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Apr. 24—If anyone knows how hard it can be for local makers and artisans to sell their wares, it's Braxton Utsler and John Flaherty.
That's why the two decided to open a new store inside Markland Mall called Makers Mart, selling products made exclusively by people in Kokomo and the surrounding area.
The store opened Thursday, and marks the launch of a new business that aims to help local makers make a buck by taking their wares from their homes or workshops to one of the most high-traffic shopping areas in the city.
And that includes Flaherty and Utsler.
The two met in 2019 at SHAK Makerspace, a membership-based community of makers, tinkerers and artisans who have access to a host of specialized tools and programs at the nonprofit's downtown location.
Soon, they were crafting and making all kinds of products such as laser-engraved coasters, wooden tables and soaps. It was going so well, and they were having so much fun, they decided to start a company called Brohn Corp. to sell their products.
Flaherty and Utsler, who both are now board members at SHAK, started selling their items online, and also at festivals and shows. And it was selling well. Utsler said they realized there was a real market for their wares, so they started talking about opening a brick-and-mortar store.
"We said, 'Let's go all in. Let's do it,'" he said.
The two began looking at different locations, but nothing seemed to click. But that changed when they were at Markland Mall one day helping move some glass and ran into a mall administrator, who offered them an open store at a price they couldn't refuse.
"We couldn't pass up the deal," Flaherty said. "So we went all in and started this."
"It's like this was the perfect storm, and it happened at the perfect time," Utsler added.
It didn't take long, though, to realize they could never fill the space up with just their own products from Brohn Corp. That's when inspiration hit: why not open it up to other local makers who were in the same situation as them?
And that's just what they did.
Today, the store runs as a kind of curated consignment shop, where vendors pay for space to display and sell their products. Now, shoppers can find 22 different vendors selling a variety of items, ranging from tumblers, tote bags, maple syrup, artwork, wreathes, essential oils, soap and handcrafted wooden vases. Flaherty and Utsler also offer 3-D printing on demand for customers.
At the back of the store, which is most likely the last place customers look, is an area where the two display their own wares. It's a kind of testament to their philosophy that makers should work together instead of focusing on outselling a competitor.
"We just want to show off all the cool stuff these makers have created," Flaherty said.
And the mall is the perfect place to do it, he said. Rather than a stand alone store that would require customers to make a special trip, the shopping center has a customer base baked right in.
"All of our vendors are super excited to have all the eyes on their products that come from mall traffic," Flaherty said. "People here are already in the mindset of spending money; they're here to shop, so if something catches their eye inside the store, they'll buy it."
Markland Mall General Manager Jay Greenberg said the property is also excited to have a store that highlights local makers and gets their products into shoppers' hands.
"Our guests are always changing and evolving, and at Markland Mall, we want to be able to offer them today's top trends and shopping destinations," he said. "We are looking forward to welcoming guests to Makers Mart, while keeping the health of shoppers our top priority and providing the safest experience possible."
Jason Gornto, who is selling his invention called the Cahhlm Disc at the store, said having access to a high-profile location is something he never imagined until the Makers Mart came along.
"This is definitely going to broaden my audience, so instead of just relying on online sales, there are now people walking in who can touch it and feel it and have that brick-and-mortar experience that would have been out of reach for us," he said.
In fact, it was Utsler who designed the prototype for the Cahhlm Disc at SHAK Makerspace, and he was also the one who invited Gornto to sell his product at the store.
"They've got a nice niche there and a great concept," said Gornto, who teaches choir at Peru Community Schools. "There are so many makers that wouldn't necessarily have their own store front, but this kind of brings us all together."
And that's the whole idea, Flaherty said.
"A lot of these vendors, they all work full-time jobs and just do this on the side because it's their passion," he said. "These vendors have mostly sold to friends or on Facebook or Etsy, but this space let's them step up to the big leagues inside a mall."
The two said that down the road, they also plan to start stocking actual tools, kits and other products makers need to create their wares. The store already has a laser engraver for sale, and a shipment of 3-D printers will also soon be in stock.
And if things go well, they hope to take their idea of a consignment shop for hyper-local makers to other places around the state.
"Lots of city's have local makers that don't have the ability to sell their stuff," Flaherty said. "They're reliant on Facebook. So I feel like that's a good opportunity to hit up other places for local makers who want to get their products in front of other peoples' eyes."
Operating hours for the store are 4 to 7 p.m. Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. The store is open by appointment only on Tuesdays and Wednesday, and is closed Mondays.
Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, email@example.com or on Twitter @carsongerber1.