Making Lowcountry Made: Seizing an opportunity, and knowing her market.
Making it in today’s business world not only takes a great idea, but the right timing. And for Katie Silva – who founded Lowcountry Made (lcmade.com) and launched a series of wildly popular artisan markets during the COVID-19 pandemic – it also takes a keen ability to act fast, capitalize on momentum and, above all, truly know her “market.”
With a Master’s degree from Savannah College of Art and Design and experience working as a fine art and antique associate appraiser, Katie always had a passion for all things lovingly handcrafted. So when COVID-19 hit, it gave her the sudden free time to nurture the idea (and dream) she long had of creating one brand under which to collect and present Lowcountry artisans, makers and entrepreneurs and promote them in a consistent and affordable way. She took her idea and ran with it.
“I had been working in marketing as an account manager where I had potential clients say no to our marketing services so many times because of cost,” she notes. “With this in mind, I determined that representing artisans as a collective afforded them access to a creative marketing strategy they could afford.” Her idea? To create a collective of local artisans and promote them with an online directory, online shop, newsletter, artisan markets and wholesale services. The result was the creation of Lowcountry Made.
“I knew two things as I made Lowcountry Made’s business plan,” recalls Katie, who is the mother of three young children and notes, as all working parents, that their schedules sometimes dictate hers. “The first was that I wanted to work with creative people, and second was that my business plan did not need to look like anyone else’s. I asked myself what I have to offer people and what problems my experience can solve.”
With Lowcountry Made, she’s done all that – and more. One of her goals was to host artisan markets as a product of Lowcountry Made, but COVID presented a dilemma.
“The Bluffton Artisan Market started back in April in the throes of COVID,” she notes. “We began with a drive-through setup to create a safe, socially distant shopping experience with only twelve vendors. I made no promises to the artisans and makers that were participating. We were all surprised when the community turned out in a big way, with more than 300 cars coming through to shop. And that was just the beginning.”
In the months since that first drive-through artisan market, Katie has created and orchestrated six walking markets with more than 1,000 shoppers walking through each market, now averaging 35 vendors per market. In addition, she has just announced a partnership with Southern Barrel Brewing and Burnt Church Distillery that will mean two markets every month in 2021 at those hosting locations.
And the most exciting news? She has just opened the Lowcountry Made shop, located within The Juice Hive healthy eatery, where she will be able to showcase the many products of local makers and artisans at a central location right in the heart of Bluffton Village.
Katie notes that her main takeaway from launching her own business was to “just do it.”
“You can plan and plan and plan but until you take that first physical step to make it happen, it is just a dream. If you wait until you can afford business cards or the website of your dreams, you will keep pushing your launch date back. Get started and make it more “beautiful” as you go along, and you will eventually be able to pay for the aesthetics,” she says, further advising that “While cash flow is tight, put your money into money-generating ideas.”
A great idea, the right timing, and a passion to take your dream to reality. Katie Silva had all the ingredients to “make it” when it comes to starting her own business. And with the initial success of Lowcountry Made, it looks like she’ll be making an impact on local artisans, and the local business community for many years to come.
Here are the top three things Katie learned while “making it” – and advice she offers to others thinking about starting a business:
1. Seize the opportunity. “In my case, stores had shut down, yet people wanted a way to still shop local. The opportunity was there to provide a drive-through artisan market to offer a safe way for artisans and the community to engage and I ran with it.”
2. Move quickly. “I moved quickly and efficiently by collaborating with Southern Barrel, pitching them the idea of hosting the market in their parking lot. They agreed immediately and on market days they were doing as well as they were pre-pandemic.”
3. Capitalize on your momentum. “With the markets a success, I was able to use this momentum to launch Lowcountry Made and pitch my creative marketing.”
Lowcountry Made’s mission is to showcase local makers from “the creative coast” — from Savannah to Beaufort.