Sara McClaran used to sell her hats and other hand-crocheted products on the online artisan website Etsy and during First Thursday events each month in Downtown Boise.
McClaran and other artists shared a First Thursday table outside of Jenny’s Lunch Line restaurant in the Pioneer Tent Building at 106 N. 6th St. She and 20 other artists noticed that combining their wares created a customer-friendly mix of clothing, jewelry and other knickknacks. So they formed a collective and opened a tiny shop in the building in 2010, then moved to a larger space across the hall one year later.
Today, Indie Made sells goods made by more than 50 Idaho artisans. McClaran is the owner, but she says 100 percent of the nearly $200,000 in 2012 revenue went to the artists. About 20 of the artists work at the shop on a volunteer basis.
Like the other artists, McClaran has her own company, Boise Beanie Co. She talked about the advantages and challenges of banding together to make Indie Made work.
Q: What was the idea behind Indie Made’s setup?
A: A lot of stores like us would be merchandised more like a flea market, where artisans had their own 5’-by-5’ booths. We wanted shopping to be easier for customers, so we put things in groups — all of the baby onesies in one spot, all the clothing in one spot, all the jewelry together. That way customers don’t have to go across the store to compare items.
Q: What other venues do your artists use to sell their art and other items?
A: Many of our members sell at craft fairs and holiday markets throughout the year as well as consigning at other shops and a few major catalogs and Etsy.com.
Q: How does Indie Made’s business model work?
A: Members pay dues to be part of the store. That’s how we pay rent. When they make sales, that money comes back to them. Four percent of it pays for credit-card processing. Indie doesn’t keep any of it.
Q: So, basically, the shop offers artists inexpensive exposure?
A: $110 a month is our most expensive membership. That’s not too much to have a Downtown retail space. That’s the great thing about being a collective — it’s not too much risk for any one of us to be able to have this awesome space.
Q: Do people shop differently when they know items are made locally?
A: A lot of our customers are extremely loyal. They understand that when they shop in our boutique, their money goes directly to the local maker, someone who could be a friend or a neighbor.
Q: How did you come to be the owner?
A: I was the one who felt the most strongly about it, and I had time to devote to it. Maybe I’m the bossiest. When other people didn’t want to put their name on the lease, I was willing to do that.
Q: What are the challenges of the collective business model?
A: When we started out, we had 21 names on the LLC paperwork. It didn’t work. There were too many cooks in the kitchen. Getting 21 people to agree on every single detail of a business is nearly impossible.
Q: How do you select artisans?
A: Periodically, we meet and review all the applications we have on file. It depends on the needs of the shop at the time. Right now, we have a moratorium on new jewelry. We just have enough of that already. We also look at the personality of the seller. That weighs heavily, actually.
Q: Your business model is atypical. Can you think of other types of products that could succeed with it in Boise?
A: There are many businesses that could succeed with this model. However, I think the trick to it is more a matter of finding a group of people who are motivated and creative enough to run their own business, but selfless enough to work toward a common goal. Very few people are. I think we are pretty special.
Q: What indicators told you the shop was ready to move into the bigger space in the Pioneer Tent Building?
A: We were bursting at the seams, but it was a putting the cart before the horse kind of thing. We didn’t have the membership to pay the higher rent yet, but we couldn’t get higher membership without the bigger space. (Pioneer Tent Building owner) Clay Carley was awesome working with us to help us get into the bigger shop.
Q: What does the future hold for Indie Made?
A: As long as people see the value in buying locally, we have a great future.
Zach Kyle: 377-6464