Q&A with luxury start-up website The New Craftsmen

The New Craftsmen was set up in 2012 after exceeding its £150,000 fundraising target on crowdfunding platform, Crowdcube.   

The website represents a network of over 100 markers working with textiles, silverware, furniture, ceramics, jewellery, glassware and beyond. The start-up curates its relationship with the makers, selecting a range of products, limited editions and exclusive collaborations available through its dedicated eCommerce site or at its shop in Mayfair. In the store, The New Craftsmen highlights a limited number of creations, sometimes based on a theme, such as the materials, and it rotates different companies so they all receive time in-store.

According to a recent WGSN and Walpole report, the three most effective trends to attract luxury shoppers over the next four years will be exclusive collaborations with relevant partners (78%), secret and exclusive brand experiences (59%) and personalised online experiences (53%).

The New Craftsmen is already ahead of the game by partnering with Burberry over London Fashion Week. A number of Burberry's skilled craftspeople will set up shop in The New Craftsmen's Mayfair residence between 21-27 September, so customers can see how they work.

Essential Retail speaks to co-founder of The New Craftsmen and chairman of Gieves & Hawkes, Mark Henderson, to learn more about his start-up venture.

1. Tell us a little bit about why you set up The New Craftsmen?

We believe online and retail work together particularly well in luxury. You need to touch and feel products, and we have a showroom in Mayfair. A retail presence is essential, but we couldn't get the whole experience across [in a store].

We select the makers with whom we work – it started at 31 and is now just over 100. It's not a traditional marketplace, while I think marketplaces have clearly got their place, particularly when you deal with the upper end of the market you need a process of selection and curation. The partners we deal with are individual craftsmen, they're basically micro business, who extremely talented and good at what they do.

2. How's the business doing?

Our focus is to represent the makers and we take a commission, we're not a subscription service.

The business is running double the turnover than last year. And we now have 24,000 Instagram followers – that was 19,000 two weeks ago, the Burberry presentation has certainly helped.

We also have a number of videos on the site and profiles of each maker and we do constantly produce stories and short videos which are on the site.

3. Do customers like to meet the makers and visit their studios?

We're extremely open, we're absolutely clear we're representing the makers and it's not just about the product. So we're happy for people to arrange visits to makers' studios, but having said that, they're very busy people – one-man bands – and it's extremely difficult and has to be organised. But we do frequently bring people into the store, to meet clients there and give demonstrations.

4. How can you replicate the in-store luxury experience online?

I don't think you can – you need to do both. And equally some retail experiences can be very disappointing. The advantage of online is you can do it in your own time, shop at home, drinking a glass of wine, rather than walking down Bond Street. Both have their place and good retailers do make shopping a pleasurable experience.

Smart retailers realise customers may not want to spend too much time browsing and searching for information. Many consumers don't want to research at all, they just want to buy something – it's horses for courses. But digital gives people the opportunity to find out a tremendous amount about the individual product and a good retailer will recognise if a customer walks through the door with five minutes to buy something or whether they're browsing and will enjoy being told what is available.

5. How does being a start-up enable you to implement digital attitudes such as personalisation?

Being a start-up is really exciting because you can see the customer base build one by one, and we're disciplined to collect names and contact details, whether that's originally using a guest book to sign in online, or linking sales to customer data. We've been able to do that right from the word go.

Social media, in particular, is great, because we can see when a customer Tweets or Instagrams and we frequently have people say they saw so-and-so's tweet, so we have a very good trail of where customers have been.

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