Healthy Business

September 21, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Auto-Biography, Society

Starting in 1980, I began building a sales firm specializing in greeting cards, calendars and gifts.  It was one of those accidents of profession.  Seeking to make a living as an illustrator, I was working part-time as a vegetarian cook, as an assistant to a teacher working with autistic youth and as a child day care worker.  I’d published a selection of my illustrated maps of consciousness as greeting cards and placed them in 20 shops around Chicago the first month I carried them around.  Other small greeting card companies asked me to carry their lines with mine when making presentations.  With time, I was paying my bills by selling the works of other illustrators, in the form of greeting cards.

I have no gift of gab or compulsion to talk to strangers.  My success in sales was predicated almost entirely on persistence.  I don’t easily give up.

By 1990, most of my income was based on the sales of The Far Side page-a-day calendar to national chains located in Illinois, such as Walgreens, OSCO, Sears and Montgomery Ward.  One product in one of my lines was allowing me to pursue interesting creative projects.  In the 1990s, my wife and I created a puppet manufacturing company.  I started a comic strip and panel syndicate representing 12 alternative cartoonists, including my own work.  In Chicago and Ann Arbor, I published Comics Arts Chicago and Comic Arts Ann Arbor, exhibiting the works of alternative comic artists from across the country.

It worried me no small amount that such a large part of my income was based on a single source, The Far Side page-a-day calendar.  When Montgomery Wards went chapter 11, there were several hundred thousand dollars of calendars on their shipping dock that were never distributed to their locations.  That commission was debited from future checks.  Success led to more and more precarious a position as larger and larger portions of my income came from a single product sold to so few stores.

It lasted almost ten years longer than I thought it would.  When, after nineteen years, I found myself looking for a new profession, I determined not to be so vulnerable again.

Almost ten years now I’ve developed websites.  I look for small, local clients that can use the services that I offer long-term.  There are seven communities on the North Shore of Chicago and almost 1,800 retail outlets.  More than 1,000 are independent businesses, locally owned.  Every year I walk into the door of each of those thousand businesses, providing information on what I do.  I am persistent.  I am considerate.  I offer my experiences, seeking to provide owners guidance that is in their best interest.

In my last profession, I sold fewer than a dozen items to mostly four chains.  Though the companies I represented listed tens of thousands of products, and my reps and I served several hundred stores, it was not a healthy business.  There were too few connections.  The community I served was too small.  Chains are notoriously fickle, and they lie.  I don’t even want to get into that.

In my present profession, I seek as large an interconnected webbing as is easy to maintain with as many small, local customers as I can find.  Income has been stable the last four years, and the business is healthy.  I experience far less anxiety than in my last profession about whether future orders will be there.  I feel part of a community.

In the deregulated, unregulated, nonaccountability environment created by Democrats and Republicans alike, there has been lip service paid to the advantages of competition while protecting the wealthy and their corporations through legislation from the competing demands of health care, unions, consumers, day care, safety, etc.  Instead of creating healthy interconnections serving society at the many levels that a corporation influences in its environment, corporations have sought the dollar and nothing else.  They are vulnerable.  It doesn’t seem clear to them that connections are a sign of health.

When the American business milieu gets the growing paradigm that it’s not about survival of the fittest and destroying the competition, but about integration into the environment and serving in as many ways as is useful, then health in business and health in society will be the same.


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