Inside Track: Crafting a long and successful career
Establishing the North American office of Create and Craft has been a whirlwind of activity for Ray Shelgosh, with more in store.
Ray Shelgosh thought a light sweater would be all he would need for a quick mid-April interview in Grand Rapids.
Shelgosh was flying in from Little Rock, Arkansas, on April 13, 2006, to meet with Notions Marketing CEO Herb Lantinga about a potential job.
It was snowing and freezing cold.
“I remember calling my wife and saying, ‘This is never going to happen. I can’t live in weather like this,’” he said.
Despite Grand Rapids offering him an initial cold shoulder, Shelgosh took the job as vice president of national sales and new business development for Notions Marketing, an international Grand Rapids-based distributor of craft supplies with more than 600 employees.
“I’m still here. It’s a beautiful city, wonderful people, and it was a great decision,” he said. “And I’ve been freezing for nine years.”
Shelgosh’s position with Notions Marketing helped him develop a relationship with United Kingdom-based Create and Craft Television, a 24-hour craft network that shares 57-minute craft segments, along with ads for retail outlets where the craft materials can be purchased.
Earlier this year, Shelgosh became president of Create and Craft Television’s North American operation.
There are plenty of brick-and-mortar, online and catalog retailers selling craft materials, but Shelgosh said Create and Craft fills a specific need by educating and engaging customers.
Other channels that offer craft segments generally rush through a project and on to the next one, he said. Create and Craft allows time for hosts and expert guests to fully cover the details of a project, take customer calls, and connect the dots from concept to consumer, Shelgosh said.
“I’ve always been fascinated with how they do business,” he said, noting the channel, which launched in 2003, has had double-digit growth nearly every year.
“They fill a conspicuous need that no else fills,” he said.
Shelgosh is now charged with growing the television station’s North American operation using many of the same strategies he employed while working with Notions Marketing.
Born into a family whose philosophy was largely dominated by the post-World War II mentality of “get a job and keep it,” Shelgosh left home in Ohio for California to pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer at the California College of Law. He soon realized law was not as exciting as he thought it was going to be, and instead launched into a career with a small, direct-sales craft company.
In 1997, shortly after assuming the presidency of needlework company Designs for the Needle in Kansas City, Missouri, Shelgosh began working with a New York financial firm to acquire the company.
“I felt, with my expertise and connections in the industry, that I could take the company to the next level,” he said. “I bought that company when it was very small and grew it very significantly in a short time.”
At the helm of Designs for the Needle, Shelgosh took the company from $2 million in annual revenue to $10 million, then orchestrated a sale to Time Warner in 2000, which he described as his biggest career break. The intentions of the deal were to increase the company’s revenue to $30 million, he said.
“It was an exciting time and I didn’t know any better,” he joked.
Through the Time Warner deal, in 2000, Shelgosh became vice president of Leisure Arts Publishing in Little Rock, a division of Time Warner that publishes lifestyle and instructional craft publications, working with craft retailers such as Michael’s, Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores and Hobby Lobby.
In April 2006, Shelgosh took the flight to Grand Rapids that would bring him to his next career stop.
In charge of national sales and new business development, Shelgosh helped Notions Marketing — already one of the largest hobby craft distributors in the world — nearly triple in size.
Nine years later, the move from Notions Marketing to Create and Craft was more of a collaboration than jumping ship, he said.
“I collaborated with the CEOs of both companies, and we felt like this might be a great opportunity for all of us to work together and allow me to move into a transitional role to grow both companies,” he said. “It’s just stepping from one leg to another leg; it’s just a closer collaboration.”
Following his acceptance of the position, he flew to the United Kingdom to spend a week at the television station’s Peterborough, England, headquarters. There he saw how the shows are put together and how the digital side collaborates with the rest of the company.
“It’s just a whirlwind in the studios,” he said. “Then I was whisked back here and met with a lot of our partners, flying around the country meeting with suppliers we’re partnering with to make these segments.”
The North American office of Create and Craft has seven employees at the moment but is poised for growth. Currently, segments and supplier relations are planned here before working with the U.K. headquarters to film the shows. The shows are either recorded or broadcast live on the channel — with a presence that reaches 50 million people on DirecTV, DISH Network and Roku. Notions Marketing carries out the distribution of products for customer orders generated by the show and online.
Shelgosh said there’s still plenty of growth to be had here compared to Europe, but added customers already are buying the craft products in the United States at triple the pace of Europe.
He said Create and Craft presently is working out of temporary offices, but will move into a permanent home Sept. 1. By the end of the year, he hopes to have a full studio with the necessary technical teams to do the production in Michigan.
“There’s a lot of activity to happen by the end of the year,” he said. “I’d love to have the production right here and for hosts and guests to travel to local destinations.”
In an industry that generates nearly $30 billion annually, Shelgosh sees a big opportunity for an in-depth, 24-hour craft channel in North America, headquartered in Grand Rapids.
“It’s good for the entire industry as we have the opportunity to do in the U.S. what it did in Europe,” he said. “It’s a crawl-walk-run situation, but you look for certain things in a company, and look at the progress we’ve made in a small amount of time.
“Everything you look for in a company looking to evolve is materializing.”
Shelgosh is 61 and nearing a time when he might consider retirement. His days are long — sometimes stretching to 20 hours when taking into account the international work and checking on how a show slotted for 1 a.m. is working out. But he knows there’s a lot that still can happen with the company and his career.
“I took this position because I wanted to see it through,” he said. “If it continues to grow, this will be a very significant Grand Rapids organization in four to five years, with studios, hundreds of employees, distribution (and) offices. It’s a wonderful opportunity for the city.”
Despite the rough winters, Shelgosh hopes he stays in Michigan to finish out a career that’s taken him through a variety of hobby craft companies across the country. He admitted he’s surprised at how his life’s work has been dedicated to crafts but said he wouldn’t change a thing.
“I was young and energetic and in the right place at the right time, and the opportunities presented themselves,” he said.
“I was a risk taker and have been very fortunate to join companies where I could make a difference and generate growth, then move to other opportunities where I could do the same.”