The Kiku-Co Interview

By: Jake

At Little Jack, we’re always interested in how local small businesses utilize online marketing to compete in the new global marketplace. One such business is Kiku Handmade, a glass studio from Oak Park that has been thriving for over a decade. We got together with founder Laurie Freivogel to learn about how Kiku Handmade has embraced the power of the Internet age, and the company’s overall marketing strategy of collaborating with its peers.

Little Jack: How long have you been in business? How has your company adapted to the online marketing age?

Laurie Freivogel: I started my business, Kiku Handmade, in the spring of 2004.  I had been working for tech companies previously, one of which had a lot of down time, so I spent a lot of that time teaching myself html, Photoshop, etc. In my next job, I spent a lot of time sourcing products and doing research online, so I’ve always been comfortable with technology.

In the early days of Kiku, advertising via print ads was easy, and relatively cheap.  A few years later, web ads mostly replaced print ads (or worked in conjunction with them), but they actually worked and drove customers to my website. Now there’s so much going on online that it’s really hard to get someone’s attention, and print advertising for small, independent artisan businesses is next to impossible.  I won’t even bring up the economy… I try to get the word out via social media – Facebook boosted posts, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc., which has become essentially another several-hour-a-week job, but it’s one of the easier ways to get your name/face/product out there.

LJ: What marketing activities do you currently put most emphasis on? Why?

LF: Probably Facebook/Twitter/Instagram, because it’s the easiest.  As the sole employee of Kiku Handmade, I do everything from sourcing the materials, creating the product, doing the art fairs and wholesale shows, billing/shipping/accounting, and more.  It’s very easy to pin a product or idea, to take a photo and push it through Instagram/Facebook, etc., but the bigger marketing activities tend to stay on the back burner.

Another thing that I think is effective is collective marketing.  I am part of an amazing group of women called the Chicago Art Girls, an all-female group of artists and makers that has been getting together socially and doing shows together professionally for over twelve years (and we just incorporated this year).  In addition to being an amazing support group with dozens of years of collective experience, we focus our efforts to market each other and our group, mostly via social media.  By splitting up the work and showing folks the ins and outs of so many different artists and their studios, processes, and hobbies, I feel like we’re gaining a greater audience for us individually as well as for our group.

To capitalize on our marketing efforts, we host two annual art fairs that we call “pop-up shops” – one is coming up in December! We feature many of our group members and a few selected female guest artists.  We extensively promote our shows via our Facebook page (ChicagoArtGirls), Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest to drive customers to our events, and to our website (chicagoartgirls.com) to find out more about our artist members.

LJ: What are your biggest concerns for the future? What is one problem you wish your marketing efforts could address?

LF: I would love to drive more people to my website, and even more I’d love to have my work featured in magazines.  I know that will probably never happen if my online marketing efforts are only via social media, but I need to reach a greater audience and have my products stick with them so that I can spend more time in my studio creating, and less time at the computer.

LJ: Do you have any other marketing advice for businesses who are trying to build an online presence and establish a local footprint?

LF: Form or join a group of people in your field, split up the work and promote one thing daily online, and do the same on your own business page.  Write an (interesting) blog, take pictures of your processes, your studio, your hobbies, don’t just try to sell the product every day, people will get bored.  Keep things interesting and show folks a side of you that they wouldn’t otherwise see, something that inspires them or that they find they have in common with you.