Craftsman’s innovative and interactive social media venue, Craftsman Experience (CE), just flipped the calendar past its first-year anniversary in August … and what a year it’s been. The Chicago-based storefront on Huron Street offers a unique mix of hands-on DIY workstations, a live-streamed radio and video production studio creating weekly shows and podcasts, ongoing DIY demos and expert clinics, celebrity appearances open to the public and much more. What began as an experiment has become “a place where our customers can interact with the brand in a way that is unlike anything else in the tool category,” says Kris Malkoski, vice president and general manager of the Craftsman brand. “Our innovations and demonstrations come to life and our fans can witness and interact with the brand in real-time, no matter where they are.”
And that “Bring it. Build it. Broadcast it” experiment continues to gather both momentum and fan base as it charts a course into Year Two.
Ryan Ostrom, divisional vice president of digital marketing for the Kenmore, Craftsman and DieHard brands, spoke with me recently about Craftsman’s “Screw*d” reality series, which set out to train a DIY-challenged Alan Weischedel with the tool know-how he’d need to survive three immersion-experience project challenges, all streamed live to viewers who could help him escape his plights. Last week Ostrom reflected on some of CE’s other highlights of its inaugural year.
“From the start, our goal has been to produce content that people want to engage with … and these days, that’s videos and live-streamed shows as well as radio-on-demand podcasts. In the first year of CE, we’ve produced more than 600 content segments. It’s been a huge success for our brand. In that regard, one of the brightest lights has been Frank Fontana’s ‘The Down & Dirty’ podcast and video show.”
HGTV’s Fontanta broadcasts live every Thursday at 7 p.m. (CST) from Huron Street, offering a mix of DIY tips, expert project help and interviews. The show is now in its third season of production, airing eight to 12 episodes per season. Ostrom says the show draws up to a million listeners, depending on the topic, and it was the number one iTunes download for a period of time when the complete first season of podcasts was released. This third season is focused on projects for Chicago-area charities. It recently was involved with rehabbing a multipurpose room for the Ronald McDonald house.
Ryan also recounted a number of guest appearance events that helped mark the CE calendar. For instance, in March, Woodworker’s Journal joined forces with George Vondriska of the Woodworker’s Guild of America to build a steel-string guitar over three live-streamed shows. Proceeds from the sale of that instrument were donated to Guitars 4 Vets.
In early June, CE hosted a Blogger’s Summit in which more than a dozen “mom, dad and gadget bloggers” gathered to learn how build a sawhorse, corn hole game and other easy projects. Leading DIY bloggers Lisa Ann Nelsen-Woods (Condo Blues), Stuart Deutsch (Tool Guyd), Timothy Dahl (Charles and Hudson) and Mike Senese led the instructional builds for the event. “Many of our fans out there are dads who want to make projects for their kids. The Summit was an opportunity to get some key bloggers talking about simple projects parents can build, to really encourage these kinds of relationship-building opportunities.”
Frank Fritz, one of the stars of History Channel’s “American Pickers” show, also stopped by CE this year to host an event that was open to the public. Craftsman fans were encouraged to bring in their old Craftsman tools for Fritz to evaluate, as well as to share the unique stories behind their cherished tools. “Craftsman heritage goes back some 85 years,” Ostrom commented, “and people are really proud of those Craftsman tools that have been passed along in the family. It was a great event to embrace Craftsman’s rich tool-making history.”
In July, CE launched its second interactive venue: Craftsman Experience Los Angles. This new immersion center and social media hub focuses exclusively on automotive content and Craftsman’s place as a signature manufacturer of mechanics and automotive tools. Its grand opening reception was hosted by Motor Trend Radio’s Alan Taylor from the rarely-before-seen vault inside the Petersen Automotive Museum. The vault is home to 300 of the museum’s automobiles when they aren’t on display, and the new Experience will broadcast its radio and video segments from the vault. “We launched the new CE as a response to Craftsman fans’ passion for cars. This new venue will be Craftsman’s opportunity to take to the streets and really explore innovative new automotive content.”
August was a busy month for Craftsman Experience. The group Bikes Over Baghdad kicked off their stateside tour with a number of free BMX stunt shows at CE in Chicago. The team had returned from a fourth trip to Iraq to entertain the troops as a thank you for their continued service. Pro ramp builder Nate Wessel and other members of the team constructed bike ramps prior to show appearances, using Craftsman tools. The action-packed, high-flying event was a logical venue for Craftsman as well as “a huge crowd-pleaser,” Ostrom recounted. “Craftsman is very supportive of our troops, and it was a thrill to have Bikes Over Baghdad spend time with us. Those shows were so spectacular that the L-trains running near CE were literally stopping so people could watch the action.” Then, near month’s end, Craftsman Experience also took part in Chicago’s popular “City Chase,” a city-wide scavenger hunt. One of the stopping points for participants happened at CE, where players had an opportunity to learn about and then use Craftsman tools.
In early September, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’s” Ty Pennington hosted CE’s one-year anniversary celebration, which included guest appearances from both Frank Fontana and Erik Buell, motorcycle racer and president and CEO of Eric Buell Racing.
Considering a year of social media firsts for the brand, Ostrom sees good things ahead. “The fact that a Craftsman product was, for a period of time, the most popular iTunes download was phenomenal for us … we aren’t typically considered the cool brand! At the end of the day, Craftsman through CE has created a channel to open up our brand to customers of all ages. We’ve created a social media channel that isn’t just a one-way dialogue with our fans. We’re engaging in two-way communication with end users on a daily basis. If they want us to build a certain project or explore a DIY topic, we will. They are engaging with us in a ‘hands-on’ way. I think going forward, you’re going to see other tool brands following suit and really owning their relationships with their customers, just like we are doing right now.”