I do love Japanese culture. I like the minimalist, the discipline and calmness that oriental people bring to the Occident. We have so much to learn from them. It includes craftwork as well, of course.
Hands of Workshop explores a range of Japanese craft products and spread oriental culture across the globe. I have talked to HOW’s founder, Nicole McCarthy, to understand a bit more about her business and connection with Japanese culture in general.
Midlands Traveller: Tell me a little bit about your background in business.
Nicole McCarthy: My degree was in Mass Communications but that was a long time ago now! I spent my 20s and 30s working in broadcasting, marketing, and then event management. It gave me a good all-around understanding of marketing and media.
I also studied at post – the grade level completing a “Certificate in Management” which gave a good overview of the main structure of the business, sales, and marketing. I did that for a year while working full-time in event management and travelling a bit.
I didn’t really have much experience in online businesses, but I knew that I wanted to be self-employed and have an online business after having kids, so I’ve spent a lot of time reading, listening to podcasts, and doing short courses to learn about online businesses.
MT: How did you come up with the idea of a business like yours?
NM: This is the link to my “About” page which explains it succinctly.
MT: Tell me about the Hands-on Workshop mission and what products do you offer?
NM: HOW’s mission is to provide the materials that inspire crafters and sewists to find the mindful moment. Craft and sewing are really good for your mental well-being., so it’s good to encourage them. Having a hobby allows you to feel the thrill of creating and making things. It’s very personal, it’s achievable and it creates a “happy place” in a busy world.
We sell craft kits, tools, and accessories for crafters and sawists. All our items are from Japan. Rather than selling lots of small functional items, we sell items that are a bit special and hard to find outside of Japan – items that are made of nice materials, often handmade by specialists in their field.
Items such as the Cohana range of artisan-made sewing accessories, wood stationery stamps, shibori dye kit, and linen aprons. We also sell some kits and sewing patterns with instructions translated into English.
MT: What is unique about your products?
NM: We sell things not usually sold outside of Japan. If they have instructions, we have translated them into English.
MT: What is your kind of clientele?
NM: Our main audience is women between 50-65 who are in their “creative renaissance”. It’s the period in their life where they are freed up from the day-to-day responsibilities of family or demanding jobs and they are keen to pursue their own interests.
They are often great independent travellers too. There is quite a niche who have been to Japan and love the crafts and sewing scene there.
We also have a second target audience – they are younger women discovering crafting and hobbies for the first time – they handmade and love all the beautiful things connected to craft, in particular Japanese craft.
MT: What are the challenges of a business like yours?
NM: Generating traffic and finding your tribe. For any online business, getting traffic to your site is your main priority. Once they are a visitor, it’s then a matter of maintaining contact and nurturing that relationship, so they stay connected and want to hear from you and see what you’re up to and what you’re selling.
I did spend some time attending Craft Fairs in my first year or so when I first launched HOW as a shop with a Japan focus. It was a great way to make customers, meet people and really find out what they liked and didn’t like.
But because I still have kids in primary school, disappearing for days on end to set up and run stalls at Craft Fairs is really time-consuming. I need the business to be an e-commerce business, not wholly dependent upon attending craft fairs.
MT: What is your advice to people thinking about having a business like yours?
NM: I would say find your audience and build that, then choose or refine your product to suit your audience. The internet and social media allow you to do that. I’ve changed the business since I started.
I was much broader, selling craft kits, but then I chose to find a niche with products that were hard to find outside of Japan. I decided to focus on marketing, rather than making the product.
E-commerce businesses are popping up all the time and Instagram and Facebook have changed the way we discover new products and buy, so you need to be prepared to change things if they’re not taking off. Similarly, if there is an opportunity, then chase it.
We have grown a whole new arm of the business, based on one of our suppliers approaching us to do their marketing and selling outside of Japan. Nugoo Japan is the English language site for Japanese tenugui cloths and accessories.
MT: How do you choose the products that are available on your website?
NM: I wanted a mix of products to suit crafters and sewists and first picked up products in Japan and sourced the supplier. The distributor of those products has since become my main point of contact in Japan.
She has several online stores and sells different products all over the world. Sometimes I’ll discover a product and she will investigate who the supplier is. She handles my shipping now and packs and her team pack and dispatches the goods.
I find in Japan you really need contact on the ground who is local and trusted. She and I run the Nugoo Japan business together.
MT: How are social media (and e-commerce) important to the success of your business?
NM: Very, it really is one of the main ways to get a channel of traffic to your website. Now it’s possible to buy straight from a social channel that redirects sales to your website. Social channels really are the way to be found by people and suppliers and the press.
MT: What are the next steps for Hands on Workshop?
NM: For the HOW site, we need to move platforms and tidy up the website, linking it to our social media. When that’s done in the next couple of months, we’ll add more products.
We’ll stick with consistent ads, social media, and press because that helps grow things.
In terms of new products, once the new site is up and running it’s a good opportunity to refresh with new. We just introduced some of the Kata Kata ceramics
which are based on the animal prints by the Japanese textile designers Kata Kata.
We will continue to grow Nugoo Japan as an online business, handling their customer service, marketing, and advertising. We have a few wholesale accounts now buying the Nugoo products too.
That came about through social media and advertising. We’ll look at growing that as a service HOW offers too. There seems to be demand from Japanese businesses to market outside Japan but they’re not comfortable with how to do it.
The Japanese products are so beautiful and of exceptional quality, they really are a joy to sell.
Photos: Reproduction of Hands on Workshop website
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