Friday, September 30, 2011

:: leveling charges ::

holy crap, people. it's the last day of september.

and what a september it has been.

something tells me there will be a lot of reflection happening over the next few weeks (some here, some elsewhere around the interwebs), but today instead of reflection i thought i'd do a little responding instead.

responding to recent charges against me.

the two complaints-slash-charges-against-me that have been voiced most vociferously during this experiment have been these:

(1) this was not well thought out and
(2) my experiment devalues the work of OTHER stationers, takes customers from them, and hurts the industry

as to the first charge i say yup. you're totally right. it was designed (and by designed i suppose i mean intended) to let things happen naturally so i could see what would happen. i didn't want to direct it too much. i just wanted to put it out there and see what came of it. i mean, i took great pains to ensure that i communicated the spirit of the experiment and how i hoped people would respond, but i tried otherwise to just let it be. this is why it was only for a month, people! it was a one-month experiment that i hoped would give me enough to go on to try to figure out a realistic and sustainable way to integrate the spirit of the name-your-price concept into a real, living, breathing, tangible-goods business.

the second charge is harder to respond to. at first, i was really upset by this charge. i'm the one who - back when etsy still had something called "alchemy" where people could request that sellers bid on custom work and could list their desired price for said work - used to bid high and explain why so that the buyers would understand how much really goes into completing custom work. 

i'm the one who includes labor (but not design work - that i bill or contract for separately as appropriate) and paypal transaction fees in her break-even price and then adds in overhead and profit to calculate her wholesale prices (which are then doubled to calculate retail price). 

i'm the one who disliked doing branding work so much she doubled her hourly rate and then doubled it again and found herself loving it. 

i believe in profit. 

i go crazy when i see someone who is not charging enough to even cover her costs. (but, i reason, she'll learn. or she'll go out of business.)

but the more i think about this charge (and really, there are a few things being said here that i've kind of rolled into one), the more upset i get. first of all, please. let's not give me too much credit here, folks. i've had this awesome amazing turnout but really, it's still only 24* people. 24 people, 18 of whom told me that if they were going to DIY their invitations or buy them at target, costco, michaels, or other-big-box-place. two people sent me the designs they had already started working on themselves. one customer was going to get hers at minted. the others didn't say. so let's not get carried away thinking that i poached all of these customers from my artisan and indie friends and competitors because i really did not. the people this experiment appealed to were people who wanted to support an indie business and still work within their DIY budget. they weren't the people who were about to go put down $600 with one of my competitors until they saw a post somewhere about my experiment and realized they could get the same thing cheaper with me.

and as far as the industry? well honestly i'm not totally sure i care about whether or not i'm supposedly hurting the stationery industry. this little business of mine is about two things at its core: providing me a creative outlet (and my customers a creative high) and providing my family with enough money to pay $200K in student loans plus a mortgage and all those little things it takes to, you know, live? 

i mean really, who starts a paper goods biz saying, "wow, you know, i really want to support the greeting card industry and ensure that it maintains its integrity and fortitude." what wedding vendor is in business to keep the wedding industry strong and healthy. do those industries help support us and keep us alive as vendors? sure. but is it why we're doing what we're doing? come on. 

if my experiment makes my business stronger and my business is a paper goods or a wedding business, then my experiment strengthens those industries in its own way. and whatever industry assumptions it calls into question, well, good on it. would i love to think that my little self might help other little selves start to think outside the "here is how you run a stationery business" curriculum? yes I would. but do i think i'm going to bring down the industry or topple my competitors? i'm not that crazy.

i'd really love to go into a little comparison of my experiment versus the completely-accepted-industry-standard wholesale model, and in fact i plan on delving into that discussion in the coming weeks once i have a little time to put some data from the experiment together and sit it there alongside some data from my experience with wholesale so far. but from where i sit i'm seeing a lot of similarities: both depend on the idea that volume makes up for lower profit margin; both require significant "unbillable" work on the part of the business owner. the difference is in the experience (and cost) for the customer, it seems, and in the relationships formed or not formed between creator and user.

but that's a discussion for another day, i'm afraid.

stay tuned.

* 24 is a rough number. i have had 52 inquiries, i think, and 24 actual purchases (although i can't remember if i am counting two clients twice (each of whom made two orders)). this only includes name-your-price wedding customers, obviously, not other customers or clients brought on this month.