As I sit at my computer today, I am writing with a strange sense of clarity and conviction on the state of our economic health and an empowering feeling that we have control over our situation. There are many personal philosophies and beliefs merging into one connected mindset today, so I thought it best to jot them down before fleeting.
Feeling that we have some type of control over a situation is empowering. It is an infectious and healing power. For a while, there has been a palatable fog in the air of financial despair. The unified voice stating that the greed of others has unraveled our state of stability. As a relatively new and naïve small business owner making furniture, I have held onto our business philosophy that we must be strong allies to small brick and mortar businesses. There have been many missed opportunities to work with importers, internet and catalog companies along the way; however, we truly believe that if we, as one small, family company, strive to protect small retail shops, that it will better our community. We heard many grumblings from many non-brick and mortar shops by choosing this path, but, more importantly, we’ve built some strong and rewarding relationships with the shops who support us. Small steps lead to great strides... or “With every deed you are sowing a seed, though the harvest you may not see." Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919). That has been one of our principle tenets guiding us through owning a small business.
While we firmly believe we are doing our part as wholesalers, that is, carefully screening potential customers to be sure they own an actual brick & mortar store, I have only made some attempts at the other end of the economic equation. That is, I have tried to support our town’s local, small businesses. This part of the equation, for me, tends to be a little difficult because we tend to allow ourselves such little time to run errands and need to consolidate our time so tightly that we forget about the “little guys”. For our business, we have managed to weave in almost daily support our local, family owned hardware store and try to avoid supporting the big, chain home improvement stops. There is our local favorite sandwich shop and of course our local farms to purchase our produce but that is about it. It was not until I saw a hand painted sign on the side of the road the day before mother’s day that said “Support your Local Shops, buy your flowers from us” that I took a fresh look around and saw at least 20 white tents with wilted flowers for sale. I was struck by this simple sign because, until this moment, I thought I was a strong advocate for small businesses. How could I have overlooked something so clear? I had purchased many mothers’ day flowers at the supermarket and from some random tent vendor on the side of the road never having a second thought. That has resonated with me over the past few weeks and I have been trying to perpetuate my devotion to made in the USA with our online newsletter, The Quill and Well.
It is easy to get swept away by the anti-import band wagon but I found this approach to be somewhat counterproductive, as it feeds on negative energy. Also, it feeds a sense that we are victims and does not foster a sense of being able to “do something about it”. It is a slippery slope to pessimism when you are focusing your energies on what is wrong and who is to blame. Therefore, instead of giving more attention to issues pertaining to imported items, I thought it best to channel my energies to highlighting things we want, such as more attention and support for American Made products. My dear friend Stephanie Monahan, a talented folk artist with whom I met while displaying at trade shows and I decided to focus our energies on American artisans and the dedicated shop owners who support us!
Ironically, we continually struggle with enforcing our criteria for choosing featured artisans and shop owners because to truly support Made in America takes devotion and sometimes saying no. Shops who primarily carry hand-made goodes understand that finding American artisans is becoming more difficult and yet, it is by their offering unique, hand crafted items that sets their shops apart from others. It is simple to say “Buy American” or to paste an American flag on the bumper of your car. It is, I believe, a bit harder to live the bumper sticker, so to speak. It takes dedication and awareness and a positive American attitude.
I have been “complaining” lately to friends who are willing indulge me about the poor attendances of the trade shows. I do believe that vendors/artisans and shop owners are in a relationship and if one fails, they both suffer. Trade shows have been slow lately, an inevitable sign of the economic times. However, it shops are not showing their support to the artisans who travel for days to set up at a show, then the artisans will no longer attend. This dynamic is much intertwined and it can be viewed as a co-dependent relationship. I hear time and time again at shows who is to blame for the lack of buyers. At weaker moments, I find myself joining in and my husband and friend are quick to help me out of the negative zone… I try to quickly steady myself and focus on what I can do to be sure I am presenting my company in the best light, staying “fresh” and creating a welcoming display. On a weirdly related point, I have been reading the Laws of Attraction (by Michael J Losierwhich), which are, in essence, a series of self-help books that teach us we attract what we put out there. So, as you can see, I am struggling with making sense out of this ailing subculture of trade shows and wholesales to brick and mortar shops and trying to consistently view it through a more positive lens. I have been at a loss for a new and positive way to view our situation. Thus, this has been my mini-journey to economic enlightenment. Since I am dedicated to attracting positive energy, then positive energy and thoughts are what I must consistently put out there… right?
One could argue that the power of attraction led me to find an inspirational project that has helped me tether all of my whirling thoughts. I would say that I stumbled on this effort, but think I know better… I was wandering around the web looking for American artists when I found “The 3/50 Project” by Cinda Baxter. “This is it!” I thought to myself. There is a powerful message here. I believe this movement is telling us that we hold the power to change things. We are in control over our situation, including our economic health! We are not destined to be victims of the importers or an ailing economy. The 3/50 Project has a noble slogan “Saving the Brick & Mortars our Nation is Built on”. I felt so completely validated when I read this. I found myself inspired by the 3/50 Project and began looking at my community in a new light. My thoughts quickly wandered to a tiny little family owned sports memorabilia shop next to the place where we buy pretzels. I went in this shop just once and left two feet in the front door because it was cluttered. I am going back there again this week and buying father’s day gifts for all the dads in our life. Oh, and of course I am going to buy all of my flowers from the local flower shop that made the hand painted sign, too
This new perspective was a breath of fresh air for me! I felt all of the cynicisms and doubt I hadn’t realized I was carrying melt away. The frustration I felt for shops who did not attend the shows was replaced with understanding of the greater roles you and I play in our economic recovery.
So, here’s our recovery plan… It is akin to the “pay it forward” philosophy that has guided many wise folks long before me and will light a path long after I am gone. Change begins with one person. More specifically, it begins with one purchase Please visit the 3/50 Projects website to see how you can make a change in your community. It is a simple yet contagious notion that will help bring us all together, again! Thank you for taking your time to read my rantings, I do hope they were of some use and interest to you
Co-Editor, The Quill and Well
President of Primitiques, Ltd.
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