Well buying season is just around the corner and…….wait a minute. Stop right there. What buying season? Who am I trying to kid? It’s March 8th and there’s two upcoming holidays, Mother’s Day and Easter and they can hardly be considered buying holidays unless you are a bunny, chocolate, a chick or a duck. Okay, okay, mom gets flowers or a card, but really, that’s about it.
I heard it said that Valentine’s Day has gone out ahead of Christmas as the heaviest buying season but you could have fooled Lee..or me. Yes we made a fairly good amount of sales, and for that we are grateful, but not like it used to be. The 2012 Christmas buying season had been very good but…..What happened?
To my knowledge, never in the history of the USA has there been a Tea Party vs a very popular 2nd term African American President who will be backing a woman in 2016 who is more popular than every one of the Tea Partiers put together. Add that to a sequester, a fruitless argument about debt ceilings, filibuster speech-giving regarding drones programmed to knock a Starbuck’s double soy latte’ out of your hand just because your 4th cousin once knew a 3rd cousin of Jane Fonda and might have known Gloria Steinem’s stepfather’s 8th cousin. And we have the 1% “makers:” with their money safely guarded in The Grand Cayman or Switzerland or Newark (the IRS would never think to look there); and they are scheduled to find it when it finally does trickle down to the rest of us, or when hell freezes over, whichever comes first.
But seriously, no matter what, people do still shop and gift-giving is one of the great traditions in these United States as unique collectibles as a hobby. Lee and I sell both of those and in very large quantities. We even offer volume deep discounts and free personalization/customization within several of our lines of merchandise.
So why am I tell you this? For a pat on the back? To feel sorry for me? To Occupy Hot Springs until I’m worth several million (then you can leave thank you very much).
I mention it because having talked to colleagues, especially other cartoonists and illustrators, some of whom have worked for me, have reminded me that all of this is universal.
Whereas in 2010 our average sale was $60-$80, today it is $9.99-19.99. This tells me something important. People continue to want to give, and give to a lot of friends and loved ones. But they have budgeted down below the $25 mark for each person.
I really didn’t need a little informal focus group on the Internet to figure that out. If I’m doing it, and I am, and Lee’s doing it, then most likely all our friends and loved ones are doing it.
Do you know who is having the hardest time with this new economy? The “Neuvo Poor”. You read it right. The mighty who have fallen and never took some hard hits along the way up. I do not write that with any kind of comfort or glee. I don’t like to see anyone hurting whether they be rich, poor or in between.
Those of us who have taken our hard knocks, and taken them for many years, almost have an internal thermostat of how to make it through the month, even if money is short a particular month.
My sweet late maternal grandmother Ruth London used to try to drill it in to me many times, and I would just laugh and sluff it off. After all, I was moving upward and nothing disastrous could ever happen to me. Wrong! It all came tumbling down….more than once. What seemed like the end of the world at the time, turned out to be the “street education” I needed to survive and even thrive.
And though it is not the same every month, it goes a little like this.
At the first of the month, pay all the bills. If you cannot pay them all, then pay the basics like rent or mortgage, groceries for the first week or two of the month. Forget about eating out, that’s a luxury that seems affordable at the time but is a huge waste of money buying food that is usually not exactly as it was billed.
Pay the utilities, Internet, phone etc. Once all that is paid there is a huge relief that transpires. One feels lighter. Don’t pay with a credit card. Cash or debit cards only. Lee and I only use our debit cards and don’t even worry about checks and credit cards anymore.
You should have a little money left over. Depending on your income it can be anywhere from $25 to around $400+ per month. Stick as much of that in savings, knowing some of it might have to be withdrawn due to unexpected expenses which happen almost every month. That’s okay. If you can save a few dollars every month you are doing better than most.
I returned to college at age 48 and had some wonderful professors who taught pragmatic lessons that could easily be used the same day. One of my favorites said, “Credit cards are great…and I expect everyone to get as many as you can, that is if you own the company and you are the creditor”. Otherwise they are poison and will eat your soul”.
How did he know the story of my life? And though I’d not used credit card for nearly 2 decades, I still remember the pain of the relentless calls when/if I was late, trying to juggle classes, running my own business, etc etc. They showed no mercy. Lee went through that too. Now, we don’t go through that.
Oddly enough, the simpler life one creates, the less stress is involved. The less stress that is involved. The less stress that is involved, generally the happier the person is. The happier that person is, the stronger his/her immune system is. The stronger his/her immune system is, the longer he/she will most probably live, and if it’s not a unusually long lifespan, the quality of life during a shorter lifespan makes up for it. I love my life. I love what I do. And though it is not as glamorous as some people may think, that’s alright with me.
Doors opened for Lee and I several years back that might have made our lives seem most glamorous. But the more we worked on the projects, the more we saw that while we were carrying the ball for these well-known celebrity entrepreneurs, the more they look at us as chums, slave labor of sorts, who should be grateful that we got to work with them at any capacity. I think It was just wonderful that we had that opportunity, to be honest, (and try to be humble) we are that good, but in a free market system, there is this thing called a fair living wage. They would have no part of that, so we continued to strike out on our own and build our own brands.
And though we’ve been at it for quite awhile, this March 19th will be 15 years for me and in November 2013 will be about 4 years for Lee, both are still growing and we still have a long way to go. Competition is fierce worldwide, and one has to design something not just unique, but very different than what anyone else is offering. One has to expect copycats. No, they usually don’t copy your total design. But one can look at it and there is no doubt they looked at it first for their “inspiration”.
So we have focused a great deal on making a great amount of greeting cards for about $3.50-$3.75, tees from $17-$25 etc. Things people can afford to give as gifts. Each has one of our licensed graphics, all of which we have “tested” on both Twitter and facebook for feedback. If feedback is good, we move it up to the front of the shop. If not, to the back. It’s just like physical retail, without the bricks.
Both of us got our start in business in retail shops. Real ones with physical buildings, awnings, and smiling faces. That is one of the biggest downsides to online marketing.
People who shop online, do so for a myriad of reasons, but there are some basic ones that have a common thread. They are seeking a gift or collectible that they cannot find at the local mall. They are in luck at our shops and we’ve purposely kept them out of malls or large physical stores. And even though our merchandise appears at Sears.com, it is only at their online shops, not their retail stores.
They visit Amazon in search of a large selection and discounted price. They get both when they shop there.
They Visit Zazzle to look for both price and often personalization and lightening fast worldwide shipping. Again we give them both there.
Please don’t get me wrong. We are merely two merchants who have managed to digitally design thousands of products; about ¼ million between the two of us. The secret? Again we love what we do, and we work hard and consistently. Can anybody do it? I believe anyone can teach themselves to do it or learn to do it watching others.
The best way to start is to go to the Zazzle page and sign up for a free account, and visit and talk in their forums. Be honest. Let them know you are there to learn, and you will be surprised how many will take you under their wing and teach you. Yes there will be naysayers, but the naysayers are an interesting study in human behavior. Lee and I passed all the naysayers at warp speed years ago and they are still complaining that “things just aren’t right in online retail”. And so it goes.
I see posters on facebook and Twitter that remind me to remove negative voices and influences from my life. I used to do so slowly but that is not necessary. If I see a pattern now; even for a few hours, it is “block time” and they never come back.
And my work gets done, miraculously. And though I could be wrong, my guess is, there’s does not.
Finally, online retail is like real life retail. The custom expects being treated with respect and dignity, they want a decent product, and second-to-none customer service.
It’s much easier to offer that than the opposite. And at the end of the day, they get just that, excellent products, affordable prices, products too unique to be found in malls, and a 100% 30 day guarantee, no questions asked.
How much more can one ask? If they ask for more, we’ll do our best to give it.
Rick London is a writer, songwriter, cartoonist and designer who lives a quiet life in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas with his wife Lee Hiller-London. Rick London founded Londons Times Offbeat Cartoons & Funny Gifts in March 1997 (15 years ago). Since January 2005 it has been Google’s #1 ranked and Bing’s #1 ranked since 2008. His wife Lee runs the popular nature photography blog HikeOurPlanet.com featuring many of her award-winning photographs. Together thay spend a great deal of time in Hot Springs National Forest in search of wildlife and flora of which to take photos which they mat and showcase on their walls.