Crafts to Cash
Steve Perkins has always enjoyed woodworking. He likes to create, and comes at it from the perspective of an artist rather than a profiteer. But there’s only so much that you need. “You get to the point that there’s no more room on your shelves,” he said.
It’s not an uncommon position for an artist to be in, especially in rural Missouri: the drive to create but no real access to market. That’s the conclusion that Perkins and his pastor, Rev. Meghan Riegerix, came to after hosting a lot of community meetings, and getting many people from their town of Bucklin around the table to talk about the things they could do if they worked together.
It led to the formation of The Olive Branch Rural Resource, a non-profit organization with 501(c)3 status. Last year the Olive Branch received a Costner-Fulton grant from the Missouri Conference to help people like Perkins develop a business approach to their craft.
Yet, it was a challenging year to try to start something new. “Our timing was off, due to COVID-19,” Perkins said. “I think in a normal year we would have had more interest.”
Rural crafters sometimes depend on things like craft fairs to try to market their products. There were fewer of those opportunities in 2020. Even when opportunities exist, the fee for having a table at a fair can take a big bite out of their profits if they don’t make a lot of sales of that day.
“Our goal is to help artisans increase their business savvy and reach a broader audience through things like online sales,” Riegerix said. “It can be helpful to be able to generate more business income when you live in a place where there are not a lot of jobs around.”
Perkins expanded his woodworking craft by getting a computer numerical control (CNC) machine, which allows him to program designs and cut them repeatedly with great precision. He uses walnut, oak and cedar from local sawmills, and specializes in making wall hangings.
Many people in the community are involved in the American Legion. Perkins has found patriotic-themed signs to be popular.
“The most popular is Old Glory, the flag without anything else,” he said.
“On the Fourth of July we tripled our average attendance. We had more than 60,” she said.
Using it’s Costner-Fulton grant, the Olive Branch ministry established a set of classes for artisans trying to build a market. Riegerix adapted a Small Business Association curriculum that is available for free online and added a scriptural base to keep the class Christ-centered.
Perkins and Riegerix found it challenging to expand participation beyond their own family and friends. But are hoping that if they can demonstrate some success, they will be able to persuade others to give it a try. They are planning on finding a business coach for the next round of sessions.