Stories from the Covid-19 Front Lines: Maureen Anders, AR Workshop CEO
Brand: AR Workshop
Segment: DIY creative boutique workshops
Locations: 33 states
How many locations has your brand reopened? How many closed permanently?
Nearly all of our locations are reopened, but with limitations on capacity. Luckily, we worked quickly to adapt and look for ways to generate revenue while having to temporarily close. The DIY To-Go Kits we developed provided our franchisees with an additional revenue stream, so only five had to close down permanently because of the pandemic. All of the workshops that closed permanently were in urban areas with tighter restrictions from Covid-19 mandates, which unfortunately kept them closed longer.
What are your franchisees telling you about their economic recovery?
Now that the majority of our franchises are open, we are hearing about all the creative ways they’re looking to generate revenue since they’re operating at a reduced capacity. A few examples are the owners coordinating curated boxes for each season (many sell out within 24 to 48 hours), and some are partnering to do fundraisers for our popular DIY ornament kits (normally reserved for open houses, but we’ve shifted gears). Above all, our franchisees are remaining hopeful and positive. With recent news of a possible vaccine, the owners have renewed energy to push through, and no doubt will continue to innovate as things continue to change day to day.
How has your business shifted in terms of health and safety? What effect has this had?
Our concept continues to be in demand with restaurants and nonessential attractions closed, coupled with many people working remotely – they’re bored and looking to fill their time with something productive. And while we built our business around a hands-on workshop experience and in-person shopping, our DIY To-Go kits have been so successful that they will be a mainstay moving forward. These kits can be shipped or picked up curbside, making everything our guests love about our brand available to do at home. We’ve also grown our retail presence to offer online shopping and subscription boxes.
What new programs did you introduce for franchisees during Covid-19?
We rolled out our DIY To-Go Kits, which allows people to select projects online and complete them at home. We also introduced the Art of DIY, an 8-week course for children, teaching the skills they need to perform projects safely and to learn proper techniques. Another component popular during the pandemic is our “Make It for Me” products, which are still fully customized to the guest, but they pick up the completed project upon completion. Recently, we also launched subscription boxes – Harvest Box for fall and the Jingle Box for the holidays – which are mystery boxes of retail goodies curated for the season, but discounted at 50%. We also offer summer Art Subscription boxes. Finally, we’ve also started to run virtual events for guided parties and team-building.
How have your franchisees responded to these programs?
Our franchisees are always looking for ways to make the DIY experience more immersive and diversify their income. Because of this, many of our stores have adopted these offerings and grown year over year. These are things that will prime our new and existing owners for long-term success and growth.
What are your franchisees doing for their customers?
On top of implementing safety protocols such as social distancing, stringent cleaning procedures, and PPE, many of our franchisees are doing curbside pickup with some even offering drop-offs as well. Other owners are scheduling private shopping appointments for customers who would still like to shop in-store. Nationwide shipping is also available, which is incredibly helpful for our locations and guests.
How are customers responding to your reopening guidelines?
They are loving it. They feel safe and are fans of the more intimate classes. Other elements they’re loving are the mystery retail subscription boxes and the DIY To-Go kits, which have kept them and their kids busy at home during the pandemic.
Have your suppliers supported you through the pandemic? Do you expect any permanent changes in how you do business with them?
Through this, suppliers have longer lead times, but they have been very good about communicating the timelines to us. To have a healthy relationship with vendors and suppliers, communication must be open. We don’t foresee any changes moving forward except smoother transactions ahead as we move past this pandemic with the introduction of a vaccine.
How do you see the future of your brand, operations, market, etc. post–Covid-19?
We will emerge stronger than ever from this, especially as we’ve built out additional revenue streams that will stay with us and our owners for years to come. Plus, now we can get creative with each of these revenue buckets in the future. We will also continue to expand our summer programs and series for kids, and grow through national partnerships. As a testament to our resilience, we’re still getting a lot of franchise inquiries as people are looking to make the move into entrepreneurship with a brand as adaptable as AR Workshop during this time. We plan to add at least 25 locations over the next 12 months.
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