It’s becoming more popular every holiday season: shop small, buy local, support small businesses. Depending on who you talk to, you’ll find all kinds of reasons consumers are shying away from the traditional shopping grounds like the mall or department stores or large specialty chains. There are some who despise the crush of the crowds, many who don’t like the early morning lines, and still others who want to passively protest what they feel is the commercialism of the holidays.
The choice to buy from small business has been gaining traction, especially in the last five years since American Express founded the official event known as “Small Business Saturday”, where the Saturday after Black Friday is devoted to focusing on smaller mom n’ pop type shops, or any business that isn’t known for being part of a corporation or large chain.
While the economic blood still belongs to the veins of Black Friday sales and arteries of Cyber Monday deals, according to Forbes.com, Small Business Saturday has the projected potential to get $15 billion flowing through the smaller capillaries of the economy.
Taking fair advantage of niche buying habits of geeks, nerds, and fandom lovers, three geeky entrepreneurs local to Las Vegas have tapped into the natural inclination of fans be more discerning in their purchases. Melanie Davis, Kimberly*, and Allison Cosson all started their small business for different reasons, but they all share the same entrepreneurial spirit that it takes to succeed in a growing competitive market.
Melanie Davis, The MAD Girl With a Box, just started up her business this last September. Barely in the game for even a month, Melanie brought together five other local artists to launch her mobile shop-on-the-go. Customers browse around inside a refurbished trailer, picking up everything from My Little Pony skirts to Teenage Mutant Ninja make up bags.
Plates and glasses etched with Harry Potter quotes, jewelry from several fandoms, and quirky wall art are as much a decoration in the cozy trailer as they are merchandise.
Melanie says that one reason for her mobile shop is to “provide a new avenue to market handmade items[…] without relying on conventions” where tables or booths could range “anywhere from $50 to $300.” By keeping the venue cost low, crafters could put more of their investment into better quality items and collect a larger profit at the end of the day.
“I would like to make this my primary business so I can make my own hours and manage my own company.” But Melanie, who also works as a copy editor for Caesar’s Entertainment, is just as invested in her co-crafters’ futures as she is her own. “I work with a few wonderful artists that act as vendors and supply me with my merchandise,” she explains. Buying from her small business doesn’t just benefit her; it also means customers are helping “the artists that are trying to make some extra [money] to support their own families.”
On the other end of the spectrum is Kimberly, the Girl With One Eye, who has been running her own business since 2011. In the small business world, 4 years practically makes Kimberly a veteran. (That old statistic about 80% of new small businesses failing in the first year is too varied to track, but it’s safe to say that 4 years is a healthy run)
The Girl With One Eye is most often seen in convention booths surrounded by homemade clothing and accessories that would beckon over any patron into retro or Harajuku style Gothic Lolita clothing. The mix at the booth is a little June Cleaver sprinkled over some Wednesday Addams melted over Betty Page.
Kimberly says that she only offers items that she’d be proud to wear, and because of that she was unsure how well her first geeky pieces would sell. “It soon became clear that there were a lot of people like me out there who wanted things that were both cute and geeky, so I shifted to focus on more geeky prints.”
Kimberly comes from a long line of sewers and crafters, and because of this she’s had a long time to hone her skills. “I was so used the quality and creative freedom that homemade clothes had to offer that sewing and creating things for myself to wear was just the next step.”
The impetus for starting her own business followed a diagnosis with a rare form of cancer. “I decided that instead of feeling sorry for myself, I would use this as the inspiration to start the clothing business I had always wanted to do!”
Long term goals for the Girl with One Eye include expansion in both employees and distribution. Kimberly would like to be able to hire a real staff, or at least pay the friends who help her with her creations. Her “ultimate goal,” she admits, would be “to grow GW1E to the level where I will be able to make both custom, one of a kind pieces of clothing, as well as ready to wear clothing that I could wholesale to big box stores!”
Somewhere flexible in between is Allison Cosson who owns Nerdful Things. A contributor to the co-lab efforts of MAD Girl, Allison has also spent the last two years keeping her own Etsy shop stocked with an array of housewares like fandom-themed pub glasses, glass-etched beer steins, and shot glasses, video game inspired key holders and jewelry, and vinyl decals. Fans of the Nightmare Before Christmas, Harry Potter, and German folklore figure Krampus will find holiday decorations available.
A fixture at many craft fairs and shows in town, Allison’s attractive displays draw all kinds of customers. And while always happy to move her available stock, she says, “If I can create anything your heart desires, I will. Custom orders are more fun to fill I think.”
Allison started making most of the items she now sells out of necessity. “I wanted [and] needed things that represented my grandma and they weren’t readily available, or if I could find them they were outside the price I was looking to pay.” So instead she turned her desires into a crafty collections of unique pieces that eventually expanded into fandom-worthy merchandise. “They’re things I’m interested in and want in my own house,” she says.
Unlike Melanie and Kimberly, Allison’s goal is keep Nerdful Things “mainly as a side business.” Keeping her small business manageable is a challenge for her. “I mostly just enjoy the making part and customer interaction.”
And really that’s what small businesses are all about. While the goals of entrepreneurs vary, one thing is always the same: positive customer relationships are essential. “I think small businesses don’t get the recognition they deserve most times. It’s hard to start from scratch and try and build up a customer base,” says Allison. Very often a new startup will reach out to family, friends, neighbors, and eventually social media. With online stores like Etsy, easy to assemble websites like Wix, and a consistent Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Yelp updates, a hobby has the potential to quickly turn into a business.
But it’s not enough for the crafter to just advertise and display his or her work. Customers have to keep the snowball rolling too. “If you have a great experience at a local store, share it! Tweet, like, Yelp, post, spread the word! Any bit of advertising is good for the business and would be appreciated by any small business owner up against the big stores,” informs Melanie.
Allison agrees. “Other than a direct sale, a person that believes in your product and is willing to tell everyone about it is the most important thing to a small business owner.”
And because these are not manufactured products but handcrafted items, customers can know that every item they buy is “a piece of [our] talent, [our] knowledge, and [our] blood, sweat, and tears,” impassions Kimberly. “Not only are they buying a one of a kind, wearable piece of art, they are buying it from me, an individual who they quite often get to meet and talk to face to face.”
Despite the love of Black Friday and the traffic of Cyber Monday, the trend of supporting small businesses seems to focus not just on avoiding mass consumerism during the holidays, but redirecting where one’s dollar goes. The current thinking seems to be “We’re going to buy, we’re going to spend, so let’s make that spending count.”
This Small Business Saturday, consider transferring some of your space creds to geeky artists and crafters like Melanie, Kimberly, and Allison. You can show your support of friends and relatives who run their own businesses, or browse any number of shops that specialize in homemade and handcrafted specialties, too. However you spend your money this holiday season, make your dollars count in ways that will benefit those who are working uniquely for you!
Follow MAD’s traveling Box on her Facebook.
You can view more of GW1E’s clothing on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter.
Keep up to date with Nerdful Things’ holiday assortment on Facebook.
*Kimberly was pleased to participate in this article, but asked to omit her full name.