Thursday, May 10, 2007

Portals to friendship

I used to scoff at the idea of internet as community. I told our teens that virtual friends were not the same as real people. That was 4 or 5 years ago. Now, much of our human interaction happens over the web. I tend to use it as a communication tool with people I know, but even I have begun to meet people and make friends over the world wide web - and in a place that is not generally seen as a community.

As most of you know, the majority of our income comes from our eBay store. And while we have other venues and income streams, in many ways, eBay is my favorite. The interface is easy and intuitive. It tracks inventory well and organizes sales and shipping. It gives me a job to go to - and it integrates with our financial software.

Not to say that it is easy, mind you, I spend 6-8 hours a day on the computer keeping up with the listings and shipping. My camera gets the majority of its use taking product photos for our eBay store. (The farm gives us a beautiful venue to take those pics :-)

And the days I am at shows, I have to make up those hours spent away from the computer in longer days catching up with items the next week. (Especially this last week with the postal rate changes. I have not seen the farm in the daylight!)

We do lots of shows. This year we will be on the road 28 weeks. Most of our shows are marketing, connection and feedback events. We learn things from what interests the customers at the shows and people get a chance to meet us. Then we go back to the farm and make new products, and the people we visited with go to the web site and order the items that have stayed in their memories. In an interesting turn of the circle, this year, people who met us on the web are starting to come to our shows.

We also have an online storefront with our web site, a store and have had an Etsy store. Most of these are minor in terms of their business value. But lately, with changes eBay is going through, I thought it was time to consider other online venues. I am researching and other types of stores and have discovered that none of them offer the thing I love most about eBay - the chance to interact with customers and get to know people!

Just today, I visited with a triloom customer in Austria about her new loom, helped a lady in Philadelphia with her Spirit Bell, came up with a new weaving kit for a customer in Florida, designed a knitting needle holder for a repeat customer, directed a new weaver to the right weaving book and shipped 17 orders. The interaction with customers is what I love about eBay!

Now it is hard to quantify that in a business plan. And I could maybe spend less time at my computer if I didn't take the time to visit with customers. I could use software that automates most of the e-mail and feedback process on ebay, but I enjoy the creative energy that we share with people who take the time to inquire about us and the things we make. I think it makes our business better and I know it makes my day so much more fun!

So keep those messages and questions coming and know you are brightening my day! And for those of you who don't do eBay because it is impersonal - take the time to question sellers of items you are interested in - you may find a new friend who shares your passions!

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