Hackers, Makers, and Local Shops
I just got back home from a nice walk in downtown Berkeley. While I was out, I popped into a little shop called A Priori on Vine street between Shattuck and Walnut. While I was in there, I had a really nice chat with Amy, the manager. The conversation left me both a little bit sad and a lot a bit excited, though.
The reason it left me sad is because Amy has had trouble with "hipster types" who come in to her shop, take pictures of things, say, "Oh, I can make that!" and walk out without buying anything. Ever. Her solution to this problem is to put up a sign that says "No Photography" and to get a bit defensive when someone shows hacker tendencies. From her experience, if you are a hacker, you have just come into her shop to figure out what you can get cheaper elsewhere or what you can make yourself "better". And that, quite honestly, doesn't help her small, independent shop stay afloat.
That's sad, because Amy is a really nice lady. She's created this fantastic little shop you definitely want to visit, and she really likes supporting local causes, too. The idea of a local hacker space for women even made her happy. But, she also needs to make a living, and if we hackers treat her shop like a free showroom for ideas, she won't be able to do that.
Of course, where ever there is a problem, there is also a great hack to solve it. The solution to this problem is to find ways to bridge the gap between the hackers/makers and the local shops like A Priori who sell awesome, earth-friendly and wonderfully crafted items. If we can find ways to get hackers and makers to spend more time in little local shops and spend more of their actual dollars there, perhaps shop proprietors like Amy can feel more comfortable about us coming in and saying, "Oh, check this out! I bet I could make it even better!" (Because face it: Sometimes you can make it better, and other times you're gonna slink back in next week to buy that cool thing off the shelf.)
So, I have a suggestion. Let's create free "market to makers" workshops for local shop managers so that we can share information about our culture and ideas about how to make more money off of us.
Don't wrinkle your nose at me. I'm serious! We makers love to talk about acting locally. Supporting local business is part of that. Be glad you still have a chance to buy something locally instead of online or from a big box store. Some towns don't have that option any more.
Here are some ideas for that workshop, just off the top of my head:
- Show shop owners research that says that the more time people spend in your shop, and the more often they return, the more money they are likely to spend there. Get them to encourage us to come back often, and feel assured that we WILL support them over the course of the year, even if it's not the first time we show up (or the third).
- Suggest that when someone says "I can make that better" or "I can make that cheaper" that they encourage them to do just that! Tell the would-be customer, "Great! Bring it back when you do. I love to see the creative stuff that people do with the ideas they get here." It sounds crazy, but I bet you ANYTHING that those people who do come back to show you what they've done will become happy and loyal customers who tell all their friends about that shop.
- Take it a step further. If part of the problem is that you lose income when makers decide to make stuff instead of buy it from you, why not sell instructions on how to make some of the cool things in your shop? Yeah, I know, that sounds even crazier than my last suggestion, but it might just work. Not everything needs instructions. But having them for just a few things might do a shop double good. a) It's another thing you can sell, even if it is just for $3 or $4. b) Lots of people will realize it's actually MORE expensive to make that cute thing in your shop than to buy it, and they'll buy the thing from you after all.
- Ideas for social media marketing and community outreach. Being small and local shouldn't make it impossible to compete for attention and profits. It's hard for a lot of shop owners to know how to reach the local community through online tools, though. We can show them how.
We like to think we're building a sustainable future. If the hacker/maker community can help the moms and pops in our neighborhoods with our tech-savvy skills, we'll be doing them and ourselves a huge favor
What do you think? How would you bridge the gap, make makers feel welcome to peruse for ideas AND help small business stay afloat?