For those of you who don’t know, I live in Portland, Maine, the largest city in Maine, but by most standards, a small city. I love living here. The accessibility to culture, nature, restaurants and retail is amazing. I like looking out my back door at the tug boats and cargo ships, walking down Commercial Street and seeing the latest retail changes, taking my dog to East End Beach for her morning play dates with her canine buddies. Portland has so much to offer.
Last night, though, something changed. Something relatively minimal in scope, but which absolutely confirmed my belief that we, as a country, can do better.
You see, I like to walk my dog at night, after dinner. It’s a time for me to relax a bit, and Kylie loves being out, nose to the ground. She gets to sniff the latest smells, startle the nighttime critters that inhabit the city (think opossums and skunks, not rats!) and I get to surreptitiously peek in lighted windows as we walk by townhouses. I hate to admit it, but I love to see how people decorate. I digress. Here’s the disturbing part.
Tomorrow is trash day. In Portland, we have special bags for trash, and then bins for our recyclable cans, paper, bottles, etc. Now, many people bring their redeemable cans and bottles back to the supermarket to get their $.06 back, but some people can’t be bothered and they just throw them in with the other recyclables. At night, people start bringing their bags and bins to the curb, in anticipation of the early morning pickup.
As I’m walking the dog, I see a small, beat up compact car, crawling along the street. A woman is driving, and whenever there are bins by the curb, a man in the passenger side jumps out, combs through the recyclables and picks out the redeemable cans and bottles. The trunk is open, and there’s a bag in the trunk that he throws them in. He hops back in the car, they go to the next set of bins, and it starts all over again.
Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly like handling my own returnables, never mind someone else’s. Sometimes there’s schmutz in the bottom, the bottles are all sticky, it’s smelly! The bags end up leaking and then your car ends up smelling too. Not pleasant at all, yet here is a middle aged couple, not kids, driving around to pore through someone else’s trash for $.06 a bottle.
How is it in the United States of America, the greatest county in the world, and in particular, my little city of Portland, Maine, there are people so needy, they are forced to pick through trash for pennies?
How is it in the United States of America, the federal minimum wage translates to about $15,000 for an adult, yet the cost to live in Portland for a family of two adults and a child is calculated at over $63,000? (fact from Economic Policy Institute)
How is it the federal minimum wage is $7.25, yet if it had kept up with inflation over the last 40 years, it would be almost $11.00?
How is it that the six Walton family members who own Wal-Mart have a combined wealth equal to the bottom 42% of the rest of the families in the United States? While it may be legal to pay workers the absolute minimum wage and keep their hours low so they don’t qualify for health insurance or other benefits, is it moral? When is enough wealth enough?
I don’t have the answers. I just have a lot of questions.
So for any of you who have their own business, you know that taking the next big step, whether it's taking classes, investing in equipment, having your website updated, whatever, can be a bit overwhelming. I have the procrastination gene, where my motto can sometime be " Why worry about it today, when you can worry about it tomorrow?" For those of you who have a similar affliction, I recommend highly taking a big step that actually has a date attached to it. For me it was the NEW ENGLAND MADE Wholesale Trade Show, in Portland, ME. I have a few, loyal wholesale accounts that I pretty much stumbled into, and have toyed with the idea of expanding my wholesale business for a while. Trust me, spending every weekend under a 10 x 10 tent is not my idea of heaven, and I thought a little wholesale business might allow me to be more particular with the craft shows I actually do participate in.
Above is a picture of my wholesale booth. My intent was a clean look - mARTini Jewels uses only sterling silver and 14K gold fill from recycled resources, and so I wanted to play up that aspect of my jewelry, without the shabby chic that can sometimes accompany recycled. I had looked into pedestals with bamboo boards, and just the pedestals online were $600! Yikes! I went to the ReStore and found the perfect item. ReStore, if you're not familiar, is a retail shop where people donate new and used construction items; sales benefit Habitat for Humanity. The panels above are cabinet doors with a thick, hardwood frame, we painted the insides of the panel burgundy and organized the jewelry with velcro dots. Oh, and by the way, they cost $5.00 each. My husband crafted the hangars at the metalsmithing class he attends, and voila! I was in business.
Pro's of wholesale: you only have to make one of everything. Shops order from that sample, and then you actually know what to make, and not hope you're making all the right items. Con's: Everything needs to be able to be re-ordered, so you need to know that you can get the supplies, know your "recipe" for making the item, and then having a style number for all of your items. I now know more about line sheets and order forms than I ever thought possible.
So, now that the show is over, what were the results?
Well, first of all, the show is a smaller market, and so my booth looked fine for Portland. Not so sure I could go to the Atlanta show with the same booth, but I held my own and then some compared to other new booths, and some veteran booths as well. I got lots of leads and about 9 new orders right at the show. Considering that if I were doing retail craft shows only, my season wouldn't have even started yet, not bad! Hopefully, I'll cultivate these relationships, get some reorders, add a few more accounts, and before you know it, I may actually get to see my family on weekends.
I'll finish with a joke I just read:
A doctor, a mechanic, and a potter win a multimillion dollar lottery.
When asked what he would do with the millions he had won, the doctor replied, "I'm going to buy and island, retire, and get some sun."
When asked the same question, the mechanic replied, "I'm going to close my shop, buy a Ferrari, a gigantic house, and travel."
And finally, to the same question, the potter replied, "I'm going to keep making pots until the money runs out."
Do you ever wonder why you have the qualities you have? My mom absolutely adored jewelry, I know that's where I inherited that trait. When my parents married, my dad couldn't afford an engagement ring, she wore a simple gold band for many years. I remember, though, her delight when he presented a diamond to her more than 20 years after they were married. Later, he gave her all kinds of jewelry - rubies, diamonds, sapphires; she loved it all.
In my mom's later years, she suffered from dementia. But even in her "not quite there" state of being, she still wore her jewelry, right up until the very end. Costume, real, it didn't matter. She didn't go anywhere without her bling. The attendants knew better than to try to get her out of her room without any earrings!
My mother was ill for so long, she suffered immeasurably. When I received the call from my sister that she had passed, it wasn't a surprise. My sister had my mom's outfit planned, and in discussion, I offered to make the earrings she would wear forever. While I was making them, I thought of the irony - the only pair of earrings she would have from me were the ones she'd never see. And I kicked myself for not having made her anything while she was alive to enjoy them. What kept me back?
Fear that my own mother wouldn't like something I made for her. Ridiculous, isn't it? What mother wouldn't like something made by their child? I still have a wooden heart pin that has fabric glued to the front that my son made for me in preschool. (p.s., he's 17) And so, this message is to everyone out there who may drag their heels because not doing something is easier than putting yourself out there.
Do it. Whatever it is, take the opportunity. You may not get a second chance. Live your life with NO REGRETS! If you like the message this story brings, feel free to share.