Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Is it Wrong to Make a Profit? Part 1

I know I've said this recently before, but reading the news lately can be a bit alarming.  I particularly find the economic situation to be distressing, especially when I read about families that are struggling under a lot of debt, and about people in other countries struggling to find food.  

Of course, while I'm reading these headlines and hearing these reports, I'm also busy trying to get my fall collection together for the beAdornable boutique (my online store).  Here I am making throw pillows and accessories--frivolous items in the grand scheme of things--and trying to sell them during a time when people are losing their homes.  I had to ask myself: is it wrong to try to make a profit on pretty things during these economic times?

I feel like it is important to wrestle with this question.  After all, I'm encouraging us as women to support micro-businesses in our community.  And A Lot of micro-business is providing goods and services that aren't "necessary for life," like cosmetics, clothing, consulting, tutoring, and the like.  Can we in good conscience promote our products, or are we being irresponsible for asking people to spend money on stuff they don't need?  I'll start with the economics today, and finish up next time with culture.

As for economics, on the one hand, we are being strongly encouraged to spend right now.  That was, after all, the whole point of that government stimulus check we all received.  The word on the streets is that if we quit spending our money, the bottom really will drop out of the economy.  Businesses would be hurt, people would lose jobs, and recession would no longer be a debate.  So, by encouraging spending of any kind (bonus if it supports micro-business), we are supporting economic growth during this slump.  Right?

Right.  Communities need people to keep spending money.  Businesses of all sizes need to continue to make a profit so that we can collectively keep our jobs and keep paying our bills.  And now, maybe more than ever, we need micro-business owners to be successful in the marketplace.  So selling during these times is a good thing.

The other side?  Well, selling and buying is a good thing, up to a certain point.  And what is that point?  Right now I'd say it is the line between cash and credit.  Even though banks and lenders are telling us that we need to keep spending, what they really mean is that we need to keep spending money we don't have.  Their financial survival, unfortunately, depends partly (if not completely) on us borrowing from them.  And that is not a good thing.  

It is a common selling strategy to convince people that they deserve something new--that they've earned it, or that they can't live without it.  As a good retailer, I would probably be wise to adopt that strategy.  Especially since spending is the new patriotism.  But the truth is that people don't need my boutique items, at least not the way they need food and gas.  And I hope that those who need the money for food and gas won't spend it instead in my boutique.  I never want my boutique items to be a part of the reason women are stressed about getting their credit card statement in the mail.  Sure, I'd love to see my pillow on their sofa, but not if it means that collection agencies are going to call them everyday for the money they used to buy that pillow.

So, am I irresponsible for selling boutique items during this economy?  No, of course not.  We all have to make a living.  But I am being irresponsible if I tell you to "just put it on your credit card" if you can't afford it right now, or if I tell you that you've earned a splurge you can't really afford.  

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