This 34-Year-Old In Mission Valley Is Turning Profits On Arts And Crafts.

Brittney Melling The San Diego Tribune

WWR Summary (tl;dr) Each month, "The Crafter's Box" mails its customers everything needed to tackle an artsy activity.

San Diego

A young entrepreneur in San Diego has tapped into a growing desire among millenials to get crafty at home, buidling an unusual business for high-end arts and crafts that’s catching traction online.

Morgan Splena, the 34-year-old founder of The Crafter’s Box, just got admitted into a competitive, national startup program called Techstars Anywhere. Now, with a team of new mentors at her side, she’s building up her business for a new generation of crafters.

The Crafter’s Box started out as a subscription box company, targeting people who long for a creative outlet — but lack the time (or will) to track down ideas and materials for a weekend art project.

The company mails its customers everything needed to tackle an artsy activity, from knitting a blanket or pouf to soldering stain-glass ornaments.

The subscription box (which starts at $65 a month) includes highly produced video tutorials taught by professional artisans and recorded in production studios in downtown San Diego.

Splena, who has a background working in enterprise software and marketing, said she was inspired to start the business while on maternity leave with her third child.

“I really enjoyed spending free time creatively,” Splena said. “And because I was so tech-heavy in all aspects of my corporate life, I always tried to disengage with that while at home.”

But even in those days, Splena wasn’t doing your “sequins and pom-pom kind of crafting,” as she calls it. She was hunting down artisan materials to work with, like Alpaca wool to weave into tapestries. She was dying her own yarn in her kitchen sinks with avocado pits. She even had a go-to yarn dealer at the local farmer’s market.

Splena wondered if there were other crafters like her who were craving these elevated creative pursuits and high-quality materials but instead were met with the chintzy aisles of chain hobby stores.

People who craft as a hobby, Splena said, do creative projects for the joy of the process — but they rarely end up with something they want to keep.

“You don’t want to end up with a synthetic, mass-produced, machine-dyed product,” Splena said. “If you’re going to put 10 hours of crafting love into an item — and hang it on your wall for the next 10 years — then you need to feel something for the materials and the tools you use.”

This is where The Crafter’s Box shines. The company’s materials would be more at home in an Anthropologie store than a Michael’s. For example, the startup’s $75 workshop on leather tanning and stamping includes eco-friendly, vegetable-tanned leather, steel and leather stamps, a mallet, and other tools needed to create a custom-engraved, leather-bound notebook.

Today, The Crafter’s Box makes about 50 percent of its revenue from the subscription box business and the rest from … la carte purchases from its marketplace, where shoppers can buy access to digital workshops and supplies. The company even sells a line of its own raw materials, such as yarn, paint and loom kits.

This world of hobby crafting is a sizable market. In 2016, the Association for Creative Industries reported that U.S. households collectively spend about $36 billion per year on arts and crafts. And the niche of high-quality crafting appears to be growing among younger shoppers, who, as a group, are turning away from mass-produced (often unsustainably-made) materials.

Today, Spenla employs 12 people at her office and warehouse space in Mission Valley. Her company is already profitable, she says, but she’s sinking all of her excess into building the business.

It was Splena’s traction that first caught the attention of Ryan Kuder, the managing director of Techstars Anywhere. He saw her compete at a startup pitch competition in San Diego, and immediately asked if they could talk more about The Crafter’s Box.

“She has an incredible depth of understanding of how her business works,” Kuder said. “She knows her customers, her market, her future. On top of that, for a company she’s built on her own, she’s achieved great scale.”

Kuder recruited The Crafter’s Box into his latest cohort of startups for Techstars Anywhere, hoping that the network the program provided would help her avoid common pitfalls in startup growth.

“We can connect her with people who have been there, done that and scaled their businesses,” Kuder said, adding that the network might also help Splena raise investment capital to support that growth.

Splena, who built the business on her own dime, said once the Techstars program comes to a close, she’ll start an official fundraising round.
(c)2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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