Immaterial Goals in a Material World

Immaterial Goals in a Material World

7th Apr 2022

Last week, I wrote some entirely transparent sentiments about running a retail shop in a society that is debt-ridden and full of disposable goods. It's a tough thing to admit because I don't for one second want to suggest I'm ungrateful for our amazing customers and shop friends. Quite the opposite! I am flooded with gratitude for all of the extraordinary people I've met through the shop--biggest and best surprise involved in running a storefront, hands down. And when you're obsessed with paper and pens and desk and office goods, it's important to remember that a stationery shop is heaven. I know it firsthand. I have a list of favorites, and I go out of my way to visit them on road trips. So the tensions I feel are not remotely judgments I feel toward my own customers or even toward myself. They're pretty exclusively about marketing and how we collectively talk to and treat customers. It's one thing, in my opinion, to let my audience know what's in my shop through social media marketing. It's another to constantly impose the message to shop. Awareness is great! Pressure, not so much.

It's a nuanced discussion that I am actively working out for myself at the moment, and one that I was nervous to put out there publicly. But it was a heartening experience, actually. I heard from quite a lot of people through Instagram and Facebook who said a number of versions of "Same!", which was eye-opening to me. It's easy to assume that everyone is content with the mode they're operating in when in reality, many people aren't. Several people voiced the same dissatisfaction I feel with the changes happening on social media and with the very blatant commercialization of it.

It's hard to know what to do with that information. I suppose it's every person's balance to figure out for herself. But for me, I think the key things are to re-articulate what my goals are (or were) in social media marketing and how to continue to strive to fulfill those in different ways. And since my goals are no secret, here they are for what it's worth.

One goal of my shop has always been to gather community. Community has been a central component of this shop from the beginning, from dedicating workshop space to classes to having a seating area that can accommodate small groups and, on occasion, poetry readings or story times. I plan to continue to focus on this with more event-planning for locals, more frequent e-mail newsletters (once weekly is the aim), and more frequent blog posting. I have big dreams, too, of starting a reading series once our local auditorium opens in 2023. Community will always be central to my efforts here, and I don't know that I need to rely, realistically speaking, on social media for that at all. It feels like "community" is happening on Instagram, but I can't actually point to one community I feel deeply involved in solely through social media. 

Another goal is to simply put beauty into our world. It is a true joy to get to spend my days among such thoughtfully-made, high-quality objects that enhance my everyday experiences. From writing to-do lists and letters to reading to my kids, my daily life is enhanced by the kinds of objects that fill our shop shelves. Things that are well-made and that combine form and function are not in the same category as cheap plastics that our culture is drowning in. They are soulful and beautiful, and it feels like a real privilege to give those kinds of material goods a space and a cheerleader. I'll continue to share all the pretty things that cross our doorstep via Instagram, though less frequently perhaps, but I'll also be posting more regularly on our blog and sharing our photos on Pinterest.

One final personal goal is to make a genuine living (one that can singlehandedly support my family) from what I think of as a humanities- and vocation-based business that is, as I said in my last post, as interested in your inner life as our bottom dollar. Teachers are underpaid. Adjuncts are underpaid. Most professors, too. Poetry and writing don't bring in the big dollars unless you're, you know, J. K. Rowling. And yet our society is in need of thoughtful, informed readers and writers. Of opportunities for deep concentration and sustained attention. The academic humanities weren't a perfect fit for me, but that doesn't mean I don't possess the same ultimate goals -- sharing literature; encouraging reading, writing, and critical thinking; and promoting meaningful dialogue, connection with others, and a lively and satisfying inner world that makes your life a joy to live. 

I suppose in the past, social media was an avenue for me to simply spread an awareness that would help us find the customer base that has an affinity for our goods and shares our outlook. Moving forward, I'm going to try to start budgeting for more traditional avenues of marketing that we will put our creative twist onto. Excited about that and already dreaming. 

If you've read the past couple of posts and are still here, my goodness! You're a trooper. I feel guilt for dragging you through this weirdly emotional reaction to Instagram which has spiraled into a crisis about my identity as a shop owner and person in the world. But I also feel some serious gratitude. The choices we make in engaging with customers should be thoughtful and careful and always, in my opinion, deeply respectful of the time and attention we ask of our audiences. And if and when we adapt our own approaches to media and marketing, we need to continually ask ourselves if we are still doing just that. I needed to reevaluate. Thanks for helping me do it.