including one on Jermyn Street in the heart of London.
“Jewellery and ceramics are traditionally the two main professional avenues for arts and crafts, because there will always be demand for them. But the explosion has been towards the knick-knack things, inspired by Kirstie Allsop and the have-a-go-yourself attitude. People will increasingly go towards bespoke and commissioned work, and I noticed a lot of other arts and crafts businesses moving towards this at the School for Creative Startups.
“Thankfully, my business has scalability. I can ramp up to a bulk order for a department store, but also offer limited edition and bespoke. I come from a tailoring background, so that range of service was always there. We'll increasingly see that bespoke element entering all aspects of arts and crafts in the next few months.”
If you're a skilled craftsperson with an eye for what sells, read our step-by-step guide on how to start a craft business.