Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=105299
Story Retrieval Date: 5/20/2013 2:21:34 PM CST
Kaboombas are flying off the shelves at the Evanston Ten Thousand Villages shop.
The Kaboomba, also known as the Galimoto, is a hand-crafted bicycle man made from scrap material in Ghana. The $6 toy is simple, but amusing, and hugely popular with customers, said store manager Doug Horst.
Unusual products like these are keeping the nonprofit store busy, despite the economic crisis. While month to month sales have fluctuated, performance has been fairly steady when compared with the year earlier period.
Dilys Rana was a frequent shopper at Ten Thousand Villages, before she became a volunteer, one of 85 who help run the store, six years ago. “I love the concept of fair trade, and I love to travel a lot,” she said. “This is one way to do that without leaving home.”
Rana said a main reason she keeps coming back to the store is to hear the stories of the overseas artisans, the makers of the store's varied merchandise, which “makes it seem very real.”
The Evanston store generates both in-store and offsite revenues. Offsite sales include the same mix of products that are sold within the store, but are generated from outside events at churches, festivals and conferences.
Ten Thousand Villages in Evanston reported a 2.4 percent increase in in-store sales for September, with sales of $32,900, compared with sales of $32,200 for the same month in 2007. In-store sales for October were $46,104.57, up 2.7 percent from the same month a year earlier.
Offsite sales were up 7.5 percent in September to $9,510.62 compared with September of 2007. October offsite sales rose 2 percent to $23,100 compared with $22,700 for the same month a year earlier.
In addition, the store conducts a rug sale, a 10-day event in September that generates significant revenue on its own, Horst said. Sales of these intricate, hand-woven pieces more than doubled in September, compared with the same month a year earlier, to $94,800 from $43,700. This raised total sales, including in-store and offsite performance, up almost 62 percent for the month.
“This was early September so the economic crisis was becoming known and we still did that,” Horst said.
On the other hand, total sales fell 1.5 percent in October due to zero rug sales, compared with a single rug sold for $2,695 in October of 2007. When rug sales are excluded for October, Horst said, the store is doing approximately 6 percent better, year to date.
Headquartered in Akron, Pa., Ten Thousand Villages sells handmade products like jewelry, clothing, toys, home décor, textiles, folk art and musical instruments made by over 130 artisans in 37 countries. It was established in 1946 and is one of the founding members of the International Fair Trade Association. The company functions on three levels as a retailer, wholesaler and importer and has over 160 locations across the nation.
The artisans are from places including Latin America, China, Africa, India and the Middle East. Ten Thousand Villages works with them to agree on fair prices for each product and encourages the use of eco-friendly materials.
“The most important thing is to keep the relationship with the artisans we currently have,” said the Evanston assistant manager, Cheryl Nester-Detweiler. “That way they can plan for the future. Sometimes we won’t purchase from a group because they aren’t fair-trade any more, or all of a sudden they are doing really well and they don’t need us anymore.”
Finding and working with new artisans is rare these days, she said. For the most part, Ten Thousand Villages finds new people and new products through referrals from the Mennonite Central Committee. MCC has volunteers spread out across the globe, said Nester-Detweiler.
Horst believes the business is doing fine because of its fair-trade aspect.
“We built our reputation on ethical shopping,” he said. “You purchase a gift and you’re giving it twice.”
Fair trade, Horst explained, creates job opportunities for artisan groups in developing countries and provides a safe and profitable environment for trade. This allows under-employed and unemployed individuals to not only improve their quality of life, but form long-term business relationships with larger groups and give back to their community as well.
Since its opening 11 years ago, the Evanston location of Ten Thousand Villages has become a steady fixture in the community, with a strong base of returning customers.
Chris Burke, a teaching assistant at Park School, is one such faithful customer who comes to the store to support fair trade.
“I believe in neighborhood shopping,” Burke said. “I just have a great affection for all humankind.”
October through December are typically the busiest months, with 60 percent of sales generated during this period. Horst is “cautiously optimistic” about sales by the end of the year and has budgeted a 2.5 percent increase in sales compared with the 2007 period.
The store's products vary greatly and change often. There are dolls made from coiled recycled newspaper by the Women’s Multipurpose Co-op in the Philippines for $94; pre-Columbian vases from Nicaragua by Proexport S.A. for $64; and Tibetan turquoise earrings made by Mahaguthi in Nepal for $22.
A 24-month product development cycle allows ample time for items to be identified, produced, ordered and shipped. Horst said the business model allows the sales to cover part of the company’s operational costs and salaries, while the rest goes to the costs incurred by the artisans.
“The business model for Ten Thousand Villages is artisans are paid up front,” Horst said. “So when the products are ordered from the artisans, they get paid 50 percent of the order. And when the order is picked up, the other 50 percent gets paid. So the artisan groups take no risk on the sales; that’s all our risk to take.”
Horst said that the dynamic of five full-time employees and 85 volunteers helps the store maintain its business model, providing artisans the maximum return for their work.
Ten Thousand Villages also supports the communities in these developing countries. Each of the artisans must be fair-trade certified before other fair-trade members, such as Ten Thousand Villages, may work with them. Certification requirements include helping build out the community by constructing wells and schools and participating in business workshops.
“I think there needs to be a maturing of the business model,” Horst said. “And many of the people have a very limited elementary education and don’t know even how to price their labor fairly.”
Business coaching is available for small artisan groups, where they learn how to start and manage their own business, appropriately price their labor and reinvest in their communities. Marketing groups and business programs are already established in India, Peru and Kenya.
“It’s not just to bring living wages to the people, it’s to bring stability into their lives and to the villages,” Horst said.
As for the Galimotos?
“The wire was recycled, and the cloth was recycled,” he said. “The product has become so popular, that [they went] from reclaiming waste materials into actually needing to buy the material for it.”