By Erika Engle
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
The My Locker program at HouseMart Ben Franklin Crafts stores gives crafters and entrepreneurs the opportunity to sell small items or market services without the expense or formality of a wholesale contract or commercial real estate lease.
Third-generation co-owner Wayne Kamitaki was inspired by a similar program in Japan, according to Joy Shimabukuro, creative director for HouseMart and its Ben Franklin Crafts, Celebrations and Ace Hardware retail stores.
He saw it as a way for the stores to give local crafters an opportunity to sell their wares “without having to open a whole store or anything like that,” she said.
The lockers are clear, 17-inch cubes and are rented monthly. Lockers on the bottom level cost $30, the second level and the top level rent for $40, and the closer-to-eye-level row in between costs $50 to rent.
Lest would-be vendors worry about being on the bottom level, Shimabukuro said, “People do look up and down.” Larger items such as trucker hats are “perfect for the bottom level,” so people who make those might want to consider starting out at the lower-priced $30 locker level to see how it goes, versus staying on the waiting list for a prime $50 locker.
Would-be vendors often are placed on a waitlist, but “if we have an opening on one of the lower levels, you might want to start off there — at least you can get started,” Shimabukuro said.
A predominance of merchandise sold in the lockers is handcrafted jewelry, but “we (also) have vendors who are selling not finished things, but shells for other people” to buy in the making of jewelry or other crafts in which seashells are used, Shimabukuro said.
Other items for sale include greeting cards, latches for paracord bracelets, socks bearing different designs and more. Not all items are handcrafted, but “the best part for them is that basically it’s their own little store, they can do whatever, figure out their own displays and change out their display every day if they want,” Shimabukuro said.
The independent vendors’ merchandise is secure, as the clear lockers are locked until customers spy items they want to buy or to examine more closely. An employee will unlock the case and stand by to help them decide what they want to purchase, she said.
The merchandise isn’t aimed solely at women. “There are (vendors) making Hydro Flask holders, trucker hats,” and ornaments with football team logos on them.
Prices range from “$2 for washi tape all the way up to who-knows-what,” she said, citing $800 for Tahitian pearls sold by a My Locker vendor on Maui. Prices are set by the vendors, and store employees aren’t authorized to negotiate.
“The way we like to look at the My Locker program is that it helps two ways,” she said. “It helps the crafters to sell their merchandise. They can start a business and see how far it can go. And then it helps our customers,” she said. While many Ben Franklin shoppers are crafters, they might see something in a locker they don’t know how to make or don’t have time to make.
“Some people want that option. … Instead of a gift card, they can get (someone) a gift,” Shimabukuro said.
The program has been so popular it soon will be expanding to the company’s HouseMart Ace Hardware stores on the neighbor islands, Shimabukuro said.
In the meantime, the company has been helping crafters in a more traditional ways, with miniature craft fairs outside certain stores in advance of Christmas.
The Ben Franklin Crafts in Kailua is staging miniature craft fairs every Saturday through Dec. 19 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., while the Hilo store will host similar events Saturday and Dec. 19 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.