In Praise of the Neighborhood Kite Store
Because I’m in the business of distributing kites to retail outlets, I maintain a fairly extensive list of kite stores. Over the past two years, something unfortunate has been happening to that list. With distressing frequency, we’re seeing established retail storefronts closing. As they slip away, more and more on-line “virtual stores” are taking their place.
That’s no surprise. Without leases, employees, utilities and other overhead, the virtual stores have a real competitive advantage and are costing storefronts sales. Traditional kite stores are closing up, or shifting to toys, yo-yos and other alternatives to pay the bills.
“What’s wrong with that?” you might ask. “We’re all on-line here. Those new Internet catalogs are convenient, and offer pretty good prices. Don’t be a dinosaur! The market is changing. The net is the shopping mall of the future!!”
Let me be clear. I don’t have anything at all against the new on-line services. In fact I operate one myself — although I’d argue that my $1000 kites fit a special niche that isn’t being served by traditional stores. But enough of my rationalization. I’ve got a point I’m trying to make.
Most on-line store don’t generate new kitefliers.
I Need a New Hobby
New fliers (and there aren’t nearly enough of them) are converted by friends, festivals, and wandering into a kite store. That’s not happening on the web. People don’t go surfing and one night say to themselves — “Gee, I need a new hobby… ”
Of course, some on-line stores do plenty to support the industry, organize events, provide flying lessons, and attract new converts. But most of them are simply marketing to the fliers that are already out there.
As the market shrinks, we don’t just lose retail stores. We lose manufacturers which means you fliers see less selection, fewer new designs, and slower innovation. We all suffer. We all have a stake in the outcome.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Be a Part of the Solution
The purpose of this column is to challenge store owners, and to urge you fliers to challenge them as well. Help the industry grow! There is more to owning a kite store than programming a snappy web page. The formula for success is a simple one:
1) Don’t just sell products. Support those products and be knowledgeable about them.
2) Contribute to events – with both time and money. If you just show up and quietly sell stuff out of the trunk of your car, we’ll regard you as a leech. On the other hand, if your name is in the program as a sponsor, and you’re out on the field setting up tents, giving lessons, or judging, we’ll see you as a contributor.
3) And if you want to be treated as a professional, act like a professional!
Install a dedicated business phone line. When I call an AKA Member Merchant and you answer with “hello” — or worse yet, I get your eight year old kid — I quickly determine you aren’t serious. Remember, your behavior now reflects on all of us!
4) Organize an event yourself! It’s good for your business, and good for the industry too. Festivals are the *best* way to attract new fliers/customers. Besides, you might actually have some fun!
5) Join a trade group like the KTAI. If your business can’t afford the hundred bucks, it isn’t much of a business. And come to the annual Trade Show. There *are* benefits that justify the investment.
6) Issue receipts and pay your taxes. If you are cheating the government, you’re cheating all of us.
If my observations have offended you, then chances are that you are ignoring one or more of these points. Take a look at the big picture and consider how you fit into it.
I can’t stress too strongly how serious the consequences are of what’s going on in the kite industry right now. Most manufacturers and retailers are suffering. Perhaps as a consumer, you don’t really feel affected. But you should! Think about it when you can’t find someone to fly with, can’t get replacement parts, or suddenly learn that the folks making that kite you love have just closed down.
In short, I’m asking new businesses to be part of the solution. And I’m asking fliers to support the people that support the industry.
By-the-way, a good resource for Kite Trade information and serious businesses is on the KTAI Web Page at www.KiteTrade.org. Check it out.