time you're in Chicago for a long weekend, here's a unique
destination to add to your list of downtown attractions: Craftsman Experience (CE)
. It's an almost-new, interactive display space that
provides hands-on tool stations, visits by guest tool experts, clinics and live
demonstrations on all sorts of DIY and woodworking topics, using Craftsman tools. And it's located right on
Huron Street in Chi-Town's River North neighborhood.
you caught Rob Johnstone's juggling pin and bowl-turning demonstrations that were live-streamed over the Internet last
November. I was at Craftsman Experience just last month making a shop
safety project and holiday candle accent pieces for two broadcasts.
So, we'll both attest to the uniqueness of this new venue Craftsman
opened just last August.
you haven't logged onto Craftsman.com to catch any of the 60-some
live-streamed video presentations so far, you might be wondering what
exactly I'm talking about here. Good question. It's a novel concept,
to be sure, and the first of its kind for a DIY or woodworking tool
I spoke with Kristin Phillips, one of Craftsman's brand managers who
was instrumental to the planning and launch of Craftsman Experience,
as well as its continued growth and development.
off, Craftsman Experience is a physical space -- about 8,000 square
feet of it at 233 West Huron Street in downtown Chicago. But, it's
not a typical Sears retail store. "We wanted to create an
interactive venue where tool users could come in and explore
Craftsman tools but not feel like they have to buy something. That's
what customers expect to do in the tool department of a Sears store.
Instead, Craftsman Experience is divided into five different hands-on
project stations where you can learn about and use various tools and
products across our brand. Experts at each station can help you do
that. It's a chance for us to strengthen our existing customer
relationships and reach out to a new, younger demographic as well,"
workstations include woodworking, automotive, lawn and garden, garage
storage and one dedicated to Craftsman's newest product innovations.
Each station is set up with benches or an appropriately outfitted
workspace and a collection of relevant tools for that product
category. An on-staff group of active DIYers and tool users is
present during CE's hours of operation to offer advice and
assistance. Currently, Craftsman Experience is open Thursdays and
Fridays from 5 to 9 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 8
the physical makeup and hands-on philosophy is only part of the
inventiveness of Craftsman Experience. Here's the other half of what
makes it groundbreaking: you don't have to live in Chicago to benefit
from what happens each week at CE. If you've got a computer and
internet access, you're "virtually" there. Each day it's
open to the public, CE features a live-streamed video demonstration
from one of the hands-on areas. You can log in, ask questions of
whomever is presenting, and offer feedback while it happens, in real
time. Or, if you can't catch the live stream, Craftsman Experience
posts the edited video segments to YouTube. It also has a Facebook
page that's being continually updated with new information of
scheduled upcoming shows and other Craftsman news, plus more links to
the taped segments. For more extensive projects shown in some of the
video segments, you can log onto Craftsman.com and download the plans
that provide additional important information, a material list and tools required to build the project
I guess you could call CE an immersion experience for all sorts of
DIY advice and projects as well as a state-of-the-art video
projection facility. And, Kristin informs me, I'm not precisely right
about CE not
being a store ... "Actually, anything we're currently
demonstrating in our Innovation Station is available for purchase at
Craftsman Experience. If you try it out and like it, you can buy it
right then and there. But, it's not a place where we carry
Craftsman's full product line."
another social-media aspect of Craftsman Experience that also needs
to be mentioned. In addition to live-stream and web-posted videos,
the facility also broadcasts Internet radio. Currently, radio
broadcasts happen on an occasional basis. But Kristin
revealed that later this month, CE radio will take its next big step
forward. Frank Fontana, HGTV's host of "Design on a Dime"
and author of "Frank Fontana's Dirty Little Secrets of Design,"
will begin to host live-streamed radio shows twice a week, as well as
providing a new video segment once a week.
makes CE a shop space, a broadcast studio, a meeting place, and an
outlet for DIYers and woodworkers near and far ... all with a
Craftsman approach. Very new, very different and, at least in my
Craftsman Experience is inventing a new wheel, of sorts, within power
tool brands, Sears is trying an equally unique approach with its
kitchen and home appliance brands. Just a block or so down Huron
Street, there's a Kenmore Live Studio that offers live-streamed
cooking demonstrations by invited chefs, plus other types of
appliance presentations. If you're in the area, you might want to
stop in and catch a live performance there, too.
date, Craftsman Experience has posted 140 videos to YouTube. In
addition to Rob and yours truly, a sampling of previous guests have
included Chicago Cubs legendary outfielder Andre Dawson, who was on
hand to sign autographs and help build a display case for baseball
memorabilia; X Games expert ramp builder Nate Wessel built a
quarter-pipe bike ramp, then BMX pro and X Games medalist Ryan
Nyquist did acrobatic demonstrations on it. CE has also hosted
carpenter-turned-comedian Adam Carolla, Ace's Home Expert Lou
Manfredini, the $500 Craigslist rally car driver Bill Caswell and many
others. Some of the past projects have included the construction of
the ultimate tool chest, a hovercraft, climbing wall, a picnic table
with built-in beer keg storage and a working trebuchet. A full
calendar of appearances and new projects is being planned for 2011.
asked about the most popular DIY subject areas for viewers thus far,
Kristin says automotive enthusiasts and woodworkers are tuning in and
getting involved more than other focus areas. But, overall, CE is
receiving strong response across the DIY market as well as some good
turnout to the Huron Street location. Between 30 and 300 people have
attended past clinics or demos, depending on the topic and invited
presenter. "We've only been open five months so far, but we feel
Craftsman Experience has been a huge success, and we're definitely
pleased with what we've seen. We're still in our infancy, with so
much more planned for the future ... Our goal is to continue to
provide fun, hands-on and other social media opportunities for tool
lovers. We want to showcase our innovations and get you involved in
new ways with our brand and rich heritage."