Makers Marked 

New study maps makers and their needs.

You have hundreds of options in Memphis for supporting small businesses this holiday season, and, thanks to a new initiative, you may also be able to find them.

Results of a new study of Memphis makers were to be unveiled Thursday, a study to identify those working with their hearts and hands and what they need to sustain them in Memphis.

The Made By project aims to answer two overarching dilemmas for Memphis makers. How do we grow a landscape where skilled makers and artisans survive? How do we guarantee there is a competitive economy in Memphis that helps their businesses thrive?

Little Bird Innovations, a local consulting firm, is helping answer those questions. As one of two key partners in the Made By project, Little Bird is conducting dizzying amounts of research to find these exact solutions for the Memphis area.

To be certain, the process of identifying patterns and needs for the local makers' economy is bewildering work. It's not sexy. It's tedious. It's dozens of seven-foot-tall poster boards layered with stack upon stacks of sticky notes that link common findings. While the work may not seem sexy, it's the first of its depth in the nation.

"Made By represents an exciting opportunity to really shift the landscape for Memphis makers," said Nicole Heckman, co-founder of Little Bird.

click to enlarge Little Bird’s Ruby Zielinski (left) and Ellie Eberts (right) discuss the Made By project.
  • Little Bird’s Ruby Zielinski (left) and Ellie Eberts (right) discuss the Made By project.

The shifts and needs that Heckman is referring to are slowly being unearthed through surveying hundreds of makers. The findings will be paramount to identify what will power a local maker economy. For example, did you know that there is no local source in West Tennessee for purchasing bulk raw clay? The closest distributor is in Nashville, which leaves ceramics makers the choice of paying hefty delivery fees or making a road trip.

Other patterns in Little Bird's research reveals makers' needs for part-time help with taxes, social media, ordering, and shipping. Heckman calls these findings "specific pain points." And, in order for Memphis to become more manageable for independent makers wanting to start businesses, they need to be addressed.

Results of the Made By project should be rolling out in waves throughout the next few months, ultimately leading up to the reveal of a master plan for moving Memphis in the direction of being a city supportive of micro-enterprises.

Outside of Memphis, this project is drawing national interest. Etsy, the online-only market for start-up and established artisans, sold more than $1.93 billion in goods in 2014. Etsy selected Memphis to participate in its Makers Summit in Brooklyn this year.

On December 1st, Little Bird and their partnering organization EPIcenter will be sharing their research findings at an event to be held at the Century House. According to Heckman, representatives of Etsy will be there to make a special announcement.

Vishant Shah, one of the strategy leads at Little Bird, believes this movement to embrace makers stems from something else altogether.

"More and more, we are learning that people want a connection with the person they are buying goods from. They want to be connected to the maker, their story, and they want to spend their money and feel as though they are part of something."

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