I want to share with you my experience on how going into business has shaped the type of person I have become – and most of all, my buying habits, particularly who I now buy from.
It all started in 2010, when I was busy making and designing educational products – I hit a fork in the road when I had to decide on what my products were worth in the market.
These questions dominated my thinking.
How do I put a price tag on something that can take days, weeks, months and even years to develop and create into one final product? How do I charge the right money for it?
Unfortunately, there was no rule book.
I wrestled with these questions for a long time - for far too long, and it would often lead to me not even selling the products because I was avoiding the elephant in the room – the act of selling.
But what I didn’t expect was how my perception of other people’s products was also changing. I would notice the care and attention that went into making things.
Before I started selling my own things, I didn’t even think about the time and effort it would take to make something. I was numb to the creative process. I was a consumer, not a producer.
I would also notice the change in my values when family and friends would comment on how expensive things were, and how the large chains were ripping them off.
Ripping them off.
I would look at these seemingly over-priced objects but now with different eyes, and see what it would take to create the thing, whatever it was.
I started to think, and sometimes even say out aloud, how are supermarkets and the major marketplaces selling these products for 99c or $2, when it clearly costs so much more to make.
12 eggs for $2. Ouch!
1 litre of milk for $1, or even 80c.
What is going on?
How does milk from a living, breathing cow cost less than water?
As with anything after we become conscious, I noticed the harsh realities behind these cheap products. Cheap products are produced in hugely mechanised and depersonalised factories that are most often based in another country with human beings that are paid very little – all for the purposes of profit maximisation.
And to keep shareholders happy, of course.
How is one to stand a chance of selling products that could be sought so quickly and cheaply, and not to mention the painful reality, unethically?
It was in my second year of business that the reality of this dawned on me. My business partner and I had been holding regular promotions at shopping centres to speak to parents, and to showcase our service.
In conversation with a close friend after lunch one weekend, I shared my experience of directly selling to shoppers and the challenges that I had been facing with pricing my products. My friend, never one to hold back, remarked how she wouldn’t pay for education as it should be provided for free by schools. I didn’t see her comment as any issue, as there are a lot of things that she would buy that I wouldn’t pay for. It was her other comments that stayed with me. She was reflecting on the business ventures (or failures) her friends had become involved in throughout the years, from owning cafes and bars, to dress shops and other home-based businesses. In every example, I heard how the businesses were doomed to fail because people could buy the stuff cheaper somewhere else.
Cheaper somewhere else.
This is what Seth Godin, a leading marketer, calls the “race to the bottom.” It is where companies compete on the cheapest possible price but not on the quality of their product, or what their product stands for.
These are companies we are all very familiar with, such as K-Mart, Target, Bunnings, Masters, Aldi, Eagle Boys, Pizza Hut, etc. Their objective is the cheapest possible product. They are not concerned about the interest of the buyer, other than to ensure that the buyer purchases their product and will do so in the very near future.
The race to the bottom strategy results in practices that can make you cringe - where massive corporations lobby government to loosen regulations and to treat resources, both living and non-living as though they are nothing but a commodity - to be sold at the cheapest, and often most soul-sucking price.
I could see why so many creatives didn’t enter the arena of selling. What they had to offer would take far more time than a machine or automated process would take to create an item in the same category.
This was all before I learnt about not pitching your service or products to everyone, and how most of the people around you will not buy from you.
It is the people who value what you have to offer, and what you stand for that will become your customers, and in some cases, your loyal tribe.
I stopped going to Kmart and Target, and even frequented the local shopping centres a lot less. I started looking to local sources for products, and began developing an eye for care and detail.
I also started speaking a lot more to creators and finding out about their process. They were only too happy to share their working process with me. One wood craftsman told me how he could hear the wood breathe and could sense how it could be made into the product it was destined to become. This process could take many months, from the selection of the wood to the creation of the final product. The way he caressed the wood reminded me of how a father would gently stroke the head of his child. Without a doubt, I’m still this man’s faithful customer today.
In my conversations, I would ask about how each of these creators started out and what challenges they had along the way. Of course, they would highlight the hardships of the first few years and how they almost went under or that they thought they would have to run back to their jobs. They also shared how they could not imagine doing anything else.
The sheer joy of creating things makes their life purposeful, but so is sharing that joy with their customers.
Now I pay more for products, but only because I want the quality that comes with sourcing products directly from the producer.
I want organic flours, nuts and legumes, not the mass-produced Monsanto variety.
I want handmade products for my kitchen, from carefully crafted chopping blocks, to bowls and utensils that are unique.
I also want to adorn my body with the products that have been made with love, stitch by stitch, etching by etching, and not to wear clothing and jewellery that has been made by a process that I no longer find in alignment with my values.
I know I’m not alone.
With the advent of the Internet, and the dawn of the “connection economy,” there is a move to artisan products, as Etsy and other online marketplaces are revealing every day.
My conversations with creatives on the Gold Coast has also revealed an increasing interest in buying and making products that are made with the types of values and practices that we want to see in the world.
Seth Godin calls this a race to the top, where we create products that are focused on design, respect and dignity.
Godin's remarks reflect how our buying habits shape the world around us. When we purchase a product, the act of purchasing it is saying to the world out aloud, this is what I want to see more of. If we buy eggs that are $2 a dozen, we are saying that we agree with the process that make those eggs sellable at $2. I can see that a lot of people are no longer supporting this process.
As a creative entrepreneur who is making things in a connection economy, I now ask different questions:
It is these questions that have changed who I buy from, and I can imagine the same thing is happening to you.
Please comment on how you buy and whether you have noticed a change in your buying habits.
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