Quite often I get asked, "What does Fair Trade means to me?”

First, Fair Trade applies only to marginalized producers (specifically farmers or artisans) who do not have opportunities to market their products.  Most of the time they fall into the poorest group of their community, living without access to basic resources and living wages. This group of producers is usually at risk of being exploited due to lack of education and great obstacles they face to market access. Additional social factors like belonging to an ethnic minority further adds to an artisan falling into a marginalized sector.

Women artisans handcrafting cotton paper journals in North West India. 

Women artisans handcrafting cotton paper journals in North West India. 

Because of this, artisans already engaged in trade or those with a decent job and benefits (e.g. a factory job) do NOT qualify as marginalized. Fair Labor standards are primarily focused on fair wages and basic workplace rights for producers.

What sets Fair Trade apart from Fair Labor is the holistic approach to supporting producers. Fair Trade goes way beyond fair wages. Though providing a fair wage to artisans is key, many of them will still find themselves in hardship conditions for several reasons. Here are some examples that producers face:

  • Lack of product readiness, little market viability, inadequate product design and poor quality
  • Logistical issues like lack access to raw materials and the inability to ship reliably
  •  Technical problems like inferior quality tools, insufficient skills and training, and production process issues
  •  Organizational challenges like inadequate market knowledge and lack of production infrastructure
Literacy program sponsored by Matr Boomie to women artisans in Rajasthan, India. 

Literacy program sponsored by Matr Boomie to women artisans in Rajasthan, India. 

Until these issues are addressed, paying an artisan more will not create sustainability. For example, if an artisan does not have access to good quality and well-priced raw material, their product will either be too expensive or of inferior quality. Either would be problematic for sustainable production. An easy shortcut would be to subsidize artisans by purchasing poor quality product or ones that are overpriced.  Fair Trade mandates instead that members explore the root of the market issue while empowering the artisan to improve their supply chain; the relationship is a much deeper level of partnership going beyond just buying and selling.

Sometimes Fair Trade is accused of protectionism or lowering product standards. In my opinion, is it quite the opposite. The Fair Trade movement is really about creating a respectful relationship focused on creating business solutions in order to connect more people to trade. From my experience, marginalized artisans can advance to become self-sustainable. That will always be the goal.

What sets Fair Trade apart from Fair Labor is the holistic approach to supporting producers. Fair Trade goes way beyond fair wages.

From Behind The Veil - Rani, Queen of Courage

Parents in India choose the names of their children carefully and based on special characteristics.  One of our talented quality inspectors in Jaipur is a young but unwavering woman named Rani. Meaning Queen in Hindi, Rani could not be a more appropriate title for this amazing leader.  Rani grew up with three siblings but raised without a mother. Because of low household income and gender bias, she receive few education opportunities growing up.

Rani at SETU  office in India

Rani at SETU  office in India

Rani was married very early and did not have much of a say in choosing her husband. Unfortunately, her husband ended up falling victim to alcoholism. A photographer by profession, at one point Rani’s husband sold his camera to buy alcohol. By this time this happened, Rani was dealing living in poverty and in an abusive marriage.

About 10 years ago, Rani starting working as a quality checker with our India team, SETU. She is a hard worker and always ensured that her personal challenges did not bleed into her work. After joining our team, she began to financially support her family. One of Rani’s children is in need of specialized medical care and she has managed to care and provide for. In spite of her work with SETU, Rani had difficulty getting ahead of her many challenges.

Five years ago, the SETU team moved to a new town. Rani decided to join them. This was a very bold decision since extended conservative family who opposed the move. She was able to convince her husband to move which allowed him a fresh start. We are excited to report that he started working again! Rani also encourage two of her unemployed brothers to move and helped them find jobs.

With the assistance of a SETU-backed loan, Rani was able to purchase an apartment for her family. Having a home has anchored her family with a solid foundation from which to build upon. Through all of the challenges, Rani has maintained a strong work ethic and was recently promoted to Quality Inspector. One of Rani’s goals is to ensure that her children receive a good education and experience some of the blessings in life that she was not afforded.

Rani is truly a Queen of perseverance, hard work, and devotion to her family.

We salute her courage!

 

 

 

Happy World Fair Trade Day!

Hello New Friends,

After spending my first two months at Matr Boomie getting my feet wet, I can safely say I now feel at home! I was friends with some of you before I joined the MB marketing team and a fan of other’s work.  I look forward getting to know ALL of you over the coming months – hopefully in person!

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The challenges that the Fair Trade retail community face are not new to me.  My former ethical fashion mentor, Kirsten Dickerson, and I had numerous conversations on how to best grow her brand, Raven + Lily. Do you lead with a mission or do you lead with design?  We agreed that is vital that everyone understand the conditions that their clothes and goods were made under. But I further questioned, Would those items be purchased in the first place if the design wasn’t good?  I encouraged Kirsten to lead with design and follow with a mission; give customers a great product that also has a beautiful story to tell.

Tomorrow, May 13th we celebrate World Fair Trade Day with the mandate: Be an Agent for Change. As more conventional brands like West Elm, Anthropologie, and Target begin to adopt fair trade ideals, many retailers like yourself have been feeling the pinch of slowed business growth.  So I challenged my team, How can we Be an Agent for Change for our Retailers?  After much discussion, we realized that our best contribution to you and our artisan partners is increased brand awareness and shared marketing efforts. I think you’ll be excited with what we came up with!  

  • We recently debuted our Ethical Kiosk Program to help you better tell the story behind our products. This beautifully designed stand-alone kiosk with integrated video has been shown to increase sales by over 260%. No joke!
  • You might have noticed some changes to our email newsletters. We are improving the content of our Newsletter program and anything you read is yours to share with your audience.
  •  We will be launching a new social media campaign next month on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.  Our marketing efforts benefit more than just us; they are designed for your usage as well.  You don’t need our permission to repost but we love it when you tag us!
  • Manish & Ruchi are in India right now visiting family and artisans.  They will be bringing back some amazing supplies for in-store event kits.  In a few months, we will be offering ETHICAL EVENTS IN A BOX. This is a fun and creative way for you to engage with your customers without a lot of work!
  • We’re re-designing an amazing navigation map so that MB fans can easily find you to shop in person.

I office with some of the best marketing pros in the business – Andrés, Joelle, and Cassie are true Fair Trade heroes.  Need some help with economical events, better email open rates, or improving your Instagram engagement?  Email us any questions at marketing@matrboomie.com.  If the problem is more complex than an email response, we will set up a call to help you find an elegant solution. The MB Marketing Team is at your service!

In the coming weeks, you will notice a small change to the entry of our website.  Don’t worry, we’re just signing up new friends! All the same beautiful, Fair Trade gifts will be waiting for you on the other side.  

India Trip 2016 - New Delhi

India Trip 2016 - New Delhi

Thank you for being an Agent for Change on behalf of those marginalized by poverty, climate change, and economic crises around the world.  We stand alongside you working to make a difference in the lives of our artisan partners living in India.  And if we are also able to help make a difference in your life, all the better.

Happy World Fair Trade Day!

 

 

Working With Women: Why It Matters

Each month, our Austin team gets together for "TED Talk & Tacos" to share inspiration from leaders around the world. In our last gathering, Matr Boomie Customer Service Rep, Cora Kraverath, chose a Ted Talk video by theater producer Jude Kelly on the importance of giving women the opportunity to tell their own story as well as the story of humanity. During the post-video discussion, we brainstormed ways to better share the stories of the women in India that we work with.

Over 50% of our 900 plus artisan partners are now women. We seek to work with as many women as possible and I want to share more on why.

We firmly believe that Fair Trade applies to marginalized producers who have little or no access to trade.  Women artisans in a male dominated society like that in India are further constrained by these societal boundaries:

  • Women (especially mothers) are expected to stay at home and care for the children and household

  • Women are not given the exposure to participate in trade, travel, or household decision-making

  • The majority of women artisans are not educated and lack necessary tools to operate an enterprise

With so many obstacles to face, many women artisans are pushed to the vocational sidelines. Unable to generate independent income of their own, the voice of women in some communities can be silenced. Unfortunately, this results in the further strengthening of gender inequity.

These conditions have made increasing opportunities for women artisans a top priority for Matr Boomie. Connecting women in India with employment options is undoubtably a challenging process. Women are less motivated to start working in the beginning as they recognize the many obstacles they have to overcome.  They lack confidence in the value of their art as well as in their production abilities. In spite of free training and tools to get started, many families are skeptical of our intentions in seeking out women for work.  It isn’t just a fear of Westerners; even designers on our India team (SETU) have had their share of "interesting" experiences trying to connect women to trade opportunities.

There is a silver lining. Once these women start earning an income of their own and build trust in working with us, their confidence levels are boosted and they start to find their footing as artisans. The pride we feel in their accomplishments is further validated when their products are appreciated in the western market.

One last note: With Mother’s Day around the corner, I have been thinking a lot about the role that my wife, Ruchi, plays in our two daughter’s lives.  She empowers them daily to trust their voice and let it be heard.  Every woman artisan we work with is encouraged to find her voice and use it. We cannot stand by and allow another generation of girls to grows up with mothers whose voices are silenced.

 

 

We would love to hear the stories of women in your community so please share them below. Thank you for joining us in empowering women through action and compassion. Happy Mother’s Day!

 

Challenges of an Artisanal Supply Chain

Patrick our warehouse manager.

Patrick our warehouse manager.

Last holiday season we were out of stock for many of our best sellers. Working hard on creating and heavily promoting these great products, left our back orders looking ugly, and our warehouse manager Patrick unhappy.

An artisanal supply chain like ours is fairly complex with a number of variables that can cause unexpected delays. Although our retail partners are extremely patient when it comes to backorders, I want to  take this opportunity to share some of the reasons of what causes this variability in our supply chain:

Force of Nature: Our artisan partners usually work from home in rural villages. Being exposed to harsh weather conditions like heavy rains, snow, and extreme heat can easily disrupt their daily lives and cause long delays in production.

At times, these villages can be cut off for a long time in such conditions. Some production processes are also quite weather dependent. For example, in the block printing community,  artisans depend on hot weather to dry the textiles.  As for woodcarvers, they need to wait until the moisture is low in the atmosphere for wood to dry. Each art form has it’s own challenges, and when it comes to Mother Nature, there’s very little we can control.

Rural Connectivity: Rural artisans are dependent on unreliable transportation options to ship their goods,  such as train freight or local buses. These options usually have no tracking, and there are times when products are delayed for a week or the cargo gets lost.

Social Events: Artisans are extremely community oriented and social events take precedence over production. Events like marriage, death,  and festivals can sometimes push production down by as much as several weeks.

Holi festival in Jaipur, India.

Holi festival in Jaipur, India.

No Backups: In the artisanal supply chain there are no alternatives. Any outage of tools, supplies, power, etc. can disrupt our production plan.

Political Waves: Rural areas are prone to strong political influences which can bring positive or negative results. Nonetheless, political rallies can be a weeklong affair. Last Fall, India had a demonetization drive which brought the entire country to a standstill for over a month.

Quality Rejections: For artisanal goods, the production time is usually 2 to 3 months. Once production is completed, goods are sent to our SETU coordination center where they are inspected for quality. From time to time, products don’t pass the quality test and we have to start production all over again.

A scary list, but why do keep pushing? Two reasons:

Woodcarving artisans in North Central India. 

Woodcarving artisans in North Central India. 

 First, in our experience, artisans start to overcome these issues the more they are exposed to trade. This allows them to realize the importance of a dependable supply chain. As they start gaining experience through time, they start finding creative solutions to some of the issues mentioned above. That is why it is important to not shy away from partnering with them. That is the only way they will  be able to overcome these hurdles to trade.

Second, these products are simply worth the effort. We strongly believe in the positive impact that each handmade piece creates on the lives of artisans and the planet. We would love to hear your experiences with artisanal supply chains, what works and what keeps you going.

Thanks for being a part of our journey through this blog.

- Manish Gupta

My Struggles with Fair Trade

A message from Manish

On our recent trip to India, I was motivated by seeing the change we can make. 

On our recent trip to India, I was motivated by seeing the change we can make. 

Last month was World Fair Trade Month, and now that it’s over we mustn’t forget to stay fixed on Fair Trade principles and keep striving to meet them. When I look back on my journey in Fair Trade over the last 10 years, I think about all we’ve accomplished and overcome — this keeps me going.

I want to share with you these struggles as a way of going deeper into the topic of Fair Trade. The list can get long so I will keep it brief here:

The pursuit for perfect fair trade

Fair Trade is a big commitment, encompassing big principles like Fair Labor practices, environmental stewardship, children's rights, etc. In today's complex supply chain, trying to make sure that we are living up to each of these principles for the over 40 different supply chains we have is a daunting task. Every time we dig deeper into a product's supply chain we find challenges. For example, when we went to a third party contractor for our jewelry artisans that does metal etching, we found artisans were being exposed to chemical fumes. It took our India team, SETU, a year of work to set a new and safe process in place but it can feel like our work is never ending. Will we ever have a 100% fairly traded product?

Leaving some artisans behind

A number of artisans we started working with, especially some rural communities with great need for trade partnerships, turn out to be artisan communities where creating marketable products is most challenging. Though our product design team puts in extra effort to design products for these "at risk" artisans, sometimes we are not able to offer continuous employment to them. With our commitment to long term partnerships and our love for these communities, it feels like a failure to me.

Values vs Value proposition

All the social impact we create is based on economic sustainability for the artisan communities. Our goal therefore is a maximize product sales so we can give more business to artisans. One of the challenges we face in growing sales in the western market is lack of consumer awareness during purchasing.  Almost everyone I know will agree that they do not support child labor, yet only a small fraction of those consumers ensure that the products they are buying do not support child labor practices. If our Values are missing from a purely value based purchasing decision, sustainable products do not stand a chance. In this time of technology and awareness, it seems like we are too slow to change our buying pattern as a society.

If we can improve the lives of even a few people, we consider that a win.

Do issues like these bring me down? At times it does but most times no. For me Fair Trade is way of working and not a time-defined end goal. It is a way of working with the mindset of continuous improvement for people and our planet through trade. We keep going deeper one step at time and keep making a difference. We are not perfect but we are proud that we stay committed to our mission and we celebrate every little positive change we make. 

The fact that we were able to save 4 to 5 artisans from being exposed to chemical fumes everyday in the metal etching plant is a big deal. I am proud of that, and this is my motivation to keep going. What is yours?


As the writer of this blog series, I want to express my gratitude to our audience for taking the time to go deeper with me into Fair Trade and for sharing your appreciation. I would like to hear more from you about what specific areas you would like me to discuss in future. I also welcome dialog around these pieces through FacebookTwitter, blog comments or even email (marketing@matrboomie.com). Our different perspectives make us stronger. All one All Kin. 

All That Glitters is not Gold

An Importer’s Perspective

As a kid growing up in India, our parents would take us to tourist destinations during the summer break. I remember seeing a lot of gift shops selling artisanal goods to tourists at these places. Those goods were unique since we never saw them in our local daily markets. They also seemed to be reasonably priced. My impression, seeing those artisanal goods being sold plentifully, was that the artisans were getting good business.

When I started working with artisan groups closely, I learned that my earlier notion of artisans having a lot of work could not be further from the truth. Most artisans we work with share their concerns about not having enough work. Also, the prices they can fetch for their crafts through domestic traders are too low to be sustainable. This has lead me to the realization that artisan-made goods don’t automatically equate to healthy returns for the producers who made them.

Artisan-made goods don’t automatically equate to healthy returns for the producers who made them.

The biggest reason why artisans are vulnerable is because they frequently have to face the decision of having no business or selling at a unsustainable price. Before, their crafts were a part of their everyday life but now they are only novelties being sold in tourist shops. To give you an idea, sometimes our Fair Trade purchase price for volume quantity (direct from artisans) is higher than the retail price found at these tourist shops. It’s something that has taken me some time to be OK with.

I now see artisan-made goods in many big box stores at prices so low that I am sure it is not sustainable for artisans. Here’s the big questions: As consumers, should we support that? For the artisans, is selling their goods at low prices better than no business at all?

My sense is clear no for the following reasons:

  • Unsustainable wages start to push artisans into a cycle of poverty.
  • Artificially low prices in a few stores has the potential to lower the market pricing for that entire craft which is extremely damaging.
  • The effects above start to impact an artisan's motivation and pride in their art, which inherently puts the art on its death bed.

For me, artisanal goods made sustainably are more than a piece of art. A happy artisan puts soul into each piece they create. Pieces made by artisans that are struggling and demotivated are devoid of that soul. To me they are only artisanal looking and not really “artisan made.”

Manish Gupta, Co-Founder, MATR BOOMIE


As the writer of this blog series, I want to express my gratitude to our audience for taking the time to go deeper with me into Fair Trade and for sharing your appreciation. I would like to hear more from you about what specific areas you would like me to discuss in future. I also welcome dialog around these pieces through Facebook, Twitter, blog comments or even email (marketing@matrboomie.com). Our different perspectives make us stronger. All one All Kin. 

 

The Invisible Damage of Poverty: A Letter from Manish

Before I became involved in Fair Trade, any time I would see a child working somewhere, I used to feel angry towards the parents of the kids for sending them to work at such a young age. Also, it was upsetting to hear about trafficking cases where parents would trust their kids with strangers on promises of good jobs in far away cities. I somehow blamed the parents for being greedy. 

Working closely with artisans in rural areas, I observed artisans’ children at varying ages supporting them in production. Having in-depth conversations with artisans, I realized that just like any other parent, artisans also want their children to get a good education and just be a child. They don't have their children working in order to make extra cash to spend but simply because the artisan cannot afford to send their children to school. In absence of education, artisans feel that learning art/vocation will allow the child to make a living.

Just like us, parents in India simply want their kids to get an education and just be kids.

In desperate times, parents often have to take huge risks and make sacrifices in hopes that their children will have a better life. 

In desperate times, parents often have to take huge risks and make sacrifices in hopes that their children will have a better life. 

Sometimes in a family of many children, the eldest kids start working early on so together the family can afford to send the younger kids to school. Similarly, I realize that in cases of trafficking, though the parents are suspicious of strangers claiming to find a "good job" for their kids in far away cities, the alternative of not sending the child is a life of poverty and hopelessness. In that desperation, parents are willing to risk the unthinkable outcome by sending their children with strangers.

It makes me emotional, thinking about such brutal face of poverty and how it can strangle human spirit, especially when combined with lack of education, awareness and opportunities. We need high level policy changes to make a profound shift, but one of the key elements in reducing this risk is to strengthen rural economies by supporting rural businesses and artisans. Fair Trade is one of the few strategies that I think can make a significant impact on artisans and the overall economy of their communities through:

  • Connecting rural artisans to trade allowing them to make a sustainable living for their family through support in design, quality and logistics (Read More)
  • Long term trade relationships allowing artisans to plan for their future
  • Providing art form training for youth to enter trade, creating new jobs.
  • Focus on empowering women and marginalized artisans who are more at risk (read previous blog for details)

Once the cycle of poverty is broken, there is hope for, and confidence in, a strong future. The most efficient way to stop trafficking is not by intercepting traffickers at borders but by empowering the ones at risk and stopping it from ever happening in the first place.

-Manish Gupta, Matr Boomie Founder

Let's do what we can to break the vicious cycle of poverty for the sake of our most vulnerable world citizens. 

Let's do what we can to break the vicious cycle of poverty for the sake of our most vulnerable world citizens. 


Would you like to add to the conversation? Comment below. If there are topics you’d like us to explore in a future blog, comment or send an email to marketing@matrboomie.com. It is our goal to inform people on Fair Trade, our mission, and the global artisan community. As always, we'd love to have you join our social media communities. Find us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Retailer Scope: Creating Shoppertainment with Camille Akin

Camille Akin of Eagle Vision

It is our pleasure to bring you another installation of our Retailer Scope series. Last time, we spoke with Sarah Culler of Fair Trade Winds about growing your business. This month, Camille Akin of Eagle Vision retail consulting was kind enough to offer some in-depth, comprehensive advice for finding your core customers and giving them unforgettable experiences in your store. Camille has done it all: She's been a book editor, ran her own craft retail store, travelled to India twice to help empower women by setting up a micro enterprise, and is now at the helm of her own retail consultancy firm, Eagle Vision. Her business aims to help small retailers create successful marketing campaigns, craft a strong brand identity and media presence, plan unforgettable events, and improve upon many facets of the retail experience. Not were we lucky enough interview Ms. Akin, you can look forward to part two of this interview coming later this year. Settle in -- this is a detailed interview you won't want to miss. 

You’re a big believer in the value of promotional events. How does one manage and measure the effectiveness of hosting events in their store?

I look at promotional events as a key component of an overall marketing strategy. Events help create buzz and build a solid base of loyal customers. And because I’m a firm believer in the 80/20 Rule (80 percent of your business comes from 20 percent of your customers), it’s critical to find and then focus on that 20 percent. That is your store’s community. In turn, you can engage your community in taking an active role in planning, participating and helping with the promotional events. People love to feel needed and that they are part of something bigger than themselves. Take the time to foster these relationships. As your community develops, ask for volunteers to help manage events.

80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers. It’s critical to find and focus on that 20%.

You will find that measuring effectiveness of these events is not quantitative; rather, it’s qualitative. How well are you connecting with your community? In my stores, we taught that there is healing in crafting. We hosted a large-scale event each year for breast cancer awareness. This event took on a life of its own and was truly something that our community talked about all year. They gathered their friends and family together to be a part of helping raise funds and awareness to help other community members survive cancer. My rule of thumb is “keep them talking”. Word of mouth is powerful. If your clients/customers have a great experience at an event, they will be talking about it to their friends, family and colleagues. Make it meaningful so they can’t forget about you … and they can’t wait to return to your store to “experience” the magic you create. As Fair Trade retailers, you have such a unique opportunity to educate and inspire the people who walk through your doors.

Also relating to events, how often should you host them and can that vary depending on the size of the business?

The success of my stores was hosting one major event and two minor events each month. This allowed me to expand from 1200 square feet to 3600 square feet within two years of start-up. Yes, it was a lot of work. But it paid off. You want to give customers a reason to come back. Other than providing a great product mix and unique finds, what keeps your customers coming back? My “secret sauce” was planning fantastic events. Educational. Inspirational. Motivational. Get creative. Bring in guest speakers/teachers. Provide demonstrations of products. Host classes or movie screenings. Make it fun; make it memorable. This is known as “shoppertainment”. Customers seek an experience every time they come in to your store. Your challenge is to continually offer up new ways to make the experience a positive and engaging one.

This was true when I worked for a local nonprofit. We hosted a fashion show that showcased designers who transformed traditional Indian saris into new garments. We made this a competition between these designers and the winner was invited to travel to India to help further our nonprofit mission. Each of these designers engaged their friends and family to help them compete. This was a great way to get the word out about our organization and build upon our community.

How important is it to collaborate with other businesses and organizations? What are the benefits of collaboration?

Collaboration with your vendor/partners is a key to your success. I call them vendor/partners because they are indeed partners in the supply chain. There is a synergy in collaborating with your vendors. It means they will help market you and your mission and help educate the general public about Fair Trade. When their products do well in your store then they see reorders. Bounce ideas off them. Collaborate with them to host events. Ask them to send a demonstrator or artisan. Ask for materials about their brand that will help you educate your customers.

Don’t be afraid to get creative with your vendor/partners. Guaranteed sale trunk shows allow you to bring in product and talk it up. Your vendors will get valuable feedback from customers on what they love and perhaps, what they don’t, about a certain line. These trunk shows were very profitable for us and allowed us to keep a steady stream of new product on our shelves, and it allowed us to share insights with the company on what customers wanted for future releases.

Collaborate with your competitors. We called this co-opetition. Work together with others in your industry to create fun ways to draw your customers in. We would participate in a large shop hop with approximately 50 stores each summer. We would again participate in a smaller shop hop with our eight competitor stores in San Diego County. Customers want to see you working with your competitors. When you collaborate with these other stores, everyone wins.

When it comes to digital marketing, it can be tough to know where to invest your efforts. What are the most effective/efficient ways to market your business online?

That is very individual. Considering we are living in a world where Social Media reigns, you have a plethora of choices. The good news: You can create buzz for free! With fair trade, it’s about telling a story of the artisans and their countries; stories about their craft and handiwork that you can weave into your store’s blog, website, and social media campaigns. Compelling stories such as these have great success on Facebook and Instagram.

Use Facebook Live to introduce a new event or product. I would select a specific day of the week to always post about something new. Make it Meaningful Mondays or Fair Trade Friday Facts. Get creative with how you tell your story and invite your community to be a part of telling the story too. Remember, your customers want their voices heard. So engage them in what they want to see in your store. Ask them what events they would participate in.

What’s the recipe for creating engaging content that people will interact with and relate to?

Content is king. Make it relatable and relevant. Good content will create and sustain an emotional connection with your customers. The 20 percent of your customers who make up the 80 percent of your sales will want new and fresh stories of the artisans and organizations. Those who support fair trade are people who care deeply about others and are passionate about improving lives in often forgotten areas of the world. Tell the story of the artisan groups. Provide photos or short videos of them creating the products.

I strongly believe in the “less is more” philosophy. Fewer words, more pictures. A combination of visuals and good SEO (keywords that help your clients find you online and help your ranking) will help you tell your story. Find a good content writer to help you manage your social media channels. And don’t skimp on a good email marketing campaign. Email marketing is more powerful now that ever. It’s your lifeline to your customers, as they are checking emails from the moment they wake up till the moment they are getting ready for bed.

Always have a system to capture your customers’ emails. Make sure you are sending relevant information on a consistent basis to their inbox. Focus on what’s new in your store. The new events. The new products. Your customers crave “new” experiences … and your content should provide a teaser invite to come see it for themselves.

Both digital marketing and events have their benefits, but which of these two marketing efforts has the greatest impact for a new store or a stagnant business?

What is the first thing that a new store does? A Grand Opening. The reason. It creates buzz. It builds excitement. As a business owner in your community, you are a leader and an innovator. You bring something unique to your community. So it makes sense to keep drawing in your community through hosting memorable events. Most businesses only host the grand opening or an anniversary event. Don’t fall prey to that. Send out a calendar of events and you’ll start to see “repeat” customers attending, and you will find they bring a friend (or two). Remember, people like to attend events with friends. These like-minded people become your store’s brand ambassadors.

In our store, we made our customers feel a part of our store mission by creating an atmosphere of fun and excitement. When you have engaged customers, you will avoid stagnation. These engaged customers will help you determine your product offering and help you chart your overall marketing strategy. It’s important to focus on finding new customers to always add to your existing base. When working for the nonprofit, we would set up selling events that allowed us to tap into markets of potential like-minded people through wellness events. We found that people who make health and fitness a priority give preference to helping social causes. This was a great way to spend our time and resources. Then we would have great photos to share with both our new and existing community of followers.

Finally, if time and resources are limited, what should a retailer focus their efforts on: events or digital marketing?

Time and resources will be limited. You are a retailer, and in many cases, a one-person retailer. So you wear many hats each day. To stay on top of my game, I made my marketing calendar each year based around events. I spent a good amount of time planning these events and working with my vendor-partners to help locate those in my industry who could help me host memorable events. This weathered us through the greatest recession of the last two decades. I found that the media loved talking up these events, so we greatly benefited from the “free” press.

With digital marketing, I used an independent contractor to help me get the word out via social media. The investment was minimal and it freed me up to focus on staying true what my store was known for: A Place to Create. Events are personal. They allow your customers to be a part of something bigger than themselves. And there is great power in this connection.


Would you like to add to the conversation? Comment below. If there are topics you’d like us to explore in our next Retailer Scope installment, comment or send an email to marketing@matrboomie.com. In this series, it is our goal to provide retail insights from industry leaders. As always, we'd love to have you join our social media communities. Find us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Retailer Scope: Growing Your Business with Sarah Culler

In this latest installment of our Retailer Scope series, we gained some key insights from Sarah Culler, the branch manager of Fair Trade Winds. Fair Trade Winds is a family-run retail business with seven locations across the country and an online storefront. Their holistic view of the retail experience and supply chain and their dedication to the principles of Fair Trade make them a leader in the industry. Culler's people-first perspective on the retail experience is refreshing and inspiring. Read on to hear what she has to say about creative lasting impressions, growing your business, and staying invested.  

 

What is the recipe for creating a positive lasting impression on your customers? 

The connection a handmade product creates, between the artisan’s hands and the customer’s is truly a unique thing in today’s mass-produced society.

There’s a delicate balance between talking to or guiding customers and letting them explore on their own. Every visit should be a chance for customers to learn something new or find a product they will love or relate to in an authentic way. First, they are drawn to a product with their eyes, then they appreciate it even more when they pick it up, read the tag and discover how intricate it is. The connection a handmade product creates, between the artisan’s hands and the customer’s is truly a unique thing in today’s mass-produced society.

On the Fair Trade Winds site, you mention that the Fair Trade landscape has changed dramatically in a short time. What’s the future of Fair Trade? 

Leather envelope clutch handmade in Ethiopia

Yes, in the 10 years we have been doing this, we have seen the fair trade movement grow quite a bit. There are more fair trade products available now than ever before, which is excellent, but for fair trade to really grow I think we will need to see the stories of fair trade presented to the larger public. People need to see how fair trade is connected to so many current issues in the world, from women’s empowerment and equality to children’s rights, environmental protection and a general respect for all cultural identities. Fair trade is more than just a cup of coffee, a delicious chocolate bar or a shirt you wear — it is a conscious lifestyle based on respecting the interconnected nature of our lives.

I think fair trade could really become more mainstream in the next few years, as more and more “conventional” brands embrace customers’ demands for transparency. This growing demand has been fueled a lot by the recent fashion revolution. Fashion is such a huge industry and something we all think about on some level. I think clothing will be a big catalyst in fair trade becoming more popular in the U.S. 

You’ve done a successful job curating merchandise for your stores -- what’s your secret when it comes to picking winning products? 

Colorful display at the Fair Trade Winds Fairfax location

We always like to start by considering products that we would buy and use ourselves. We love that so many fair trade products are both beautiful and functional, whether it’s a kitchen towel, a birthday card, a pair of socks or a handy tote bag. We also know you have to learn your customers and put yourself in their shoes. For instance, right now we happen to be selling a lot of rings. They aren’t really my style, but now I have my eye out for them and keep them stocked! And more often than not, some of our most popular products are those that really have a unique story about the artisans that make them or the material or methods used.

There is a science to retail purchasing which we do embrace, however we also take into consideration the human element, both the changing “moods” or trends of consumer demand and the fact that we deeply respect the time each artisan spent crafting an item. Every product will find a happy home if it’s well made. 

You started your business by selling products locally at fairs, events, and churches. Now you’ve grown to six locations nationwide. In terms of growth strategy, what worked and didn’t work as you’ve expanded? 

We are a family-run business so, other than our sister store Momentum in CO, we have opened locations where our family members live. Running any small business requires a lot of time and attention so it helps tremendously to have people we can trust and count on running each location. We are all very invested in growing our business in a responsible way that supports the larger fair trade movement. One important aspect of that growth is location - the more people we can reach, the more we can support artisan communities around the world. To this end, we have recently re-located two of our stores to busier shopping areas. While a re-location certainly creates a time of transition for your current customers, we found these moves to be highly advantageous and will ultimately help us support more artisans!

One of our challenges has been learning the different customer demands in different geographic and economic areas. Our stores are spread throughout the country, so each is a little different. While we carry many of the same products in all our stores, we also tailor some inventory based on location. This is a continuous process, tweaking inventory as products fade in and out of popularity, and also sharing successful products between stores. Sometimes one store will try a new product out and if it does well, we’ll introduce it at other stores too if we think it’s a good fit.    

What’s one small change retailers can make on the show floor to increase sales?

Move products around and change displays often. A stagnant product in one place may sell right away if you just display it in a new spot. You would be surprised. This is especially effective if you have a lot of regular local customers, as opposed to tourists or one time shoppers. We find that when we move product displays around, customers tend to “discover” products they may have missed before. 


Would you like to add to the conversation? Comment below. If there are topics you’d like us to explore in our next Retailer Scope installment, comment or send an email to marketing@matrboomie.com. In this series, it is our goal to provide retail insights from industry leaders. As always, we'd love to have you join our social media communities. Find us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram