Staying small: A new type of success
Each time I am lucky enough to attend one of the larger design markets in Australia, I get a lot of people visiting the Gather & Moss stall who are store owners inquiring about whether I sell wholesale. When I tell them I don’t, without fail, at every market, there will always be a handful who respond with “oh, but you have to wholesale. You can never grow a successful business without wholesaling”. Occasionally people outright tell me that if I don’t wholesale I will fail. I always smile politely, explain that wholesaling is not on my agenda, and leave it at that.
I had one lady at Finders Keepers Melbourne recently, who was quite adamant in her response and went into great detail about why I have to wholesale, rattling off many well known Australian children’s brands that she knows personally who didn’t wholesale when they started out, but soon moved off shore so they could scale their business and offer wholesale to retail stores. That she said, was the only reason they are where they are today. Here is the thing though. What if I don’t want to get to where they are today? What if I am happy to have a small business that just pays me a wage?
If you are not in the business space, I guess I should explain why many people choose to wholesale their products, before I continue to share the reasons that I have chosen not to. So here are the most obvious reasons as I understand them:
I do not want to imply at all, that selling your products wholesale is easy! It is a whole new side to a business involving the production of wholesale catalogues, attending trade fairs and shows, advertising your products to retail stores, designing order forms, chasing payments, etc etc. It is not an easy path, and on top of that, your profit margins are of course smaller, with wholesale pricing generally half that of retail.
All of that hard work is not however, what turned me off selling my pyjamas wholesale. What turned me off, to be honest is this prevailing attitude that more equals better. That constant growth is the ultimate goals for businesses. Here is the thing – I think that attitude plays a big role in the mess that our world is currently in. The constant desire for more, rampant consumerism, the using up of finite resources at a remarkable rate. These habits are driven by a market economy that promotes this idea that we will be happy once we have that one more thing. The idea that businesses are successful only if they grow and grow and grow.
My decision to not wholesale came from several places. Firstly, the price of manufacturing in Australia makes it extremely difficult to wholesale. A general expectation is, if I sell my pjs for $60, a store buying my products wholesale would buy them for $30. When that is what they cost to produce, the maths just does not work. Secondly, I like having a small business that is just me. I like the freedom this brings, and as much as it is hectic at times, I also do not have to worry about wages, super annuation and employment contracts. Finally, despite the fact that I sell a product, I also believe in minimal consumption. In buying less and choosing well. I believe in creating less in the hope that by keeping things small, it means that there are no surplus or waste products and my pjs are all bought and loved by people who like to shop thoughtfully and buy pieces that will last. I don’t want growth at the cost of the ethics and values that I hold so dear to my heart and my business. Would I also like to not have to worry about money, go on regular overseas holidays and always buy the expensive farmhouse granola - of course I would, but I made the decision when i started this business that my values would always be at the forefront of decision making. Yes, even ahead of money.
This is not meant to be a criticism of those who have chosen to wholesale, to scale their business up, to employ 50 people and have stores all over the world. Those who have chosen this path have their own values, their own priorities and things that are important to them. For me, this is about pointing out that there are alternatives to this prevailing economic business model of constant growth. There are other options and they are just as valid to the people who choose them as mine is to me. I can’t change the world, but I can change my business. I can shape my business around the ethics and the model that I dream of, and I can hope that if I do it well then others will see that it is a viable way to operate. That in short, is why I don’t wholesale my pjs. Because despite popular opinion, you don’t have to wholesale to be “successful”. You can choose your own path, carve new models, and work out a system that is works for you and the values that you hold dear.