Handmade Canberra Recognised For Their Resilience and Innovation at the Canberra Region Tourism Awards
We are excited to announce that Handmade Canberra has been awarded the winner of the Canberra Region Tourism’s Resilience and Innovation award for 2021. A new Tourism Award in 2021 to recognise businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19, bushfires, storms, border closures and other restrictions on operations. We were delighted to be recognised for how we adapted and demonstrated initiatives and resilience during this period.
2019 was finishing as a good year for Handmade Canberra. Our September Market attracted 15,000+ people and the spirits of stallholders were high leading into the traditional ‘bumper Christmas’ retail season. Well, what a handbrake the next 2 years would turn out to be! From what started with bushfires and then rolled into COVID-19, we moved the market into the online space and kept our dream and business alive with the support of a strong-willed, creative community of makers and impassioned and committed community of shoppers. Our focus turned from ‘bumping in’ once every 3 months in person to ‘logging on’ virtually every day. We switched every business activity to focus on ensuring the sustainability of our business, focussing our energy where possible on how we could ‘thrive’ and not just ‘survive’, and launched a major new business into the Australian design and retail market in record time.
This is how we did it…
The Bushfires stopped our stallholders
From late December, through early to mid-January 2020, we started seeing the impacts on stallholders from the bushfires. Production supply chains with raw products and transport suffered shutdowns, stallholders were unable to travel, the impact peaked with the devastating loss of houses, property, and the business livelihoods of stallholders located in badly affected regional fire zones. To support these stallholders, we immediately waived fees and offered free stalls to help the makers get back on their feet. We provided additional connections and support through other makers to help access equipment and supplies. Our aim was to minimize the trauma and loss suffered by these stallholders and help them in their greatest time of need.
The Pandemic stopped our customers
As Canberran’s removed their p2 bushfire smoke masks, we started planning for our March 2020 market, our sense of calm was shattered when the global pandemic took hold and the first of the business lockdowns started. With 6 days’ notice our March market was cancelled in what we didn’t know would be the first cancellation of every in-person market across the next 2 years. Let us save you the story and go straight to the punchline of this seemingly sick joke. The June 2021 market was cancelled with 1.5 days’ notice due to ACT Government health restrictions due to an outbreak in Sydney and our ‘shed’ at EPIC was converted to Canberra’s COVID testing centre. We dropped what we were doing and had to walk away from our setup (it’s still there today). But we had one last trick up our sleeve.
So, we took the market online
With the business setbacks of 19/20, no guaranteed relief from business lockdowns in sight and no consistent plan to see major events getting put back on the calendar in Canberra, we gathered our eggs and made a new basket to put them in. This basket would become our virtual markets and a partnership with Handmade Australia Online marketplace.
Virtual Markets and Online Marketplace
We had built up a following of 80,000 followers in social media (40k FB + 39.3k IG) and more than 15,000 on email so we moved quickly to launch our first ‘virtual market’ online event to replace our March in-person event. Through photos, videos, posts, and emails, we encouraged people to ‘browse the market’ and visit retailers online by clicking the links on our stallholder directory, following the links in our posts and shopping with these stallholders via whatever means possible – email, phone, website enquiry and where possible direct online sales. We also partnered with Handmade Australia to provide our stallholders with greater reach through their ecommerce platform.
We didn’t let any crisis stop us from sharing our story.
During the last 2 years, we have remained committed to growing our brand, innovating our product and discovered a resilience in our stallholder and customer community that we suspected was there but had never been pressure tested like this.
So that’s how we did it, against the odds.
We end this story with our mask on, our chin up, wine in hand, and thousands of customers and stallholders still creating, selling, and enjoying each other’s wares every day on our platform. Our goal was to remain sustainable through this period and we met and exceeded this goal.
We thank our stallholders for adapting to new ways of business and our loyal customers who continued to support us in these challenging times.
We are busy planning our 2022 series for you to visit Canberra in person and we are pleased to say that our online events are here to stay. We’ve even found time and headspace to plan a new event so watch this space, when we are back in person for ‘Taste of Canberra’ – the food and drink edition.