20,000 Experiences in 12 months—Scaling Experiential with Michaels
Founded in 1973, The Michaels Companies, Inc. is North America’s largest retailer of arts and crafts materials, empowering Makers of all ages to express their imaginations with skill and originality. For decades, Michaels has served do-it-yourselfers with all the supplies and know-how required to tackle a vast range of projects. But for those not in the know, Michaels commitment to its customers goes even further.
“At Michaels, we’re here for our creative customers — the Makers — who make the world brighter and more meaningful. We strive to put our Makers at the center of everything we do because they make us matter; they make us Michaels. It’s our goal to make each customer experience exceptional. Every. Single. Time.”
In fact, some might say Michaels is less a craft store and more an advocate for the Maker community. And that’s what makes Michaels so special — they are not merely a chain of supplies stores, but rather a source of knowledge, fun, and inspiration. By consistently seeking new ways to reach and engage new and long-time customers, Michaels has established a reputation as a brand for and by the creative community.
Their Community Classroom program has been a focus of the business for the past few years and has grown exponentially through in-store and online classes. To date, more than 400,000 Makers have signed up for their classes.
The evolution of Michaels Community Classroom to a robust, multichannel program capable of engaging Makers both online and in-person didn’t happen overnight. Prior to partnering with AnyRoad, the Michaels team had an existing program that was confined to in-store only. Additionally, the team had five key objectives that needed to be addressed:
Generate actionable insights from individual customers – Michaels in-store events were manually reported on by the store teams. The data was aggregated and did not provide specific customer information. The team knew they would need more direct customer data in order to improve their experiences. This data would facilitate direct interactions with customers on a more personal level based on what was important to them. A priority first step in this process would be to link sign-ups to participation so that the team could identify who attended each experience.
Capture actionable data on content/instructors – Manually reporting from in-store events left room for error and occasionally led to mis-reporting of results. Additionally, the instructors were local store team members and students did not have a consistent way to share feedback with Michaels on the overall classes or individual instructors. To solve this, Michaels sought to use pre and post survey questions to surface new ways of improving the class content and quality of instruction. The team planned to use this data to share best practices amongst instructors.
Facilitate locally sourced content – Core to Michaels program of in-store classes was the development of local Maker Communities. To support this community focus, a two prong approach was needed. First, the new system needed to allow community members to sign up to teach relevant classes in their local community. Second, the system needed to be easy for local community members to book seats in these classes. The insights gained through improved tracking and structured feedback would be key for this local programming.
Reduce store workload – The existing program placed a significant workload on Michaels store team members. They were required to manually create the schedules as well as staff, and visually monitor the performance of all classes. A more automated system was needed to free up Michaels store team members to focus on engaging with customers inside the store.
Build community – When setting the objectives of the new program, it became clear for Michaels that the existing system would be unable to support the new two-sided vision. The complexity of empowering community members to sign up to teach classes and take classes would require a purpose-built online system. This system would be used for managing bookings, content, and participant data and was necessary to grow a Maker Community which provided more locally relevant content which reduced the workload of the store teams.
Experiences (The Solution)
Beginning as a pilot in November 2018, Michaels and AnyRoad partnered to create a robust, omnichannel community content program. The process for creating this program encompassed five focus areas:
Area 1—Understanding What Moves the Makers AnyRoad and Michaels began by forming an understanding of their end users. Through uncovering key demographic and behavioral insights, the teams were able to dial in the types of content the Maker Community valued most. With this data-driven foundation, Michaels was able to create a recipe that could scale these to its 1,250 stores.
Area 2—Build a Community of Makers for Makers During the pilot, the Michaels team continued to surface insights and gain a better understanding of the Maker Community. For example, they discovered that classes led by Makers had higher engagement and a more positive impact on brand sentiment than employee-led classes. They also realized they could broaden their class offerings to a long tail of topics by enlisting specialists from the community.
As a result, the Michaels team fundamentally shifted their approach to Community programming, scaling the pilot to all Michaels locations by March 2019. In turn, this approach gave the Makers control of the classes and the content presented in-store.
Area 3—Streamline Operations In 2020, as the program scaled, Michaels and AnyRoad continued to enhance the experience for consumers and staff. First, the team leveraged AnyRoad’s Marketplace product, to launch a streamlined Instructor Portal for instructors to self-manage classes and schedules. Second, all classes were listed on a new Experience Calendar which replaced an existing manual calendar solution and third a new online registration system was put in place for birthday parties.
Collectively these improvements reduced the administrative burden on Michaels staff and saved up to 500 hours of operational work per month. The booking system for private parties improved the customer experience and had the added benefit of increasing the average spend per booking by 30%.
Area 4—Maximize Reach Building a community of Makers required the Michaels team to focus on scale. This meant establishing a crucial balance between content quality and quantity and designing a program with broad appeal. Across different markets, the Michaels team had to continually identify the most successful content and seek out ways to make these classes repeatable for more customers.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this challenge but also created an opportunity for Michaels to increase reach by developing their online classes. Because of the groundwork laid as part of the original four objectives, Michaels and AnyRoad were able to quickly stand up a successful, targeted online program that continues to grow.
Area 5—Refine the Experience With more data and insights on the program, the Michaels team has been able to iterate and refine the program. This has translated into significant success, including:
Increasing registration and attendance rates.
Continuing to define and refine key performance indicators (KPIs).
Maintaining a Net Promoter Score (NPS) above 70.
Achieving positive Brand Conversion of 70% or higher.
Reaching a 4-star rating or higher for 90% of instructors.
“It’s surreal how quickly we were able to move during shelter-in-place—both the Michaels and AnyRoad teams. Lockdown kicked in and stores were closing so AnyRoad suggested we try online classes. From then on it was like our teams were on hyperdrive and it was amazing.”
JEN HARNESS, DIRECTOR OF MARKETING CONTENT AND EXPERIENCE, MICHAELS
Working with AnyRoad, Michaels was able to reimagine their in-store classes, optimize the experience with data and insights and launch an online class program that has become a viral success. The company recognized key time and cost savings, which could be reinvested in other marketing activities. Just as important, Michaels was able to build the foundation of a marketing experience program that could seamlessly transition to digital, allowing them to support Makers in spite of a global health crisis.
By streamlining event scheduling, accessing and analyzing core performance data, and moving quickly, Michaels has scaled their program to 20,000 experiences per year and outpaced the competition to become an industry leader for both in-store and online experiences.
“We are doing more to provide ideas, inspiration and instruction that encourage creativity and connect the making community to our brand. A significant offering of virtual classes and other interactive content is an important element in extending the impact of our branding.”