Georgia is at the top of the podium – ranking numero uno – when it comes to the best state for small businesses. Of the 600k that make up our great state, 78.2% have fewer than 10 employees. For many of Atlanta’s booming industries (we see you, tech startups) there is a Rolodex of support at the fingertips of small business owners. When it comes to makers, however, the level of resources miss the mark.
After mingling with creators in the city, the need for support in the maker-space caught the attention of Root City Market‘s newest Director, Shannon Kroll. After taking the helm following founder Jen Soong, Shannon started envisioning a way for makers to connect and brush up on best business practices outside of RCM’s bustling quarterly markets. Best of all, this maker motivator has some big plans of her own to grow right alongside the artisans Root City serves.
We recently caught up with Shannon to hear why she took over Root City Market, their community impact, and why you should support “Made in ATL” brands.
Tell us a little bit about the history of Root City Market and how you’re reinventing the organization.
Many people know Jen Soong who founded Root City in 2013. I took over the organization at the end of 2016. What I was interested in was, of course, doing the markets. But what became really clear, really fast is that there’s this entire maker community that needs support specific to their businesses.
So you’re still having the markets but adding an extra layer of support for makers. What sparked that decision?
I’m always looking for ways to grow my business while I also help the makers at Root City. If I’m only putting on four markets a year, there is a lot of room for growth. So I started looking at what else is out there, what’s available, how else can we get in front of people? I began by asking what the makers wanted.
I started with putting on the Maker Mingle – a free networking event for makers and creative entrepreneurs – and listening to what the makers had to say. They certainly want more ways to connect with one another. So, we’ll do more Maker Mingles in the future. During the first Mingle, we were talking about what Root City could do to support them and they started talking about wanting other resources. There’s a desire for them to learn more about where they can take their businesses – which is why we’ve started workshops.
From what you’ve seen is that lacking here in Atlanta?
There are some other organizations working in a similar space in Atlanta but no one from what I can tell who is specifically targeting the maker community (which, if anyone is out there, I’d love to talk). There are some resources OTP, there are some that target the arts community, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into some of the different wares we see at Root City. If you’re a painter and your goal is to financially support yourself through selling art in galleries, that is a different track than the makers creating cards who want to get into an America’s Mart showroom.
So, I’m learning all of these business tracks as well, trying to figure out the best way to support their growth, and it boils down to my desire to help. I feel very strongly about supporting women and minority-owned businesses (most makers are women). If these small businesses are able to support themselves and their families, that’s an amazing win for everyone.
Let’s talk impact. At face value, some people may only see an organization like Root City Market as an influencer for local businesses and economy when really, it’s so much more than that.
I look at Root City as even more than this market and resource. I also look at it through the lens of environmental impact. If you are buying your plates from a local ceramic artist, that means they don’t have to be shipped across the ocean. I get excited about helping the economic aspect, the environmental aspect, the empowerment for the makers – that is why I was so excited about Root City to begin with. And to be honest, I didn’t know when I bought it, that I was going to take it in this direction.
You’re in a really unique place right now because while you’re supporting these makers, Root City is also growing alongside them. Talk about that experience a little bit.
There are so many things that overlap between being a maker and being a small business owner – makers are small business owners after all. I listen to the things they say and often reply – ‘I’ve gone through that too!’ I think it helps me keep an eye out for different opportunities to help. It can be challenging to raise a hand and say, “today was really hard” or “today I questioned everything that I’m doing” – that struggle and fear is what so many creatives and entrepreneurs go through. I love being able to offer any kind of support.
So what’s on deck for Root City Market and how can us ATLiens support you?
First, we’re doing monthly workshops to support the makers. Our next workshop – Pricing for Beginners – is on June 26 at Eventide Brewery – doors at 5:30 pm, workshop at 6:30 pm, $25 per person beer is included. Future topics will include branding, marketing, accounting and advanced pricing. Spread the word to current and upcoming makers! We’ll also continue with the Maker Mingles on a quarterly basis.
Regarding the markets for the rest of 2017 and following suit in 2018, we are going to place the markets in front of major gift giving holidays instead of hosting them quarterly. We put things in place to make the market entertaining but at the end of the day, it’s really a shopping experience. Starting next year, we will probably do a small Valentine’s/Galentine’s Market and the next big market will be Mother’s Day. Perhaps a small market for Father’s Day next year and then we’ll set up something big around the winter holidays.
I’ve also been focusing on smaller partnerships. This year we are working with Dirty South Yoga Fest at the end of July, we’ll have a booth at the Decatur Book Festival and we’re also partnering with the Atlanta World Kite Festival at the end of October. That puts us in front of different people and brings the makers into these new events.
For now, I’m really focused on getting the word out; to let other makers in the community know we are here and can help. We also want to hear if there is something that we are missing or something that would benefit them. For anyone who isn’t a maker, the best way to help is showing up and buying local. That’s what is really going to make everyone grow!
Ultimately, that’s the exciting part of Root City – to see the makers and envisioning where they could be a year from now; to see how their growth can change all of these different facets in Atlanta.
Photos are property of Root City Market.