Thursday, March 21, 2013

#3 - A real post! Online and Bricks-and-Mortar sales models

OK. There's a project on my table that completely turns off my threadlust, so I figure I should do SOMETHING sewing-related. Like talking to the vacuum. (That'd be this blog that has no followers, because I am still trying to get the hang of writing for an audience, and feel like I should make faces in the mirror, first.)

On the topic of sewing, I would like to relate an interesting and very brief discussion with a senior friend of mine as I packed up my sewing machines at the end of my sewing club session. She used to own a sewing machine/fabric store, which she sold because she wanted to retire. She now works at her son's sewing machine repair/fabric/embroidery store, because retirement isn't her cup of tea, and runs the sewing club. In all, she has over 40 years in the retail business, and a full lifetime of fibre creativity. She's from the time girls took Home Ec. and boys took Shop class because they had to, when you knocked on someone's door to see if they were home, dropped by unannounced to visit at dinner time (and got an invitation to share!)... When people shopped for stuff in person, instead of online.

Interesting, because she was shopping online for a small token of affection for her tween granddaughter: an owl USB key. Interesting, because while she was placing that order, she was lamenting the downfall of the bricks-and-mortar model of commerce.

I had just shown her the Urban Threads embroidery design website, enthusing about how great it was to find a source for embroidery designs that appeal to me, how neat it was I could get fabric to coordinate with the designs through Spoonflower, how I could even MAKE MY OWN CUSTOM FABRIC PRINTS... And she lamented the loss of jobs held by people who would have sold fabric in a fabric store, or sold CDs of the embroidery design sets in a quilting store, look at how the prices of these designs undercut those of other designers, how could anyone with a bricks-and-mortar store compete?

I was stunned to find myself on the digital side of the argument. I mean, I go to my local video store to rent DVDs, nothing substitutes for a genuine paper page-turner, I buy clothes and toys at department stores, buy embroidery stabilizer and thread and fabric from my friend's business! I even bought my digitizing software in a box, off a shelf.

How to explain that shopping for digital embroidery files is better online, as opposed to digital files printed on a CD off a store shelf? Where do I go for my Wicca, my Flying Spaghetti Monster, my steampunk, my ninjas and skulls? My Norse runes? I can get all the Christmas and Easter designs at the local quilt store, even some token Hanukkah and Passover kitsch, but if I ask for something a little more Lovecraft, and a lot less Love Boat, or even a bit more BACON, the owner will say they can't get it, it's not popular enough, I'm SOL.

The embroidery design is an electronic file. It can be transmitted almost instantly. It doesn't need to be copied from CD to hard drive, to USB key, owl-shaped or not. There is no shortage of electrons, so demand is always met. There is no shortage of shelf space, so even low-demand items can be stocked without penalty. And sometimes, I don't want the whole set, just one or two of the designs in it.

If my senior friend had a textile mill with a print-on-demand model, I would absolutely buy from her instead of ordering online! I have ordered all of 1 metre of fabric online in my life. (Fortune cookie print on blue background. Haven't used it yet, either.) The hoard in my sewing room represents hours and hours of time chatting with friends over a cutting table, inspecting yarn weight, thread count, hand and sizing. But the print with my favourite Mother's Day drawing from my son is never coming to the local quilt store. One person does not a demographic make.

But there wasn't time to discuss all that. My senior friend clicked SEND PAYMENT, ordered the owl USB key, and clucked that her store would go out of business without a trace of irony. Except... I was there, in person, buying sturdy badge fabric from her because I finally had found a creative crafting community that catered to my muse. Online.

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