Editor’s Letter: Good Things Coming in 2013

Linda and Tom Neel
Linda and Tom Neel have their own story to tell about Live An Artful Life Gallery in The Plains, Va. Credit: Timothy Jacobsen.

We’re always working ahead of the calendar here at NICHE magazine. As we go to press, retailers are still in the thick of holiday sales and marketing, but we’ve already got one foot in 2013 and another in spring. The good news, from the small business news grapevine, is that 2013 is going to be a pretty good year.

Prognosticators, like the ones freelancer Phillip Perry interviewed for our 2013 Small Business Forecast, say that while you probably won’t see much change for a while, the economy should start posting solid gains by summer. In the meantime, craft gallery owners like Greg Worden of Vermont Artisan Designs, David Brooks of Appalachian Spring and Diane Sulg of Maddi’s Gallery, express cautious optimism for the year ahead.

“We’re expectant,” says Worden, “no matter what happens.” Brooks adds that while he pays attention to what’s happening in the overall economy, he pays a lot more to finding new ways to distinguish his galleries from the rest of the retail market and, as he puts it, “create a feeling of great value” for the products he sells.

That, in fact, is probably one of the strongest keys to the success of any small business: crafting the story of what makes you different from your competitors—what makes your products unique and why customers should buy them—then telling it over and over again as new chapters evolve.

“What We’re Really Shopping For,“ an article by Jonathan O’Connell in a recent edition of The Washington Post, seems to confirm this idea: “For a storefront to survive, just selling things isn’t going to cut it anymore,” he writes. “If consumers are going to shop in person, they want the experience to be a memorable one. Something with a story they can tell later. Something they can share on Twitter.”

What do kids say when you’re putting them to bed? “Tell me a story.” What did the Persian queen Scheherazade do to keep her head? She told her tales of “One Thousand and One Nights” to an increasingly captivated king.

The plain truth is that Walmart has no real stories to tell about its offerings: they’re cheap, they’re manufactured and they’re not meant to last. As craft gallery owners, you have plenty of compelling ones to tell about yourselves and the artists whose work you carry.

Set those stories down, share them around, and like Scheherazade’s eager king, your customers will keep coming back for more.