Can you afford it? By Lois Hewitt

Many years ago, deep into my retail addiction and self-induced looming financial disaster, I started an eBay store. It was small at first and over a period of about ten years grew into a store with over 600 items. The idea was this online store would be my financial saving grace. Over the ten or so years of having it, there was money made. Did it pay for itself, not really…

In order to make money on eBay, at least in my experience, you need really nice stuff that you are able to sell at a good price, stuff you just cannot find anymore and/or lots of cheap stuff that people still want but will buy cheaply. I had a mixture of each. Honestly though, mostly discontinued foreign stuff.

One day, I got the idea that if I opened a real shop I could (1) reclaim all the space in my house that was warehousing all the stuff and (2) make some money.

I had a friend who happened to have a small retail space available and I rented it for a very reasonable price per month. I got the licenses, insurance and etc. I never realized how much stuff you really needed to actually open a shop and just how many fixture you would need. I learned on the fly.

My husband made me furniture and I began filling the shop. I was able to buy quite a bit of inventory from another shop that was closing down (a red flag perhaps?). I sold jewelry, figurines, scarves, dresses, books, greeting cards and such.

The first day I switched the sign on the door from closed to open was exciting. I could feel all my dreams being fulfilled… Or did I?

Some people liked the shop but didn’t buy anything. Some people hated it and didn’t buy anything. Most people had an opinion on what to sell and how much to charge. Eager to please I listened to every suggestion. Mostly, I learned that I was not selling enough American made products.

I actually agreed with that consensus so I began scouring the Internet for small American businesses that I could buy from. I found a handful that made quality products and that I could afford. Many of the items I liked I could not afford even at wholesale pricing.

My thought was that I would start out small and then I could reinvest in more and varied products later. I made a lot of Made in America signs and did my displays in the front of the shop and waited for all the happy customers.

You could tell immediately that the quality was better. You could tell the items were made with care. You could also tell the pricing was much higher than the foreign mass produced items. I did not take as much of a markup because I felt strongly about selling these products. I figured quality over quantity was my new business model.

I waited for sales to start and I waited some more. The reviews were great but I was told repeatedly that the pricing was too high. I lowered the pricing and continued to wait. Lowered the pricing to just above my cost, made bigger and flashier signs. The sales never really came.

Now let me stop here for a moment, I had a lot of really good friends who supported my shop. They kept me afloat and I can never thank them enough. I also had a handful of customers who supported me. I was truly blessed.

The problem lies in that in order to pay rent, insurance, taxes, inventory and costs associated with selling goods, you need to sell a lot. Many days I made no sales at all. My main daily totals were under $50 a day. Luckily, I was working at a paying job during this time or the doors would have closed much sooner.

Almost one year to the date of opening, I sold my entire inventory at a huge loss, took down my store sign and closed the doors for good.

I know what you may be thinking… Maybe I just was not savvy enough to own my own shop. I agree. Maybe the economy was really bad and opening a retail store was financially a bad idea. I agree. There are a lot more reasons why I should never have done this, but I did. I had some fun, met some amazing people and finally realized that I needed to change my life completely. This was the last thing I did in Ohio. The realization that my life was not working finally came true to me. Soon after this I left and did not turn back.

What is the moral of this long story? Everyone talks about buying American. We all want to do it. It is the right thing to do in order to supply jobs in this country. The more we produce, the less dependency we have on other countries. Just be prepared for the sticker shock.

In order to provide living wages and the other financial aspects people need to live, the products have to cost more. I am, in no way, an economist but common sense dictates that in order to provide sustainable profits, a lot of customers need to buy your products. This is easier said than done.

Disposal income is harder and harder to come by as the prices of necessities continue to climb. People are, rightfully so, downsizing. Demands of certain items are just not enough to make the manufacturing process worthwhile.

I’m not saying don’t buy American. I try whenever possible to buy American full well knowing it is going to cost more because I have seen it first hand.

So many people clamored for American made but then balked at the price. The next time you are in the situation and you have to choose to buy American or foreign, please think it through. Not every item that is expensive to buy is making the seller rich. There are some sellers who have only the intent of that but many, especially small sellers, are just trying to keep their head above water. Knowing your seller is helpful when trying to weigh out all the considerations.

This is not an easy issue. I struggle every time I need something. I just hope my experience helps you make decisions right for you.

As we see our lives change due to the current situations, thoughtfulness has to become part of our every day process. Stay well and safe!

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