You have probably seen images like this on your Facebook or Pinterest feed. They pop up every year around the holidays, reminding people that there are alternatives to Big Box Stores and Mammoth Online Retailers when shopping for gifts.
We are also advised to avoid confusing “commercialism” with celebration. We are scolded for having the wrong priorities. We ought to be making magical family memories, rather than standing in long lines to buy stuff.
I will admit to struggling with both concepts, as simple as they are.
I was raised in a materialistic era, and although I do value experiences over things in my everyday life, the holiday season always brings to mind a flurry of last-minute shopping, UPS packages arriving daily from mail-order catalogs, and a hoard of wrapped gifts under a sparkling tree.
At Christmastime, I can always feel myself sliding into the quicksand of consumerism, as I attempt to recreate those scenes from my childhood memories, for my own children.
Although each year, I am becoming more and more disenchanted with the status quo.
I stepped into the Valley Mall for the first time since July, and was immediately overwhelmed by sticker-shock and licensed character branding everywhere I looked.
“They want $70 for a cartoon character tote-bag?!” I shook my head, refusing to believe that anyone would find that reasonable. Silly greedy company, I thought. Good luck selling those!
However, after browsing for 15 minutes, as I made my way back up to the front of the store… I spied that same tote-bag in the hands of a little boy, whose father stood beside him at the counter.
As he handed over his credit card, the cashier rang up the purchase without blinking. The employee’s face said it all. He had done this a million times before.
Suddenly, I was an outsider, seeing these transactions happening in every corner of the mall ~ and in surrounding stores across the street, across the city, across the world ~ with fresh eyes.
I have worked in retail for many years, and I have been that employee. I have efficiently unloaded trucks of merchandise, sent from unemotional warehouses and manufacturing plants. I have systematically stocked shelves, and impartially handled transactions.
There is nothing personal about shopping from a large company.
They will take your seventy dollars, or seven hundred dollars, with equal apathy. It doesn’t matter to the cashier, who makes $8-$10 per hour no matter what he/she sells. It doesn’t matter to the person stocking shelves, or the person driving the truck, or even the person working in the factory to produce 100,000 more.
When the companies prosper with record sales, those profits rarely reach the bottom rungs of the ladder; the employees interacting with you will not feel any sense of accomplishment or appreciation for your patronage. They are just putting your items into a bag, handing you the receipt, and likely thinking about their lunch break.
If you have ever purchased anything from a small business owner, you will immediately feel the difference. They appreciate everything because they *are* the company.
I am the manufacturer of my products, and I am the driver delivering them to each market. I am the merchandiser who sets up my booth, and I am the cashier who thanks you for your purchase.
I am the customer service rep that answers your e-mails, and I am the marketing director who handles all the promotions. I am the web designer. I am creative director and I am the CEO.
When you purchase anything from me, even if you can only afford a $3 bookmark, I feel appreciated, knowing all my hard work is being noticed. :)
In just a few days, my art will be lying under hundreds of Christmas trees, wrapped in pretty papers. Some are already hanging on walls, tucked inside books, decorating cubicle desks and refrigerators, and being carried in purses.
It is a humbling and inspiring thought. Despite the million-dollar commercial ads and billions of square feet occupied by corporate retailers vying for everyone’s cash and credit cards, somehow my tiny cat art business still manages to survive and grow.
My kids already have a unique view into my world as a self-employed artist. It is a perspective that I vow to cultivate further, by shifting away from commercial goods and encouraging them to build relationships with creators and producers. I want them to learn the stories behind each item they hold in their hands.
Supporting small businesses isn’t merely knowing that your money benefits a family, helping them to live better lives… it also means that you matter to them. You are valued for your encouragement and enthusiasm, and you are the reason they continue to strive to become the best they can be.
“Customers matter” isn’t a slogan to a small business owner. It is how we live.
In the end, isn’t that what we all want?
To appreciate, and to be appreciated in return.
Especially during the holidays.
Merry Christmas and Thank You! <3