Logic: we need to establish parameters for sustainable success for the environment, community and our businesses. Pricing is complicated, and incoming and outgoing costs may vary, requiring constant research. Cultural negligence is an opportunity loss for all of us.
If after reading this, it also resonates with you, I want to know you exist. If you have additional thoughts of your own after reading this, I would listen.
Many years before I started my business, I worked as a buyer for retail shops. Later on, I would create a tool to measure the viability of square footage throughout a retail storefront, based on customer trends, seasons and goals for growth. These things sound like something a recent college grad wouldn’t be interested in, especially an avid cyclist who had never owned a car, worked in the outdoor industry advocated for shared use access for youth and minorities. Exclusion was prevalent in the industry and I struggled to feel safe in my work environment and most open space, but I needed them so I developed a knack for tolerating discomfort. I knew this wasn’t right and I saw my discomfort reflected in untapped markets and unspoken stakeholders in the environment. I sought to give a voice to NEW customers and meet them where their needs lay was like permaculture, cultivating active and responsible users in the outdoors, while addressing existing barriers. It would be inappropriate to push performance brands on folks not acquainted with the outdoor industry’s marketing tendencies, and when I consulted a local, multi-store chain to create unique merchandising plans for each store to accommodate each niche culture, and it was never more apparent to me that supporting diversity could bring success for everyone. Marketing is advocacy.
Money is gross, smells weird and generations of people have been exploited for the benefit of the privileged few. Yet, we live in a culture that quantifies everything with it: products, equipment, labor, natural resources. How do we reconcile ourselves with this historical loss?
We listen. We pay fair prices in order to charge fair prices. We reevaluate regularly. For Apothecary Muse, this means accepting no labor that is unpaid, including friends. Establishing a trend of unpaid labor is a privilege that not everyone has, undermines competitors, devalues the laborer’s time, and falsely inflates your profit margin. Once you bite that apple, it is difficult to pay someone else and face the person you accepted free labor from. You might lose friends, or if they are your family, lifelong trust. Not to mention that there are actual labor laws preventing a business from accepting unpaid labor if it could be payable.
When it comes to raw materials, packaging and equipment; this can be difficult unless everything is affordable and accessible. I’m appalled at how much of my bottom line goes to shipping costs, incoming and outgoing – and the devastating environmental impact that has because of the shipping travel itself. This is an area I am constantly trying to improve while meeting the needs of a growing economy that, like me, doesn’t have access to quality goods within travel distance. When my business was tiny, just selling to a few folks and shops locally, I was purchasing at retail prices and selling for close to what it “cost” me to make it. I wasn’t making a profit, but I was also working full time with a paycheck and healthcare elsewhere so it didn’t seem like a priority. I started noticing lots of other shops offering free shipping yet a retailer even told me that they thought my products were overpriced. I checked my privilege. My job paid only enough to keep me fed, not enough to save money or take a loss with my sales from my tiny “business”. I was so excited about all the things that I could make, that I tried to make everything that I could possibly make to replace household items I would purchase. If I didn’t know it then, I know now that the quality of my products wasn’t great because I was caught up in the romance of creative expression, and perpetuated underserving the community.
I lost my job. I was suddenly forced to reevaluate my – everything. Newfound free time spent outside helped me to problem-solve and on a weeklong backpacking trip I decided to take my business more expertly and intertwine it with my advocacy. I brainstormed ways to improve, tackling better ingredient sourcing, sustainable packaging (including shipping materials), and more streamlined production methods for overall quality control. I made some difficult decisions about which products to drop from my line (including some good ones) so I could focus on quality for a more reasonable few products, purchased raw materials in bulk, rebranded and relaunched my business with the support of a small, community-backed loan. I picked up some part-time work as prep cook in a local restaurant to maintain some finances (not all), while the rebranding was underway. Finding a way to valuate other household contributions became necessary, more than comfortable. My tolerance to discomfort has waned over the years and I’m aiming for something that doesn’t conflict with my ability to fulfill production demand, knowing much of the work is mine along the way.
Yet, I chose this path and many do not have this choice. This drives my research in sourcing through sustainable suppliers, from permaculture practices to reduced carbon footprint on freight. The community backed loan endowed me with this privilege – which I’d never had, and fear I could lose at any moment – and I am acutely aware that others do not have. This affects my competitors, because having a little breathing room in my finances changed my perspective. I haven’t forgotten where “I came from” though, I just unlocked some new level in the game of business where I had more opportunities and I was able to have conversations with new people about environmental issues. After being used to being ignored in a male biased industry, I was able to increase my availability to advocate for the environment, meet with legislators and mobilize administration to change a law. My business had empowered me to envision success and it was a new flavor. I wanted my competitors to have some breathing room, too. If all my competitors were able to have these conversations, sustainable advocacy could have such powerful momentum.
In summary, I am sharing my personal story because it is no simple thing to calculate the price of an item, because that is unique from the cost. If you came to this website looking for advice, it would be a disservice for me to generalize your situation because it will be different from mine. I can say that it won’t hurt you to start by looking at where you can pay fairly – according to the seller – for everything, It may take years of continuous research (I’m still going 6 years after initial launch), but you may find you appreciate your products, your time and your self more as well. Others may see the value in these as well. I am so grateful for these 6 years where I have had the opportunity to learn more about myself, the community and environment needs and it is my hope that I may be able to continue to learn and contribute in all these ways for many more years to come with a growing team. I hope there are other folks as interested in cooperative industry leadership as I am.