Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My Own Personal Recession

In addition to writing, singing, and working part time at a video store (it's cooler than it sounds), I make most of my money through my online and wholesale crafts business: Tara Hill Designs.

Yes, 'runesmith' isn't just a username - it's a job description.

As peculiar as my product line might seem to the mundane rabble, my work is very highly regarded within a very select target market. It was never going to make me rich, but for a little home-based business it does pretty well, with sales growing steadily over the twenty-plus years I've been at it. Up until five years ago, that is. That was the terrible year the Ontario Renaissance Festival shut down, but it was also the year I began to sense that things in general were starting to slide.

In many ways, my little business is a bellwether of economic conditions. I sell exactly the sort of luxury items that are the first to get crossed off people's shopping lists when things get tight. About half of my supplies are imported, I sell 80-90% of my wares to the U.S., and on any given day I can tell you what the CAN$-US$ exchange rate is to within half a cent.

The first thing I noticed was about four years ago when my wholesale sales started dropping off. The stores I sell to are all small, independent book and speciality stores, and they have all been suffering badly from big box stores and the death of downtown retail. Right now I'm down to one wholesale customer - and they are just a distributer, not a store.

Last year, my online sales to the U.S. collapsed.

The blue is 2007. The yellow is 2008. As you can see, there was no Christmas last year.

This is what a 41% drop in sales looks like. Compared to 2006, my sales have been cut in half.

Don't get me wrong - I'm doing ok. I have a lot of irons in the fire, and my husband is doing very well in the relatively recession-resistant film industry. But it makes me sad that after 20 years, my little business might end up being washed away under the economic tide.

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