Support Sisters

CRAVE Minneapolis/St. Paul is using stylish guidebooks, networking parties, lifestyle events, social media and a whole lot more to help women create the connections they crave, and to herald the importance of women supporting women-owned businesses in the Twin Cities.

By Nancy Eike

Last winter, in the middle of a good old-fashioned Minnesota snowstorm, approximately 150 women plucked themselves from their warm abodes, braved blowing snow and slick roads, and got all gussied up to attend a party-specifically, a CRAVE buzz party. Interestingly enough, they really didn't know what CRAVE was.

Not then, anyway.

"They were just wondering what the heck it was," says Kathy Hanson, city leader of CRAVE Minneapolis/St. Paul and business consulting dynamo who has years of experience working with start-ups and Fortune 100 companies. "I was there, my interns were there, my photographers were there, and all of these women were there trying to figure out what we were. I had a case of 25 books (CRAVE: The Urban Girl's Manifesto guidebooks) from the other cities we were in, so they had something to touch and to feel. They immediately got it; it was fabulous."

The buzz party, as you've probably gathered, was to help get the word out about CRAVEguidebooks-one of the three pursuits under the CRAVE brand, the others being CRAVEparty and CRAVEbusiness.

But, you're wondering, what exactly CRAVE is?

CRAVEcompany is the brainchild of serial entrepreness, Seattle-born, Melody Biringer. According to the company website, Biringer was feeling a bit overwhelmed in her über-busy life and was craving some time with her girlfriends. She organized soiees with spa services, goodie bags, drinks and, of course, lots of time to chat and nosh with like-minded women-she called it CRAVEparty. She created a resource network for women who own their own business and called it CRAVEbusiness.

And Biringer, who was also fiercely supportive of local women-owned businesses, wanted to find a way for women to help one another out.

"She put together a little directory of women-owned businesses in the Seattle area and decided to get it out there for the consumers as a way for them to also support gutsy, strong, smart businesswomen in their city," says Hanson.

CRAVEguidebooks was born.

Hanson, who lived in Portland for 15 years, got involved after a friend sent her a book and did what any forward-thinking, sassy, gutsy gal would do: She picked up the phone and called Melody Biringer directly. "I asked her why we didn't have a Minneapolis book, and she told me they didn't have anybody to organize it; I said, ‘Ah, that would be me.'"

Hanson hit the ground running and started creating CRAVE buzz with posts on Facebook, tweets on Twitter. She had buzz parties, she created a website, she was interviewed on 107.1. She'd ask every woman who would listen to nominate someone (or themselves) to be in the CRAVE Minneapolis/St. Paul book in any of the nine CRAVE categories: abode, adorn, children's, connect, details, enhance, sip/savor, style and pets.

Not surprisingly, hundreds wanted to be featured; only 125 made it into the first edition. "I wanted the book to be sophisticated and fabulous, and a really great representation of the city," says Hanson, who included businesses from Excelsior to Stillwater, including Stormsister Spatique, Sewtropolis, Nina's Coffee Café, Patina, Covered, Fringe and a myriad of others. "If you had something cutting-edge, I wanted you in there."

They had an official book launch at the Cooks of Crocus Hill on Grand Avenue in St. Paul-yep, they're in there too. "There wasn't any press there that night," says Hanson. "It was just about getting together and meeting and supporting the other fabulous women in the book."

Each woman received 50 copies and had private book launches for their own customers; many have sold out.

Hanson already has a long list of businesses that would like to be featured in the follow-up book that should hit stores in about two years. She's brainstorming how she is going to keep the ladies connected, whether it be through seminars, events, soirees, online networking; she's also tweaking the website, blogging, creating newsletters and mentoring other city leaders to help get their books launched.

"The big picture is to educate women about the importance of shopping local," says Hanson. "I have had women come up to me, pull their dog-eared book out of their purse and tell me they are using it for places to shop, they're telling their friends about it, they're using it for inspiration; it's very exciting."

CRAVE is now in 22 cities and has recently expanded into Amsterdam. That's a whole lot of local shopping and a whole lot of women supporting women.