Saturday, October 04, 2008

Don't Stop the Carnival

I haven't written a word in a while, so hello, you. By this summer, I was pretty tapped out. Four years of guacamole recipes and car pictures had left me nothing to comment on: I had exhausted my repertoire. The one I allow the public, at any rate, because I worried about giving out my best ideas for free on the internet. I wanted to save them for my best-seller, a little something to monetize us toward a McMansion and some new risers to stay shining at the pre-school drop-off.

I'm starting to think it's not to be in our near-future though, for myself or for anyone else (i.e. virtually every American) observing the spiral of cratered property values, mounting job-losses and tightening credit standards. Our donk-lessness is obviously minor compared to the real pain that millions of people are going through, and even in my own mind my candy-flake dreams take a back seat to thinking about Christmas.

Christmas? Yes, because my company could use a terrific one this year, and we can guess how that's going to turn out. it's doubtful we'll do as well as last year, but like lots of companies in retail, we need a strong fourth quarter to justify keeping the lights on the rest of the year. Unfortunately, the analysts are predicting holiday sales to be up a mere 2.2%, much of that online, where we have not been historically strong, our core customers being your average brick-and-mortar dudes.

Trust me, whenever I check the time on my Che Guevara Swatch from my giant desk chair I'm aware of the conflict between needing to sell a lot of stuff and wanting Americans to stop buying so much stuff. It has been pulling me in different directions for five years, and it is truly odd for to have found something that I am good at doing in an industry that I am at best ambivalent about.

I worry that the average American has almost $10,000 in credit card debt. I worry that they live in homes worth less than they owe on them, that they lease cars and turn them back in, that so much packaging and uneaten food and just old crap that people are tired of ends up as landfill. I could tell you about how our company tries to shrink the package dimensions and change to recyclable materials, but the reality is that we need you to buy things so I can buy things. It's not just a couple of us either: 25 or so people in suburban Detroit are depending on you, the American public, to keep buying our stuff.

In that sense, the fact that I buy organic food and try to minimize my own consumption is largely irrelevant and even hypocritical in light of the fact that our entire lifestyle is dependent on consumer spending. If there is a true imminent crisis of confidence (or real pocketbook shrinkage) and people stop purchasing new phone cases and notebook sleeves, I'll have to cancel our produce delivery (best case) or I might even need a new job (worst case), assuming I can find one (uh-oh). Since my expertise is in retail and licensing at this point, you can be pretty certain that my next job will also be in trying to convince people they need my stuff, whatever it happens to be. (No doubt I'll end up marketing debt consolidation services).

Even with the economy heading for recession, I am thinking about starting a new company. It's too early to talk about what it would do, so for now I'd just like to wish America an early Merry Christmas, and the hope that you buy a ton of stuff. That you really need, of course. Think about trading down from a Starter jacket to a phone case. And, uh, please recycle the box.

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