Trade Show Blues and Green
Collectively, we are thrifty. Many members of the community and most of our businesses and domestic areas are loathe to spend money. For example, the only reason it didn’t take several more years to go forward with the expensive upgrades to the tofu business is the strain the current production methods put on our workers’ bodies. As it was, it took about five. We have had serious disagreements about whether buying business cards is a reasonable expense.
This trade show is expensive. Our booth alone costs over $17K. And we have done well here; we have sold over $50K in the first three days (today is the last day, but almost all the buyers are gone, we may well sell nothing). And even though it is by far the most successful show ever, we will likely not return. My community lives under this interesting illusion that we don’t need to do marketing that costs money to sell our products. We run a $600K hammocks business without any paid advertising. Tofu is even larger and our marketing budget for it would send most MBAs into convulsions.
In some ways this is appropriate. Most people who come to the commune do not have strong marketing skills and so investing lots in advertising is potentially quite dangerous. And we have succeeded in making these businesses grow without using these more conventional sales techniques.
And at the same time it is quite frustrating. The argument in the community around the trade show is that we should move away from wholesale hammocks and make more retail sales, because our margins for retail hammocks (sold at craft fairs or online) are much higher than those we sell to brick and mortar stores or via internet distributors. What we collectively seem to fail to understand is that these resellers of our products have their added value. If we want to sell more retail, we need to dramatically increase our sales, marketing and Benji’s haircut expenses. Unlike happy wholesalers who come back year after year, retail sales need to be re-inspired with ads every year.
So it is slightly bittersweet that we have done so well here, because we may well not translate this success into realistic thinking about the world of business.