A comment I read on a retail blog a few months ago came back into my mind on Sunday. It was written by a retailer, whom I admire and respect, and she made a statement about the actual 'legitimacy' of those who call themselves retailers. She was coming from the perspective of protecting herself and her ideas by not sharing them with those who weren't within her sphere of reference, and in that context I do understand it. But in all honesty, the way it read could very well be taken as a slam against e-tailers or any business that transacts sales of product in any method other than a brick & mortar store. That was the way it rang through my head this weekend.

In a related conversation with some antique show dealers this past weekend, it came up that many people think that this way of selling (at shows) is not a viable business, but a hobby instead. Hmmmmn. Those people are sometimes owners of retail stores, yes? And they buy their products from vendors in showrooms and at gift SHOWS. Shows where temporary booths are set up to show off product, usually direct from the creator/artisan/manufacturer. So, a showroom is OK. A rented space in an antique mall or at a show is not. Curious, isn't it, how perspective changes things?

Kind of like how the media has jumped on a 'new trend in retailing' - PopUp Stores. Major brands build out a store, stock it, advertise it, blitz it, and tear it out again after a week or two or a season. This was happening all over the place during the holidays. Media experts praise it for creating a demand for immediate action by the customer by creating a limited offer and sense of urgency (the basis of every sale tactic ever taught). Stores love it for helping them control staff & overhead costs, while also pushing the brand image to the top of media radar. So, major brands set up a temporary sales space and it's media worthy. Meanwhile, people who sell all kinds of products & merchandise have been selling at wholesale, trade, and industry shows for decades, but the perception is that they aren't in business. ???

Please let me assure you that the people who sell antiques and art and craft (and anything else at any kind of show) are working just as hard as the average retailer in a brick & mortar store is. Every single time they sell, they have to build the whole 'store', so to speak, not just unlock a door and turn the sign around. They have to set up the booth, the lights, the fixtures, and then stock the product - usually in one day. Every day before and after a show they are bustin' it to handle every facet of their busines - the planning, buying, paying, recordkeeping, inventory, etc. - just like 'regular' retailers are during 'off hours' (is that a misnomer or what?!). E-tailers burn the midnight oil buying or creating, staging & photographing products, loading photos & info onto their web store templates, and also handling all of the mundane tasks of running a business. There is so much behind the scenes of retail that the customer never sees... but it's also true that there is so much that one industry or segment does not see in another.

Whether you have a store on main street, a store on Etsy, a space in an antique or craft mall, or sell at shows, you know that retail is hard work. Anyone who attempts it deserves respect - especially now, in a difficult economy and a negative world. It's not less legitimate, valuable, or 'real' just because there is no brick & mortar building involved. We can all learn so much from each other - ways to improve our business operations, appearance, costs, marketing, etc. that we really shouldn't be creating divisive terms and attitudes. I hope this article causes you to reassess how you value others in business - because whatever form their business may take, there may be a lot you can learn from them. And vice versa!

This weekend my husband and I were selling vintage furniture & home decor at an antique show here in Seattle. Since I didn't decide until late on Wednesday to participate, we had exactly two days to prepare product and load our trailer, then one day to set up our booth at the show. Following the eight-hour show, we had several hours of breakdown and re-loading the trailer. That translates into four 12+ hour days of solid physical work in a row. We did it because we need to make a living, and we choose to do that by doing something we love. And that, my friends, is work, not a hobby. Today, though I am resting my sore muscles, I am hard at work on my computer, writing blog posts, articles, seminar outlines, and plans for upcoming shows. It's not in any way a 'day off' for me, even though to someone looking in from outside, it may seem that way.

Perspective is interesting...what's yours?


  1. Bravo!!! Clap..clap...clappppping hands!!!!.......reminds me of an affirmation.."My reality is created by my perception".....its all how you choose to look at any situation....I cringe when someone comes into my booth "store" and says..oh, what a nice little "hobby" you have.......depends on my mood and how tired I am on what my answer will be!!!

  2. Hey Deb!
    You are so right. I have owned 2 brick and morter stores, and now I am back to freelance wedding floral design and home and garden accessorizing. They are different, but just as much work! We all need encouragement right now, it is in this atmosphere that creativity thrives! My heart goes out to retailers who are strapped into costly leases and overhead in such a tough market. We all have much to offer...encouragement and kindness when sown, will reap the greatest results.

  3. Ladies, I could not have said it better. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts!

  4. Very, very well said, Deb!! Those of us who toil to make a "show" really a SHOW know what you're saying. We make it all look so easy, it's doubtful that many customers really understand what it takes to bring these magical experiences to them. I find it painful to read in other blogs that "there was nothing to see at the show." It's good to reveal the inner workings of this type of retail, and I'm hoping there will be customers reading your comments. You are spot-on!!!!!

    Sore, tired & getting ready for the next one . . . Debi2