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ER ATET With Jeremy Piercy



Passion, creativity, new ideas – these will encourage repeat business and attract new customers.

Key to survival I

’m afraid I don’t read the papers and watch the news as much as I should, in fact at the moment I am lamentably out of touch with what’s

going on. People at work were amazed that I didn’t know which Royal was getting married or when, until the week in which it happened. Well, they’re not part of my social life and I wasn’t invited, so why should I? I tire of the news because so much is

about what’s going wrong – wars, disasters etc – and the success stories are few and far between. In retail, it’s often all doom and gloom, and if all the reports about cutbacks and potential loss of jobs are added to this, it inevitably makes people more cautious about spending money. To encourage business, the trade press

often goes to the other extreme. Sales are great say the editorials [and examples can always be found]. Meanwhile we’re hearing from our customers, and seeing in our own shops, that things are very diffi cult indeed. Many of our suppliers echo this. In the ethical sector, Oxfam Ireland has just announced that it will be closing its fair trade shops [which do not sell donated goods] later this year, and the Internet business Ethical Superstore has gone into receivership, owing suppliers £3/4 million [though it has started up again with diff erent owners, but two of the same directors, immediately afterwards]. Whatever sector you look in, independents are generally fi nding it hard. Nor is this just a recession in Britain – as I write this, I have an email from our supplier in the Philippines, “we are fi ghting for survival as slack times are still with us now; we are praying so hard for more orders.” T ey are not getting them because everywhere in the western world, trade is slack. I don’t want to make you even more

pessimistic. I do believe however that we need to be realistic. I don’t see any point in burying our heads in the sand. In the gift sector we sell goods which are non-essentials, so we are especially at risk during an economic downturn. What do we do?

I have been very inspired by the recent 56 gifts today

Some also show great creativity, like the spectacle stand in the shape of an Easter Island statue [pictured], Shared Earth’s top bestseller.

Open Studios weekend in York, where over 100 artists, potters etc open their studios to the public. I’m not an expert on art by any means but the wealth of imagination, the creativity and the variety of product is amazing. Also very clear is the passion these artists feel for what they are doing. I’ve long believed that passion for our businesses is what ultimately makes them succeed. I remember one shop in York where the window display seemed to stay the same week after week, month after month, year after year. Now it’s closed, but how did it survive so long? Presumably the owner had another source of income. Where’s the passion there? How could customers not get bored? Creativity too is vital. New ideas, new

products, new ways of merchandising – we should try them all out. I know the owner of one gift shop in York, who regularly tells me how badly he’s doing. I’ve made several suggestions but he doesn’t seem to want to take any of them up. He’s still doing badly. Does he just want me as a counsellor, to listen to his woes?

Another shop I know in York used to sell high quality woodware from English craftsmen. But since the recession hit people’s pockets, these wonderful bowls and small pieces of furniture have stopped selling, so the owners have started selling wooden handicrafts from India and elsewhere. T ese are also high quality, but considerably less expensive. Some also show great creativity, like the spectacle stand in the shape of an Easter Island statue [pictured], Shared Earth’s top bestseller. Recently, this shop has also added slatwall to provide a jewellery display, which it never sold at all before. Most of it is fair trade, refl ecting current trends. “We are thinking of diversifying,”

writes our supplier in the Philippines, “what do you think?” T e success of the woodcraft shop above in attracting new customers is an answer in itself. New ideas and products won’t always work, but they may be your key to survival. Passion, creativity, new ideas – these will encourage repeat business and attract

Jeremy Piercy

new customers. But how do we deal with a recession which is worse than we’ve seen for decades and shows no sign of ending? Are things changing in society as a whole, and is the “boom and bust” theory working today? With raw materials and oil increasing steadily in price, is the environment something we should treat more seriously? Does the fair trade movement have anything to teach us? Ultimately, is our western lifestyle under threat, and how should we respond? I probably have more questions than answers; but I will try to deal with some of these questions in our next issue. I will welcome your views in advance.

Jeremy Piercy is the founder and managing director of Shared Earth, the fair trade retailer and wholesaler. He recently published his fi rst book, Coffi ns, Cats and Fair Trade Sex Toys.

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