A new kind of retail

New retail at usethings store CastlemaineWhat we are trying to do in usethings store calls for conscious consumption, which is a little strange to attempt in retailing! usethings store is simple and small, we have created a situation where we can experiment with our ideas and not be forced to stock stuff just for the sake of turnover… with its low price, high margin, and often, disposability. Is this new retail? It would be hard to make a living purely from retail – the pressures of turnover and getting the lowest wholesale price is one of the drivers of consumption and the race to the bottom for the lowest production costs, ie off-shore.

usethings is swimming against the tide on this one – we are encouraging long term relationships with stuff, stuff that meets an essential need.

It’s a bit of an experiment really and the store is almost an installation where we are trying to express the ideas around, and story of, our business. We do this with our own design and the products we’ve selected.

After setting it all up we realised that continuity of production was a common element – stuff that has been made for 90 to 120 years – not driven by a fashion cycle and gone (landfill) in 2 years.

We’ve sometimes thought of it as a museum of the future – using artefacts to describe a projected future, one that is not just about consumption. These artefacts might feature local / relevant design meeting the needs of our community. They might be sustainable economically (it makes us a living) and sustainable in community – relevant to, and using the skills of, our community, and sustainable for the planet in the use of materials and processes that are benign or at least long lived for the impact of production.

usethings store is working well in getting these ideas across to the people who come in.

One of the ideas is having stuff for a long time – carefully choosing durable items that meet a need efficiently (ie sustainable design). Another idea is maintaining or fixing things – hence usethings tinker.

So now that you can access makers direct on web, we have the scenario of producers undercutting their retailers online. Allot of pre-purchase research happens online, so what is retail now. The thrill of the chase that is shopping is tinged with concern for the impacts implicit in the production, use, and disposal of stuff.

Could retail be a place where makers and users interact? We sometimes compromised our ideals in producing commissioned works, and decided it is better to make things that aligned with our concerns and then present it complete for our customers to decide if it is what they need. Retail is great for this and some of the people who come in to the store ‘get it’ and this makes it all worth while.

We don’t have credit card facilities… “you’ve got to take advantage of the impulse purchase” retail wisdom tells us. We apologise for the inconvenience, but we prefer a considered purchase – take your time; go away and think about it; come back later. Or come in with something specific in mind – one of our products you have decided on from the web site information.

Buying stuff is a real commitment. You know this when you come to move house and have to deal with your accumulation. Or you come to dispose of something tricky – the old CRT TV for example – which will be a real expense in the future. So you have to think about what you are taking on, it can weigh you down, and it is expensive to dispose of – in wasted energy and materials and the rising costs of landfill.

Yes we sell stuff but, we are aiming for a different way… business as unusual. We design and stock stuff of real value… useful things.