Retailer Spotlight,  #SocialEngagement,  Community

Entering E-Comm From Square One with Art Coop

Anna Peters and Hilary Pope of Art Coop in Urbana, IL went from zero to hero with their online shopping experience. From no website, to an on-brand fully functioning online store. With the option of Ding-Dong-Ditch style delivery, an extensive custom kit-building program and an Instagram feed full of bright, fun ideas for their community, this art supply duo has demonstrated how to nimbly shift a bad situation into a big opportunity.

Hilary and Anna at Dealer Workshop 2019

Art Dog: We interviewed you when you and Hilary took over the business, what has changed about your dynamic since then and during the pandemic?

Anna Peters: “I’m pretty lucky to be weathering this storm with a business partner I’m quite fond of, as a co-owner & as an excellent friend. Hilary & I are both ready to do whatever needs to happen to keep Art Coop moving into the future. Online store? Okay! Delivery service? Yep! Facetime tour around the store? You got it! We work well together and are able to split the work, choosing tasks each of us hates the least in an attempt to keep burn-out at bay. This would be completely overwhelming to even think of trying to do alone, or with someone other than HP [Hilary Pope].”

Art Dog: How long has Art Coop had a website?

Anna Peters: “Pre-Covid-19, Art Coop had an informational website, with our address, hours, stuff like that. We didn’t do any online sales, but it was on our list of “things we’d like to do in the future”. Our e-commerce site has been live since the middle of March, when the Illinois governor announced the stay at home order.”

Art Dog: How long did it take you to get your website set up? What was your strategy?

Anna Peters: “Pretty much overnight! Hilary did a lot of the heavy lifting digitally while I was physically in the store trying to figure out how phone orders were going to work. We realized that if our physical store was going to be closed to the public for any length of time, we were going to need a different way for people to be able to shop with us. First, we only had gift cards online, then we did a pre-order of our t-shirts & sweatshirts, then added the custom kits options and have grown from there.”

Art Dog: You have so many kits! What is the thought process behind these, and what has been most successful?

Anna Peters: “The first kit option we set up were our custom kits at different price points. A customer would pick a price ($10 – $200), tell us about their interests (favorite color, favorite media, etc.) or they would ask us to surprise them with a personally curated collection of art supplies. At the beginning of the pandemic, these kits were very popular with parents of children who were home for an unexpected period of time due to schools closing. Now they’ve become popular gifts for birthdays or other celebrations, in addition to keeping kids occupied.”

“We added additional kits, like a “Learn to Draw” or “Date Night Painting Party” when we noticed that those types of kits were being requested repeatedly. We want to make it as easy as possible for our customers to get what they need. Being able to choose from a premade kit instead of making a list can remove a barrier of decision-making fatigue.”

Art Dog: These kits seem to be popping up around your city as well, tell us more about your pop-ups and how these partnerships were established.

Anna Peters: “We’re located inside a mall in Urbana, so we don’t have a front door to the outside world. While the mall was locked, a couple of local woman-owned businesses across town offered to let us use their storefronts as an off-site pick up location.”

“We were also approached by a building owner with an empty storefront wanting to know if we’d like to use their front display windows on Main Street. The answer was obviously yes, please! We created an installation of “Live Window Shopping!” with mystery kits focusing on different creative materials. Customers scan a QR code for the kit they want to purchase & it sends them to our website to complete the purchase & choose how they’d like to receive their order. We wanted to really embrace the weirdness of shopping during the pandemic.’

Art Coop pop-up shop in a local hair salon.

“Most recently, we’ve set up a small Art Coop pop-up shop in a local woman-owned hair salon. Kits we created for this pop-up are a little swankier, hoping to introduce ourselves to potential new customers as a place to consider for gifts or nice stationary products. This has been a great way to advertise & gain some new customers from a group of people we might not normally have the opportunity to sell to previously.”

We continue to be impressed, but not surprised, by the ingenuity of our art supply retail community. Hilary and Anna have levied their strengths, grown closer than ever as business partners and friends and collaborated with other small businesses in their community. They also anticipate their customers’ needs, down to decision-making fatigue. People don’t know what they need, they just know they are craving creative release and connection! Funky kits that bring a smile and interrupt the stress of pandemic times? Sign us up!

Do you have a journey you want to chronicle and share with the Art Dog community? A business partner or team member you want to celebrate? A wacky merchandising solution to window shopping you’d like to brag about? We want to hear from you. Email us at and let’s talk!

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