Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Where's Ours?

Greetings, all.

I owned an on-line store for 10 years, beginning in 1996. We sold hard-to-find gifts, jewelry, sculpture and cards, not ritual items or supplies. Being Pagan ourselves, we loved to go to Pagan conventions and festivals in order to be among "our" people. That's hard work, and it's great fun and, yes, we made money. This wasn't some hobby for me, after all, I have a family to support.

Overall, we did very well before I retired, and I could offer well paid jobs to other Pagans, as well, while doing charity work in the community. Meanwhile, all around us, good brick and morter stores went under. Overhead on these stores is *extremely* expensive, especially in large cities. Let us not forget that the economy tanked, beginning in March of 2000 (worsening with Enron, 9/11, the Iraq war and the dotcom and housng busts). It has yet to really recover from that.

On-line book sales have changed the book world forever. New Age and Pagan stores felt that immediately, which is why so many of them carried fewer books (which have a low profit margin) and increased their gift and jewelry sale items from 20% to 50% - 80% of their inventory. For real world stores, customer service is now more important than ever, as are classes and events. All this takes tremendous time, effort and planning.

It's important to remember that any business or organization requires some real world skills. Many well meaning souls would love to open a store or temple, but they do not possess the business skills, people skills, customer service skills, organizational skills, retail skills, buying skills, management skills, and financial skills required. Nor are they willing to learn.

Nothing worth doing is ever easy. I worked 7 days a week, 60+ hours a week, for our first 5 years. Most store/business owners will tell you the same thing.

I then worked those insane kind of hours for the five years following that becuase I started a Pagan non-profit group, so basically, I had two full time jobs. I'd been blessed, I knew it, and I wanted to give back. Happily, I found good people who felt the same way. But they were the exception, not the rule.

Now let's talk money: There is a running joke among retailers, which is this: "What is the difference between a New Age event and a Pagan event? Oh, about $50".

Why is this? Well, New Age folks are often professionals who will support their stores, teachers, events and groups. They are willing to put their energy (money and otherwise) into what they value. New Age stores tend to be run as a business. Meanwhile, Pagans will often run a store as if it was a free therapy center or as some little club-just-for-their-friends.

Good metaphysical stores are organized, tech savy, and professional. The best ones know how to do community outreach, and they offer amazing classes and events, author signings and concerts, which is why they thrive, even in the internet era. And such events cost money to produce. Ask your average Pagan for even a $5.00 donation for an event, and see what happens. Meanwhile, that same Pagan will then go out and spend three times that amount on a CD.

Are there exceptions to this? Absolutely. The Witches Ball, which raised over $2,000 year for the Humane Society, and gave out the yearly Gaia's Guardian Award (which included a cash award of $250) was one example. And by the way, that took between $6,00 - $8,000 worth of my money and our council member's personal funds to produce. So, yes, we got our money back, or we could not have done it year after year after year. We took no profit. And Pagans and others paid a reasonable ticket price to attend and Vendors paid to be there. We also worked hundreds of hours *for free* to make this happen. And still some Pagans complained about the ticket costs. Those that didn't "get it", didn't come. The other 600 or so, did. So we did well for animals and Pagan Pride, by being generous *and* sensible at the same time.

I once encountered a teacher who offered these amazing magick classes for two hours a night, three weeks in a row. She was frustrated that 50 people would show up for the first class, only 20 for the 2nd and about 5 for the last night. I know this gal and she's a great teacher and she was offering hard-to-get information they said they all wanted. The students just didn't value her time or they did want to make an effort. She refused to profit from her teaching, so I advised her to have the students write a $10 - $30 check to their favorite charity and give it to her as their class fee. It worked. Since they had "paid" for these classes, they valued them, and most managed to show up for all three weeks.

It's sad that so many Pagans believe that money is "bad" (ironically, a Judeo/Christian notion they still keep hold of). Pagan efforts of all kinds suffer as a result. Pagans do not "tithe", as Christians do, so how exactly are we ever going to have a temple? Wishing will not make it so.

As I said, too many Pagans expect great classes and events for free. And they want organizations, but won't pay the dues to support these. I've give you just one example: A colleague of mine was going to put up 40K of her own money to start one of those Pagan Centers we all claim to want (with classes, rooms to rent, readings, as well as a coffee bar and a gift shop attached). This would be open to any and all types of Pagans. She had the real world skills, training, contacts, and experience in the Pagan community to do this. She also had the lawyers, and the insurance coverage, too. But she was hissed at for *daring* to ask for reasonable membership dues (on a sliding scale, yet!) to help support it after the first year. All around her snotty remarks were made by Pagans about her proposed "Pagan Country Club". Well, who did she think she was anyway? I'll tell you who, *she* was the gal who had earned that money. She was the gal trying to give back to her Pagan brother and sisters. I said "give back" not "give it all away", which is apparently what some people wanted. Faced with this ingratitude and hostility, she decided not to open the Center. She's doing just fine, though. It's the Pagans who lost out.

Meanwhile, many New Age stores are making a good living, offering classes and jobs in the community and helping their folks to network. Go figure. I know one Pagan store left in my old neighborhood that does well, but they offer classes, et al, to both Pagan and New Age folks and others. If they relied only on Pagans for support I'm sure that they would soon go under.

Frankly, if Pagans don't respect or support the work required to offer retreats, events, temples, stores, etc. then they don't deserve to have them.

Will this change? Sure. It will change when Pagans with real world skills who respect money (which is simply another form of energy) come together to organize more of these events and temples. I see that happening now, and it's exciting, but it would be wrong for the Pagan community as a whole to expect a free ride. If you can't give money, then give a little of your time and expertise.

When Pagan Organizers write to me, dispondent, close to burn out from dealing with Takers. My advice to them is that they release that person with blessings, and go on to work with those among us who want to build something that lasts.



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