The Ups and Downs of the Retail Experience

Originally published 2017-07-15 on LinkedIn.

For years, I have thought of myself as a pessimist. My glass was usually nearly empty, so I needed to achieve another goal or milestone to fill it. I’m not sure if it is my years of positive psychology training and coaching, or maybe I am really a closet optimist hiding under a grumpy pessimistic veneer. At any rate, I have definitely been overly optimistic about the retail experience.

When the ideas first came to my mind during a humid, sleepless night during a summer test expedition in Hainan, China, to make hand-made products, using local labor in Lysekil, Sweden to sell, I simplistically saw the problem as an engineer does: How do I make the products most efficiently? From where do I source good, high quality material? How do I create jobs and provide security to people who aren’t winning in the global economy? I naively thought that if I made the right products, locally produced with socially beneficial labor and with care for the environment (using partially re-used materials), that I looked like something I would want to buy, then others would to.

I dreamed of my little “factories” of talented crafts(wo)men, making neat products and giving good stable jobs to people who wanted and needed them.

Unfortunately, outside of a couple of very supportive good friends and local businesses, almost all of my sales so far have been of my lowest price item, my postcards, and even they are not flying off the shelves. My exhibition week had no sales, and few visitors (there are a LOT of Budweisers left in my business fridge from the 4th of July).

Talking to my partner, we felt that in part the lack of sales have been the location of our shared shop, which is unfortunately just a little too far up the main shopping street. Especially tourists, who are my main market, just don’t make it up to us. The few cloth items that have sold have been through the boat and marine store, which is directly on the waterfront in the south harbor.

So yesterday, thanks to the kindness of the local bookstore owners, who are very supportive of local business initiatives, I was able to set up my items outside the bookstore, in the main shopping street in town. However, a whole afternoon of sitting there, resulted only in the sale of a few more postcards. My glass was definitely empty at the end of the day, as I also received messages from my sewing employee, hoping for more work, but I didn’t have many sales to drive replacement work.

When it is your products, your own ideas in creation and fruition, the rejection is somehow that much harder. Working as a professional in global organisations, one seldom exposes so much of oneself. Of course I have the same passion, interest, and ideas for solving people, organisation, or technical problems in my daily work, but there is always the knowledge that you are always part of something much bigger, greater than you, and even when you give your all into a project, that all is such a little piece of the success or of the failure.

Standing on a city square, packing up bags of unsold items, it pretty much feels like your own failure. And you realise your hourly rate for the past few hours was below what it was when you worked at the Boy Scout Camp after your senior year in high school. And you wonder if all the investment of both time and money will ever pay off.

On the other hand, the next day you check your email for your Etsy store, and there is an order! Someone, even if it is a dear friend supporting you and your business, liked something enough to order it, and you have the ability to commission another pillow to be sewn!

And you learn the lessons, like the local stores order their summer inventory in the autumn the year before. So, you think, even if I only gave myself a half year to try this out, I really do need another year to try.

So you keep trying… and learning… and sticking yourself out there for another try.


(If you read this article and would like to check out some of my products, my home decorations and clothing accessory brand, SEW & Knot Co, is at www.etsy.com/se-en/shop/SEWandKnotCo and my photography items are at www.etsy.com/se-en/shop/NspirPhotography. All proceeds from sales are reinvested in new product development in Lysekil.)

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