Are you a “maker?” Do you have a physical product that you’re producing or manufacturing here in Maine? Did you know that Made in Maine can help you? To discover how, check out this week’s Fast Forward Maine podcast episode now!
Rich Brooks: She’s been with the State of Maine Development of Economic and Community Development for 18 years. In that time she has managed CDBG, Community Development Block Grant, grant portfolios totaling over $26 million in supportive communities and small businesses. She became the manager of the Maine Made Program in 2012 and has since continued to work with Maine businesses both small and large to help them grow by exposing them to new markets and networking opportunities. A graduate of Thomas College, she lives in Smithfield with her husband and fur kids. When she’s not promoting Maine products, you can find her gardening, kayaking, or curled up with a good book. Tammy Knight, welcome to the Fast Forward Maine podcast.
Tammy Knight: Hey thanks for having me.
Yury Nabokov: Tammy this is delight to have you on the show because you oversee the state’s 30 year old Maine products marketing program with more than 1900 participants. So could you tell me a little bit more what the program is and what Maine Made does?
Tammy Knight: Sure. I’d be happy too. Just a little bit of background history in it. As you said, its 30 years old, it was created by the Maine Legislature as a form of branding to promote the products of quality and integrity that come out of the state. So if you think back to some of the early members in the program, Thomas Moser, Stonewall Kitchen, North Country wind bells, its sort of started out with print advertising and doing a lot of media. They had catalog that was produced every two years where members could elect to get a half page ad in the catalog which showed their locations, some photos of their products. In the late 90s, Maine Made developed a website to help promote its members. And in the early 2000s, around 2002 with the advent of the internet and websites, members started building their own sites so a lot of their resources were going into building websites and if you look back then it cost an arm and a leg to do a website so they were doing a lot of print advertising.
Tammy Knight: That being said, the print catalog sort of faded out. Fast forward to 2012, when after traveling around the state for 12 years and doing the community development block grant program and seeing the multitude of small businesses that were in the state, we sort of felt it was time to breathe some new life into the program. Social media was really taking off and so we decided that Maine Made needed a Facebook page, needed to do some monthly newsletters, start building more partnerships with the Maine Crafts Association, Maine SBDC, Score, Coastal Enterprises and a host of other entities that are involved in helping small businesses grow. So we started working on that. And we also wanted to increase the visibility of the membership to buyers. You’ve got wholesale buyers out there that have boutiques, they have a bed and breakfast, they have a store, a gift shop and so increasing the visibility to the wholesale section is really important to our membership.
Tammy Knight: So sort of started doing that. And then we have our membership on our website. Which was recently rebuilt and relaunched last March and members can apply online to the Maine Made program, there’s not cost for applying, there’s no membership costs and we do have review criteria that we look at when we’re looking at people who apply to the program. Typically, we want to make sure that the product is naturally made in Maine, and that there’s some sort of component of the product that comes from Maine, sometimes that’s not always easy, particularly in pottery. You know we don’t have our own clay pits around here. Or fine furniture. If you think Thomas Moser, he makes a lot of stuff out of exotic woods that just aren’t grown in Maine but the value is added to that wood when it gets to Maine so that’s important.
Tammy Knight: We look at the product that’s being produced and making sure that the company has been in business for about three years because that’s usually a make or break point for a small business when they’re making something. When look to see that the business has a website, that they have some sort of e-commerce so that the consumer knows where they can purchase the product either on line or through a retail store that might be carrying the product. So there’s a whole bunch of things that come into the mix when we’re reviewing applications. But its really great, its exciting. There’s so many great things going on the State.
Rich Brooks: Now you seem to know quite a bit about the history of Maine Made and all the application, how did you get involved with Maine Made? How did you become part of this organization?
Tammy Knight: Well its through the Department of Economic and Community Development which I work in under the Office of Community Development. There’s a whole bunch of alphabet soup acronyms I could throw around but so I’ve been with the State in the Department of Economic and Community Development since 2000, so just moving through doing the grant programs, working with small business and some pretty big businesses with the grant programs and being able to travel all over the state, it just afforded me an opportunity to see some of the small businesses that were out there and they weren’t aware of the Maine Made program, weren’t aware of the benefits that were part of the program and the program just needed a little bit of new life. So my department director and I got together and sort of put together a detailed list of what we could do with the Maine Made program, what we’d like to see it to moving forward in the future and how it could really assist some of the small businesses in our State.
Yury Nabokov: I would like to learn a little bit more about what’s to come. You know you’re talking about this plan and I want to understand the importance of Maine Made and what are we going to see in the next few years?
Tammy Knight: In the next few years, I think we’re just going to really expand on exposing our members to wholesale markets. We just recently had the New England Made Giftware Specialty Food show in Portland. It was in its 35th year. Maine Made is big sponsor of that show. It’s a wholesale show only, that means that only buyers would go to the show to look for products to stock their store shelves with. So we had, at that show, it’s a New England show so there’s a lot of New England states involved in it. But there were about 160 Maine companies at that show with everything from gourmet food to pottery to clothing to pocketbooks, purses, satchels, stained glass, a lot of things. And so as part of that program we sponsor that every year and hoping to get more buyers to come into it and we also if there’s a Maine Made member who’s going to the show for the first time, we do provide some we’ll call it scholarship assistance and help bring them with the cost to attend the show for the first time.
Tammy Knight: So they might need sell sheets printed up, or they may need new brochures or they might need lighting or signage for their booth. Our little bit of assistance helps them do that. So its just expanding on the wholesale market and getting word out there about our products and that is one of the features that we do have on our website. We’re allowing buyers to sign up at MaineMade.com as a wholesale buyer. What this will do is allow them to search for a Maine Made products that the vendor does do wholesale. So its important for the buyer to be able to refine their searches and if they’re looking for salsa for their stores or their restaurant, or if they’re looking for pottery for their shops that they can go through the list and do a search and it will only show them the members that do wholesale.
Yury Nabokov: So its like a two edged sword, where you bringing the Maine Made products to your platform and helping the whole buyers connect with the manufacturers of those products, correct?
Tammy Knight: Exactly. Yep.
Rich Brooks: So you mentioned the website a couple times and it seems like it’s a key component of what you’re doing over there at Maine Made. Can you just explain a little bit more about how it works for your members and for the shopping public? Is there e-commerce, can I just go there and buy directly from Maine Made or are you just redirecting me to the websites that your members have already created?
Tammy Knight: That’s a great question. We are redirecting to all our members so that the consumer can go to their websites and purchase any products that they want via e-commerce. Our website has a lot of components into it and when we rebuilt it last year, we were looking at who’s our audience, what are they looking for? And actually when we did some research we found out that 62% of the visitors to our website are from out of state. So it really shows there’s a lot of people out there looking for Maine made products. So we felt it was important to sort of partner up with tourism who’s also part of the Department of Economic and Community Development and mirror the regions in the state with our makers that we have so people are used to going to visit the Maine Highlands and they know what region of the state is, that is, or the county, or downeast Maine. So our makers are put into sections mirroring the tourism sections that the tourism department has on their website.
Tammy Knight: So that’s important when visitors are coming to the state and they’re going to a particular part of the state, they can narrow down their search on our website for retail places to go to, or studios they can visit, go see glass being blown, go to a potters’ studio and see pottery being made and it just enhances their experience when they come to the state.
Rich Brooks: That’s fantastic and I love this idea of really just bringing all of Maine together because I think unlike many other states out there, there’s this sort of idea of what Maine is like from outside people and I’m sure a lot of these people used to live in the state and they moved away but they’ve never lost touch with it. I know when I’m always trying to bring speakers in to speak at my conference, I always talk about Maine and they’re like, “Oh,” it’s either, “Oh I’ve always wanted to there,” or, “Oh I used to go there to camp as a kid.” And there’s that sense that Maine is this really special place and I’m sure people are interested in purchasing products and just Maine Made is one of the first filters that they’re thinking of.
Tammy Knight: I’d like to think so.
Rich Brooks: If you’re doing your job well, and I think you are, then its definitely working out.
Tammy Knight: Thanks.
Yury Nabokov: Well, I just, for our listeners, I just wanted to reiterate the number. 62% of website visitors are coming from out-of-state so those of you who are planning to expand the footprint of your products and the availability of your products, please pleases please consider Maine Made program. So speaking about Maine Made, Tammy could you tell us a little bit more how else do you promote this program across the state and help to bring new products or new companies to your catalog of awesomeness?
Tammy Knight: Oh, catalog of awesomeness, that’s a great title.
Yury Nabokov: Please use if you think it’s going to help to grow our businesses.
Tammy Knight: Okay, great I will keep that in mind. Some of what, we don’t do a whole lot of outreach looking for members. A lot of the people come to us, we got on average about 30 applications a month without doing too much outreach. A lot of the people what they’ve done is they’ve attended a show and the person in the booth next to them has a Maine Made label on their product and they want to know how they got it. So they just come to us sort of like organically people are coming in. But we do have that opportunity of going and visiting different stores around the state and going to different galleries and seeing different products and the quality jumps out at you so we do have cards that we send out to people to let them know we saw their work and we think they’d be a great fit for Maine Made and we’d like to help them market their products.
Tammy Knight: So that’s one way that we get new products. And another way is we just social media. We’re just getting things coming through our feeds of new products that are being developed and like I said, one of the criteria for our review is being in business for three years, but every once in a while something will come across the pipe and we’re like, “Oh my gosh, we’ve got to get the Maine Made label on that, that’s really cool.”
Rich Brooks: So I don’t know if this was Yury’s question but when I’m thinking about it, I’m wondering outside of your website, like are there things that you’re doing to promote Maine Made products to the world? So in other words, you mentioned you’re using social media, have you optimized the website for search, do you have mail newsletters, how are people finding out about the Maine Made brand from the consumer or wholesalers standpoint?
Tammy Knight: Okay, that’s a good question. From the consumer side, Facebook, we’re using that really really heavily doing different promotions on Facebook. Where up to almost 10,000 likes now, yay!
Rich Brooks: Congratulations.
Tammy Knight: Thank you. We just recently did a little promotion through the month of March called Mugshot Monday’s, where every Monday we would feature a mug made by a Maine maker. So we had four mugs every Monday in March paired up with Maine roasted coffees, Maine blended teas and drinking chocolates.
Yury Nabokov: Love it.
Tammy Knight: By Bixby. And so we had, it was crazy, the first Monday we ran that we had over 25,000 views on that post.
Rich Brooks: Wow.
Tammy Knight: Picked up over 200 new likes on our Facebook page and so when we did the random selections for the mugs, I’m thinking four of five of them went out of state. One went to Washington state, I know that one went to New Jersey, the guy who won that was tickled because he came to Maine as a child, came camping and now he and his wife and daughters come and visit Maine so that was kind of fun to send that off to New Jersey.
Rich Brooks: So you over the years, you’ve worked with a lot of different companies, I’m sure through Maine Made. Do you have some personal favorites?
Tammy Knight: Personal favorites, my goodness, there’s so many. No I really don’t. There’s some that jump out at me as being super interesting. One of them is Bells from Everest, I don’t know if you’ve heard of that company or not.
Rich Brooks: I haven’t, no.
Tammy Knight: But what Jeff did is he had read about the litter on Mount Everest with people leaving their oxygen tanks and how it was just becoming a trash heap, and through different connections that he had, he was able to get some of the oxygen tanks from Mount Everest shipped to his studio in Brunswick. Some sherpas helped him get those. And so when he gets them to Brunswick what he does is he turns the oxygen cylinders on this lathe and he creates beautiful bells and bowls out of the oxygen cylinders.
Rich Brooks: What a great story!
Tammy Knight: And then the shavings… yeah and then the shavings from when he does the turning he puts into glass balls and they’re Christmas ornaments so you have a Christmas ornament that has shavings from an oxygen cylinder that was on Mount Everest.
Rich Brooks: That is awesome.
Yury Nabokov: That is incredible. That is a fantastic branding and an incredible story. And you know congratulations to the businesses that know how to blend two together and make some financial impacts. That’s great. But Tammy, listening to the discussion around the products and the services and everything that you do, it seems like there’s a lot of business to customer. Is there a business to business angle?
Tammy Knight: Absolutely. A lot of the times we’ll have businesses that create a product and we might have them with joint purchasing with another business. Sometimes a business will get into a position like the New England Made show that we just had, one of our members, it was her second year at the show, she had some good wholesale accounts and then all of a sudden she was faced with a really really big order, wasn’t quite sure how she was going to handle it, so I was able to connect her with a veteran member who sort of had those growing pains and has seen this happen before and sort of could talk to her and allay some of her fears about, “Oh my gosh, what’s next.”
Tammy Knight: And we do have some of our members who serve as mentors which is really important because they’ve been there, they’ve done that, whether its social media, website building, packaging, shipping, they’re all out there to help each other. It’s a really nice close knit family of artisans.
Yury Nabokov: I like that, sounds like why incubator but its Maine Made incubator, that’s fantastic. What a great thing.
Rich Brooks: Tammy you’ve worked with a lot of Maine makers over the years. What are some of the things that they can be doing better so that they can get in front of more people and sell more product, in your opinion?
Tammy Knight: I think one of the more important things that people really need to be aware of is their photography. They’re making some really really nice products out there and to be able to get that perfect shot, I know it’s a little cliché but they say a pictures’ worth a thousand words and it really is. Its so important in this day and age when you’re showing a product on the internet and you just want to make sure that that product is being focused on, there’s no background noise to it, that they’re staged well, that it gives a feeling of the product. You know if you’re making a piece of jewelry out of sea glass, and you’re doing the photography and you’re using some driftwood or some shells or sand, its just enhances those photos and lets the reader or the viewer actually get a better idea and get better feel for the product because again, a photo with a distracting background, you just want people focusing on the photo.
Tammy Knight: And then the other thing is just pricing. Its really hard for makers to put a price on their products. I’m finding that sometimes. It just, there’s value in their product, there’s value in what they do and people are willing to pay for that value and sometimes I see members sort of selling themselves short and not pricing the products right. So what we do is work with them because we want them to make money. We want them to stay in business. We want them to have a marketable product and we want consumers to be able to afford it. So its finding that delicate balance with them.
Rich Brooks: Those are two excellent points and if you are listening out there and you are a maker, there are so many talented Maine photographers who are completely affordable but you can reach out and in the age of Instagram of course, so important to have those perfect images. And then the other piece of the puzzle which you had just mentioned which totally escapes me because I’m and old man.
Yury Nabokov: Well I was actually, I just wanted to jump in, and I was thinking about the workshops that we do as part of the Fast Forward Maine and one of the topics of the presentation is video story telling. We can actually take it to the next level, its not just a high end quality photography but what if we can incorporate the elements of story and visual it through moving objects. I think it will help to show an in depth behind the scene-
Rich Brooks: To tell a better story.
Yury Nabokov: To tell a better story.
Rich Brooks: Have you had a lot of your makers be, using video to promote their products and services?
Tammy Knight: I’m seeing video grow. We do have on our website there’s couple of links for some of our members that have done video, or it may be a news clip. And they’re becoming a little more creative in doing it and telling their story because that’s another important aspect of the Maine Made program is telling people’s stories. If they can tell their story in a really good concise way, an interesting way then it makes their product that much more viable to the consumer. A consumer can buy a wallet anywhere. But if they buy a wallet like from Flow Fold, and know the story of Flow Fold and how that was created and how it uses the material from sails, for sailboats or if they buy a wallet from Rogue Wallet, and they know the background on that and how he developed the wallet to be worn in the front pocket not the back pocket to alleviate back pain. Just those stories make the product more interesting.
Rich Brooks: And getting back to what I had forgotten but now remember, is pricing. And so the whole point of storytelling is really a great segway to that because I agree with you, a lot of people, not just Maine makers but certainly Maine makers don’t put enough value in their product, or they’re so afraid that they’re overpricing it and really that’s one thing that if you price it too low you’re actually demeaning your own product and lessening the perceived value, where often raising the price will get more people interested in it. And like you were saying if you’re able to tell a story, whether in words, in photos, or in video and if I’m able then as the consumer to buy that product and then turn around and tell that story of the wallet to all my friends, the value of that product goes up.
Rich Brooks: Because I want to be able to tell that story, which of course just helps the person in the first place who is making that product, so I think its critical on the pricing side to get your story down because then that allows you to increase your price and really make a profit at what you’re doing. And really at the end of the day, we’re not charities, we’re businesses, and we should be pricing our products in a way that makes sense for everybody.
Tammy Knight: Oh I couldn’t agree more and that’s one of the things about I found that Maine makers are so humble. They’re just, they don’t toot their own horns and celebrate their successes, and some of them are doing really well with website development, videos, and telling their stories but, I mean this is their profession. They’re a maker, they’re making something, their passion is in their making and in a lot of instances they’re not marketing people, they’re not photographers, they’re not accountants, so this is where we can come in and help fill in those holes that they have to help contribute to their success.
Yury Nabokov: Tammy the follow up to your answer, I guess, to Rich’s question, what is one thing you would do to change the business environment in Maine?
Tammy Knight: Wow. Boy that’s a good question. I think just keep growing and creating the awareness of what we have in Maine and what we have to offer. There’s so much good going on, there’s so many great stories, there’s so much, you know people are moving here from out of state. We’ve got a number of makers that have moved here from out of state and are setting up shop and being very successful. And they’re coming here for the quality of life, so I think if we can keep telling people what a great place Maine is, that you can make it in Maine, whether its making a pot, or a pair of shoes, you can make a living. You can make memories so there’s a lot you can make in Maine and I think just promoting that and making people aware of it will help us go a long way.
Rich Brooks: This has been great Tammy and if you’re out there listening, and you are a Maine maker, and you haven’t taken advantage of the Maine Made services, I definitely recommend you go check out their website. So Tammy can you tell us where can people find more about Maine Made online and where can we find out more about you online?
Tammy Knight: You can find more about Maine Made online at Mainemade.com that’s where we have our website, we have the application is online so there’s an area to have member services, there’s a link to join Maine Made and when you go to that link there are three different services you can sign up for. One is becoming a member, so that would be for makers and artisans. The other is to be a wholesale buyer, we talked about that a little bit earlier, and the other way to sign up that we did not talk about is a Maine Made retailer. So all over the state we have different retail establishments that carry a plethora of Maine Made products in their stores and this is a portal for them to sign up so when someone is coming and visiting our site, and they want to know where can I do a one stop shopping and find all the products made in Maine, we have an interactive map and all those listings are there for retail that they can go search and find a place to go.
Tammy Knight: Find out about me? I think on LinkedIn probably would be the best spot. Or give me a call.
Rich Brooks: Awesome Tammy and thank you for using the word plethora. One of my favorite words in the English language. This has been great, and we really appreciate you swinging by and sharing your expertise, and your knowledge of Maine Made.
Tammy Knight: Again, thanks for having me.