A hot gift item distributed by the Economic Development Alliance (EDA) of St. Clair County is making waves across the Blue Water area, thanks to social media and word of mouth.
Eastern Michigan Makers Boxes have been available for purchase from the EDA to support local artisans. Each box contains several products specific to the Port Huron region, made by local businesses.
The EDA recruits craftsmen, artists, small businesses and entrepreneurs to create unique items for the boxes, and then sell the boxes via Facebook, special events and the EDA website.
EDA CEO Dan Casey was inspired by another economic development in southwest Michigan that was making their own makers boxes and thought it would be a good idea for the St. Clair County area.
"I liked the idea of promoting local producers," says Casey. "I think there are a lot of positives that can be gained by promoting local small businesses, including building relationships with our organization."
Denise Horvath of the EDA has been building the network of artisans to grow the program since July 2016.
"We promote through Social Media and will be participating in the Blue Water Business Expo on Nov. 9, and Small Business Saturday on Nov. 25, to sell and promote the Makers," says Horvath. "Each box comes with a Maker's card so that the customers can contact the Makers directly to shop and explore other items they have to offer."
Horvath says social media is playing a huge roll in how the boxes are sold because not only do they share and post online, but then they get comments, and shares; and then the artisans and vendors themselves share online and it's almost like a chain reaction.
"For the last box, we had 7,000 or 8,000 interactions, comments, shares."
The boxes are available four times a year to coincide with the seasons and feature unique gift items like baked goods, wine glasses or coffee cups, bath bombs and other trinkets made from scratch in the area.
"This is a feel-good thing," says Horvath. "These people are so excited to get the opportunity and are so proud to be in boxes."
The EDA pre-purchases the items from the vendors at a fair price, and complete the labor, but they do not really make money because they are supporting the vendors financially and fill the boxes with items for their customers. They then deliver the boxes themselves.
"Every product is different," says Red Mudd Studios pottery owner and box contributor Deborah Maxwell. "The first winter we did an ornament--white and blue ornaments for a winter theme, but every one of them were different. Then we did an all-purpose dish--some were round, some were square, some had ripples, and you can use it for anything."
Donna Russell-Kuhr, owner and president of PTM Corp., loved the concept when the first boxes came out and thought it was a great idea to support locally made items.
"I loved getting products from businesses that I'd never usually visit," she says. "I am investing in my own community and supporting other local businesses."
Maxwell agrees. "This is all local, and I use local products, and I am grateful when people support me and my business."
The cost for the boxes is $29.99 each or $119.00 for a yearly quarterly subscription.
There were six or seven individual boxes sold originally, and now there are 30-50 subscriptions. A lot of companies give them to guests to promote the area. The DoubleTree by Hilton Port Huron gives four baskets to frequent VIP guests of the hotel.
"We love to surprise and delight our guests with items from the Blue Water area," says DoubleTree by Hilton Port Huron General Manager Amber Burch. "So when the opportunity came along to have boxes full of items made in our community, we jumped at the chance to have these gifts on hand for our guests. We use these boxes for our ‘Guest of the Day' program, in addition to gifting them to VIP members staying at our property. Our loyal guests appreciate the unique gifts and are able to take a small piece of Port Huron home with them. Overall, it's a great addition to what we have to offer travelers visiting our area!"
Maxwell believes the extra exposure from being included in the maker's boxes has definitely had a positive impact on her business.
"Business has picked up," she says. "People have called to make inquiries, and I have gotten more orders, and that circles back to the networking aspect. You don't see immediate effect, but the residual effect happens."
Orders can be placed by calling Denise Horvath at the Economic Development Alliance at 810-982-9511. You may also visit the Facebook page.
Boxes are for sale outside of the Port Huron area.
"We sell the boxes outside of the local area," says Horvath. "But since the EDA does these boxes pretty much at cost, there is a $10.00 shipping charge."
"I think she's got a good product," says Maxwell. "It's reaching a lot of people, it helps smaller artisans grow--it's really exciting, and it helps everyone."
Casey says that the EDA is often seen to be focused on jobs and manufacturing, or larger corporations, but that they in Port Huron are just as committed to working with local businesses.
"It's one important way to diversify our economy and create unique places for people to shop and visit," he says.
"It's very close to our hearts," says Horvath.