FROM MINI MARKET TO ‘UP-MARKET’ TO MASSIVE ONLINE MARKETPLACE – A STORY OF SMALL BUSINESS GROWTH WITH CRAFT AT ITS CORE.
KAMERS/Makers is an institution in the SA market culture. We caught up with Charl du Preez, their Online Marketing Manager, to get the inside story on how KAMERS became renowned nationwide without losing their soul along the way.
The scene was very different when KAMERS/Makers opened for business back in 2003.
A few friends shared a big dream – to create a platform for creative entrepreneurs and artisans to come together, be inspired by one another and showcase their talents to the public.
It started small. And under a different name. A quaint Stellenbosch house was transformed into a room of gifts when Kamers Vol Geskenke put on its very first show 16 years ago.
There were 800 visitors then. Which is pretty impressive under the circumstances. There was no social media or Whatsapp groups to rally the troops and gain momentum in the lead up to an event. It was the hard yard methods of flyers and word of mouth; a down-to-earth ethos that remains with the brand today.
“It was quite different back then. ‘Market’ usually meant ‘flea market’ – an association we were quite keen to avoid. It wasn’t about being premium or expensive or exclusive. We just wanted to communicate that creativity and craft was what mattered. We still do.”
Today, KAMERS/Makers travels the country.
The touring phenomenon puts on five shows in five cities, to rave reviews and ravenous support. In 2016, 600 small businesses featured at their events with nearly 60 000 excited guests in attendance.
KAMERS/Makers arguably paved the way for the popular ‘up-markets’ we enjoy today. But the fact that you can only attend KAMERS/Makers once a year – unless you travel to a different city – means that it retains a special feeling all of its own. And a big part of that special feeling is the venus the team chooses.
“We try to keep things fresh. A big ingredient is the venue, so we often change it up to draw new customers and create a different backdrop for the experience. We see what people like, get the feedback and keep evolving.”
KAMERS/Makers will return to venues that were particularly successful, such as St David’s Marist Inanda in Sandton. And they’ll try new locations in renowned hotspots, such as Jan van Riebeeck High School on Cape Town’s famous Kloof Street.
The approach of improvement and innovation is present in all corners of the brand.
For example, the design they use across all collateral and communication changes every year, reflecting a different feeling or theme. It keeps the aesthetic fresh and exciting, and provides local designers a platform to showcase their talent.
Nowhere is the ‘keep things fresh’ approach more apparent than in the stall owners (or Makers) themselves. Visitors are always guaranteed new experiences at KAMERS because a huge amount of care goes into choosing the Makers – at least 30% are different from year to year and returning Makers are required to have new products to showcase.
The Makers are carefully selected. And with a long waiting list of applicants, the standards at each and every KAMERS/Makers show remain sky high.
All this progress comes courtesy of a small, dedicated team who know the brand like the back of their hands.
It’s what allows them to innovate and move forward without losing the soul of a brand that thousands of South Africans (and tourists) have fallen in love with. According to Charl, creating an environment that gets the best out of the team has been key to their success.
“Our work culture is flexible. It works for families. Our studio is a creative space where we plan our shows. We research, discuss, plan, we get creative, the team has a look at people’s products. We work hard but we have fun and enjoy ourselves.”
Going forward, a major focus is on being kinder to the environment.
Their recent partnership with Consol Glass is a reflection of their commitment to reduce the environmental impact of their shows. What began as a test project has blossomed into an official relationship, with Consol Glass enjoying the lofty status of being KAMERS/Makers’ headline sponsor.
They provide every guest with a free Consol Glass curvy bottle and an unlimited supply of purified water. The initiative has helped move KAMERS/Makers closer to their goal of removing all single-use plastic from their events.
So far, the partnership has provided guests with more than 30 000 litres of water – the equivalent of around 100 000 single-use plastic bottles. That’s astonishing progress thus.
Another major goal KAMERS/Makers has is to empower their Makers using the power of technology.
Because of the format, most fans only attend one event per year. And while the Makers often attend other markets, extra exposure and revenue never hurt anybody.
KAMERS/Makers started their first online store years ago. Initially, the goal was to sell their Makers’ old stock. But the hurdles arrived fast.
“The online store was okay, but we realised people wanted the same level of product online as they saw when they were at the event. To do that on our own wasn’t possible – keeping stock, consignment, and all that. We needed a better solution.”
We’ve collaborated with KAMERS to extend their model from travelling ‘up-market’ phenomenon to massive online marketplace that works for everyone involved. In a nutshell, it serves as a digital extension of the events themselves, making the world of KAMERS available to you anytime, anywhere.
KAMERS provides the platform to showcase their Makers’ goods to people that attended their events, and those who have never even been to KAMERS. The Makers get to make sales 24/7, and their products are showcased to KAMERS’ entire online following. And the fans of KAMERS get to shop the world of KAMERS 365 days of the year.
The online marketplace requires Makers to have online stores of their own. And because of the benefits of joining the KAMERS online marketplace mean that it’s more beneficial than ever. It’s something Charl is really excited about.
“It’s inexpensive, it’s less risky and it’s vital in getting your product out there. My mom has exhibited and people will ask if she’s got a website. They want to browse and buy online. It empowers small businesses them to get recurring customers and build relationships.”
We’re delighted to play a role this special story.
If you haven’t already, browse the KAMERS/Makers marketplace and experience the craft and culture of hundreds of small businesses in South Africa.