Campus / News / September 30, 2009

Knoxsignment Korner’s creative business opportunity

Since spring term, after discussion between the bookstore staff and students, the Knox College bookstore has been selling student-created handmade craft pieces in the “Knox-signment Korner,” a tabletop toward the back of the store. The service allows students to put an item they have crafted up for sale and set their own price for their work. The student earns 90 percent of the revenue from the sale of the item, with 10 percent going toward the bookstore for general business costs. Almost any type of craft piece is accepted for sale by the store, including jewelry, knit work, and origami sculptures. As of September 30th, the bookstore was selling 20 student-crafted items.

Though the Knox community supports some student-run marketplaces already, such as the Free Store and KnoxTrade on Facebook, most are geared toward resale, rather than the sale of original items. The Knoxsignment Korner caters to the segment of the Knox populace who would like to sell their own handiwork to their fellow students.

One would assume that this type of service, oriented toward creating a space where students can show off their own work and possibly earn a profit, would be successful, given the strong streak of individualism and emphasis on close personal relationships so definitive of Knox. While there is strong support and enthusiasm for the initiative amongst both the students and the bookstore staff, however, the bookstore has not received as many student-made pieces as was anticipated last year, and the sales for the pieces already in the bookstore remain slow.

“We are trying to make this more popular,” said Craig Conolly, the manager of the bookstore. Citing the fact that few other colleges offer a service through which students can sell handmade goods to their peers, Conolly believes that, were the program to get off the ground, it would be a way of both enhancing the Knox community for its current students as well as attracting prospective students to the school. “It’s something that connects people to each other, an interesting service that sets Knox apart from other schools.”

Despite the benefits of the service, the bookstore has been having difficulties obtaining items to sell from students. The clubs on campus that exist for the purpose of making crafts, such as Making Things and Stitch n’ Bitch, are not able to sell their items because Knox disallows students from using club money to make any personal profit. On top of this, the response from individual students has been underwhelming. Thus far, though the bookstore has called for students to bring forth their work via campus-wide K-Box flyers, only a few pieces have been added to the items for sale from last spring term. As Conolly observes, “Knox students are busy.”

Most students would agree. Senior Christine Morse currently has two scarves and a pajama set in the bookstore, which she put up for sale last year. Selling crafts via the bookstore is an idea she supports, but creating crafts for the purpose of selling them is not “something [she] is working towards.”

“It depends on how much time I have,” Morse said. “If I make something, I’ll put it in the bookstore.” Given the hectic schedule of the typical Knox student, it would appear that for most people, creating any sort of craft at all is something to which they cannot devote much time.

Morse’s pieces have gone unsold, as have sophomore Peter Michener’s, who is selling several origami sculptures. He put his items up for sale in response to the flyers sent out this term, because he “thought [he] could make some money off his hobby.” Neither student has seen a profit.

“It’s hard to publicize this,” said Conolly. The distribution of flyers via K-Boxes does not lend itself to sticking in the minds of Knox students, many of whom tend to throw away such mailings immediately. The Knoxsignment Korner is also centered in the back of the bookstore, so that students walking in might not know these particular items are on sale at all. If students do not know about the Knoxsignment Korner, they are unlikely to make a purchase, which might then lead to a lack of incentive for students to put items up for sale. Students might be buying textbooks and sweatshirts, but many of the student craft items remain untouched.

Student unawareness or lack of interest in buying crafts may not be the ultimate cause of low sales. The jewelry for sale, made mostly from ordinary beads and recycled material, runs anywhere from $5-$10. Morse’s scarves are priced at $30, and some of Michener’s origami sculptures are priced at $12. With students being able to earn a maximum amount of $80 per week through the school, might it be that asking for nearly 40 percent of a student’s weekly paycheck is driving down both sales and enthusiasm?

“I looked at websites, especially Etsy, to see what similar items were selling for,” said Morse, whereas Michener “tried to base the price off of how complicated the piece was, or the material used to make it.” While the logic behind the prices of the items is sound, students may have to lower their expectations as to the profit they stand to make from selling their crafts.

The Knoxsignment Korner is a new program, one off of which there is little precedent to base. Like many good ideas at Knox, the Korner suffers from a general lack of student initiative. The staff of the bookstore, however, remain optimistic in its eventual success.

“I think it’s interesting,” said Conolly, “especially seeing the sorts of things students bring in to us.” Most of the crafts being sold are traditional items that people have been making for a very long time. “Even though students come in here with their iPods and texting on their cell phones, we keep getting knit work and jewelry. People were doing that when I was young. It’s funny how things stay the same.”

Rachel Perez

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