Martha Stewart has a message for entrepreneurs: People want extraordinary products, and it’s up to you to supply them.
“I don’t think there are a lot of utterly fantastic products that go unnoticed nowadays,” Stewart told Entrepreneur during an interview. “Like anything, it’s word of mouth, it’s social media, it’s networking, it’s doing a video and getting it hot on YouTube, whatever. It’s strange, but it works sometimes for some people.”
On Saturday, Stewart hosted hundreds of small-business owners at her Manhattan headquarters for the fifth annual Martha Stewart American Made Summit. In a series of discussions and workshops, Stewart highlighted dozens of companies and their stories, and she invited celebrity entrepreneurs -- including Jessica Alba, Jim Cramer and Sarah Michelle Gellar -- investors and marketers to share their advice with an audience of makers.
It’s difficult to measure the size of the maker movement, given the range of trades it encompasses, from 3-D printing to baking. In 2013, Stewart published a guest article in USA Today and cited an estimate that 57 percent of the U.S. adult population were makers at that time. “It's a segment that is expanding rapidly in size and economic heft,” Stewart wrote. “Makers pump some $29 billion into the economy each year, and these figures will surely grow.”
For the past two years, President Barack Obama has declared a National Week of Making in mid-June to encourage and celebrate making nationwide, across ages and backgrounds. From 2006 to 2015, the number of maker faires worldwide grew from just one to more than 150.
Whether you categorize participants in this sector as artisans, craftspeople or something else, makers have been around since the dawn of civilization. However, the opportunities for makers are broader than ever before, thanks to online platforms that allow entrepreneurs to spread the word about their creations.
In recent years, Stewart said she has seen a major shift in maker culture. Consumers crave uniqueness, which inspires entrepreneurs to create products or services that stand out.
“I think that artisans are making more what they want to make than what they think is acceptable to the marketplace,” Stewart says. “There’s a lot more, I would call it, self-expression than there had been say, 20 years ago. It’s not so much they’re just making aprons, they’re making aprons with fantastic slogans or artwork.”
It’s easier than ever for makers to find partners as well. The ability to find and hire accountants, lawyers, marketers, social media specialists and more has allowed makers to focus on their craft.
Additionally, concerns about sustainability and social responsibility have become more mainstream. While it can be difficult to scale a business and hold true to these values, Stewart emphasized that there are no shortage of potential like-minded partners out there who can help businesses achieve their goals.
“I think that there’s a real supply chain now that’s interested in the same thing,” Stewart said. “Sweetgreen is going directly to farms. They can use a tremendous amount of product from a farmer. They can use a whole year’s worth of stuff. And how great that is, because the farmer knows that he grows a special kind of squash, he has a marketplace for that particular squash.”
Today, Stewart said, universities are even teaching budding entrepreneurs how to identify and connect with suppliers. One example is Back to the Roots, one of Stewart’s 2013 American Made Honorees. As Berkeley undergrads, co-founders Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora learned that recycled coffee grounds could grow mushrooms. Six years after their launch, Back to the Roots sells milk carton mushroom grow kits in 14,000 stores.
Given the unprecedented opportunities for businesses to tell their stories and find collaborators and customers, Stewart explained that there’s plenty of room for new makers to emerge and thrive.“The trouble is, there’s not enough of the really fantastic products,” Stewart said. “We’re searching for them all the time.”