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Friday, March 20, 2009
Recession. It’s an ugly word, and as the media points out to us, on a daily basis, it means that no one is buying and the economy is frozen as solid as the food in your freezer. But the actual truth is a bit more complicated because people are not as predictable as statistics.
In the height of the depression, two things continued to sell well - jewelry and makeup. The reason for this was actually very practical - they were easy ways to “fix yourself up” for a very small amount of money when the cost of new clothes was out of reach of your budget. It helped people feel better.
Faced with some difficult economic times of our own, we can learn a lot from the marketing techniques used during the 1930s and 1940s. Here are some crucial things we can take away and apply to our own businesses in 2009.
1. Range of Prices – Catalogs of the day show a range of prices from nice things for not a lot of money to nice things for a moderate amount of money. The emphasis is on the range of options for most budgets and on the quality of the merchandise. The upper level price is also considerably less from 1929 to 1932. For example, a dress that sold in 1929 for $45.00 was only about $30 or less in 1932. Retailers realized that even their highest priced items had to be made more affordable in order to be bought.
2. Reducing Costs – One reason that the catalog manufacturers were able to cut their prices so much was that they reduced their own costs. They kept the quality but produced pieces in two colors and styles, instead of five, or used a season-less fabric so that the styles would span summer and fall, for example. I will have some things for you to think about to apply this to your own stores at the end of the article.
3. Emphasis on “Using What You Have” instead of “Replacing” – This is not something many of us have consistently thought of in the last few years. When money is tight, people don’t spend to replace big items like couches and tables as much as they look for ways to use what they have - that means, using a chair cover or tablecloth, getting new drapes, framing a print to fix up a tired room, or buying new earrings for an old dress. With that in mind, it’s good to think about what kinds of smaller or accessory items you can introduce into your shop.
4. Using Creative Marketing Ideas Instead of Traditional Ones – Much of the Depression Glass you see around was a free or low cost giveaway associated with specific products - you bought the product, and would get the glassware for free as part of the purchase. It was a way of adding additional value and it proved to be a real hit. Jelly in glass jars that were actually glasses, and could be used once the jelly was gone, is another example of this kind of creative marketing. My mom still has her jelly glasses! People saw this as the kind of practical buy that helped their money to go farther.
5. Emphasis on Quality - This was consistent from 1930 on, and it was based on a sound idea - that when money is tight, people want to know that what they buy will last. What is “trendy”, “up to the minute”, or the “very latest” in 1929 becomes “classy, timeless, and season-less” in the 30s and 40s, as retailers emphasized that their clothing/housewares/jewelry or etc would look good even if they couldn’t be replaced in the next year. Quality markers such as hand-finished seams, fine durable fabric, and other details become the main points that retailers emphasized.
Some things to think about regarding your own stores: Are there ways to apply these marketing techniques and ideas to your store and/or products? What about bartering or trading for things? Can you make smaller pieces, such as earrings instead of large necklaces, a small doll instead of a life-sized one, or less detailed items such as a plain pillow with one embroidered flower as well as the more time consuming pieces? What about doll clothes as well as dolls? Can you emphasize quality? Is your soap organic, or does it avoid certain oils or chemicals that can make allergies worse? Does a bar last a lot longer than store bought varieties? Can you offer a value added product? Not everybody can, but it is worth thinking about.
Artists can look into creating prints, offering ACEOs, or even painting on found objects such as thrift store pillows (I have friend that does these and they are amazing and very eco-friendly).
I encourage you to brainstorm about some of the things in this article, and see what appeals to you. Talk to your teammates, friends, and family, or leave a comment/suggestion here. I am always happy to help, too, so feel free to email me.
Next week’s article (and the one following) will concentrate mainly on creative marketing ideas, and how to get the best out of your online and offline presence.
Have a great weekend!