Why Pagan Shops Fail and How Some Succeed
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Article ID: 14753
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 711
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Posted: April 1st. 2012
Times Viewed: 5,166
There’ve been a few online calls in recent months about Pagan store closings, bemoaning the lack of community support and placing the blame for failed shops firmly on the shoulders of the local community. These are fairly common articles, and they come in from all over the country.
I question, though, how much ‘blame’ really is on the community.
The hard facts are, 90% of all new businesses shutter within the first two years. Studies don’t place favorable odds on a successful small business until it’s been running for three years steady, and managed to turn at least a small profit. And that’s for small businesses across the board – pizza shops, bookstores, antiques, nail salons, everything. So why is it our fault when a Pagan store hits the same problems? I don’t feel personally responsible for the other kinds of stores when they shut down, even if I was a semi-frequent customer, or even an “Oh, I meant to check that out” non-customer.
To properly support my local Pagan effort, how often am I supposed to buy, anyway? How much per week or month am I morally obligated to sink into a Pagan shop, to be properly supportive? $25? $100? That begs the question, what goods am I going to spend $600 on this year and every year (assuming $50 a month) , at the run-of-the-mill endangered store?
In the last ten years, my average visitation of such shops has been roughly two or three times a year. In college, it was closer to once a month or so, but I was also running the Pagan Student Union – not all the visits were for me, and I didn’t always spend money. Frequently, I’ll drop by one or two if I’m visiting a different city, and I almost always buy incense or herbs, maybe a used book or two. The bulk of inventory that I find, though, is rarely consumables. Crystals, jewelry, athames, bowls, stones, burners, ritual clothes, wands, tarot cards, rune sets, altar figurines and cloths – this is the majority of the inventory. Do you see the pattern?
These are single-ticket items. I only need one or a few of any of them, and once I have them, I don’t need to come back and impulsively buy more. In a small community, or even a decently sized one, it will be difficult to sustain the need for buying dozens of these items each month, every month, for years on end.
In fact, there’s an opposing force against such shopping – or rather, consumerism. It’s the Pagan community! We’re composed, in large part, of DIYers, recyclers, thrifters, why-buy-I-can-do-that-ers. I made my wand. I made my rune set. I dress my own candles. I don’t need to buy them pre-charged at $8 each; $4 for a pack of 10 at Targmart work because I’m just going to charge them myself anyway.
There’s a whole subset of snobbery that looks down their nose at the people who buy massive quantities of Pagan supplies (fluff-bunnies, ew) , and then turns right around and accuses the community of not buying enough to support their shops. Even if I decided to have a different altar theme each month, there’s a limit to how many statues, cloths, knick-knacks, and dressing I’m going to own, especially for things I can’t make myself. Even as gifts, there’s a limit to how much I can buy and send off to other people.
In this idea lies the difference between successful and failed shops, I believe. It’s about what the market can and wants to bear. There are three basic categories a Pagan shop will carry – tangibles, which I just went over at some length, consumables (candles, incense, readings, reiki, etc) , and intangibles (classes, open circles, meeting spaces.) The successful businesses I know about center a large part of their marketing strategy on the second two.
One shop I know sells nothing but herbs and incense blends. Really, really good incense blends. I absolutely love them, and I come back over and over again. However, they deviated in a few ways from the standard shop – they don’t have a physical place of business, and if I want to buy in person, I have to find the next fair they’ll have a stall at. So I only have an opportunity to shop once a month or so (I like in person transactions better) , and they don’t have the overhead of rent. They’re doing well because they’re selling things that need to be bought repeatedly, and doing it at a reasonable price. It’s the best incense I’ve ever owned, and it’s cheaper than a lot that I’ve seen.
The main Rochester, NY Pagan store is traditional brick-and-mortar, and they’ve been around since 1996. The most surprising thing when I first walked in? The low inventory. They have everything listed in the paragraphs above – but one or two sets, instead of a dozen. They have a large space, with everything spread out and occupying its own area. Nothing is piled on top of other things (very strange, really. I’m used to Pagan shops being organized like 60 years of stuff in 10 years of space) . It took me a while to realize – the space is for the circles, the classes, and the readings. The inventory is heavy on incense, herbs, candles, and locally produced crafts. They, like the incense business, have a very good idea of what size the Rochester Pagan community is, how often it shops, what it can be expected to spend, and what they’ll spend it on. And they’re successful.
In my college town, the local Pagan store was everything most shops try to be, and they succeeded where so many others failed. They’re chock full of knick-knacks and altar doodads, wands and cups and robes and stones. And it works for them – because they’re in a college town, walking distance from a campus filled with so many hippies that parents occasionally wonder if they got off on the Woodstock exit by accident. (They didn’t. The Woodstock exit is two further north up I87) .
Several thousand new students move in every single year, and there’s always a certain subset that’s suddenly ready to come out of the broom closet. They’re ready for every 18 yr old who can suddenly set up a ‘real’ altar for the very first time, away from Mommy and Daddy. And even if 80% of them buy everything they need for an altar the first semester, and then drop it later on – next year, in comes another few thousand students, with that handful or dozen of newly freed exploratory Pagans. It works for them, because the location has completely altered the normal market. It’s something more stores need to take into account, instead of expecting to be supported just for opening up and being there.
The attitude behind – buy here because it’s Pagan and we’re Pagan – boggles my mind. As Pagans, I’d assume they’re familiar with the DIY nature of the community, as well as the anti-consumerism held by so many. Why the sudden shift to assuming that will change just because it’s a Pagan store? There’s a level of entitlement in the pleas to buy Pagan – that they deserve it just because they’re Pagan. Stores aren’t charity, though, and I shouldn’t feel obligated to toss money at people selling stuff I don’t need.
What do I need? What do Pagans need? I would love to see, say, a hardware store that was Pagan owned. A craft supply store. A garden store. I would drive out of my way, whenever I needed those things, to support that kind of endeavor. Why don’t more Pagan shops have witchy seedlings year round? I almost never impulse buy $1.00 stones and crystals, but a rack of baby thyme or rosemary, at a dollar or two, I wouldn’t be able to resist. Also, I kill plants like it’s my job, so I’d be impulse buying those all the time.
The brick-and mortar store I mentioned above is also allying with a cat rescue operation, helping them find homes – and it makes so much sense, I can’t figure out why I don’t see it all the time. Pagans are cat people. These cats get rescued faster, at this shop. (Stereotypes are solid, sometimes. This is one of them.)
What I’m trying to say is, the Pagan market isn’t tapped out. That’s not why these stores are failing. There’s creative room for growth – but we need to branch out, if any city is going to be able to support more than one shop. Online only, consumable-focused, activity-centered, different kinds of products – there are ways to make a Pagan shop work, that don’t involve blaming customers for not coming in.
Location: Rochester, New York
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