Beth Casey, owner of Lorna's Laces yarn company, raises some important questions about what makes a business “indie” and another business “corporate” over on her blog.
Though it's tempting, given how much grey area there is, to wonder why making such distinctions is worthwhile, I do think it's an important conversation to have in our evolving world of handmade businesses and creative services.
The reason I'm writing about this over here and not simply adding a comment to the great ones on Beth's post is that I want to raise a question that may shift the conversation a little. And I need some room to think out loud, as they say.
First a note: In this context, as is clear from the way Beth wrote about it, “indie” and “corporate” are not simply used as terms describing the organization of a business. Rather, as is often the case in the crafts/DIY/maker community, these terms are used to describe all manner of qualities a business might possess – from who designs and creates goods, to who markets them, to who puts them in the mail, and on and on. Discussions on this topic are often heated, and there can be quite a bit of debate about exactly what these terms mean, because the interpretation and use of them can be very personal.
So. That question I want to raise: Is it possible that at this point, indie is as indie does, and corporate is as corporate does? And that it's our individual perceptions that lead us to categorize businesses, rather than simply a strung-together list of on-paper qualities?
I've done business with Beth for a long time. I've been to the Lorna's Laces studio and chatted about all manner of things with her and with some of her six employees. Communication with the company is informal and easy – I see them, and I believe many others see them, as accessible. Sure, they hand-dye all their products, but that's not the thing that makes me see them as “indie”. It's all the other stuff – the way they do business and the way they approach interacting with colleagues and consumers, alike.
I've worked with other small yarn companies that, regardless of their size, aren't as “indie”. Their structure seems more bureaucratic – emails bounce from one person to another as the “appropriate” individual is located. Communication isn't as casual. Letters and invoices don't include a handwritten note.
These yarn companies may all be small and owner-operated. But some seem more “corporate” – formal, bureaucratic, difficult to navigate – and some more “indie” – friendly, straightforward, transparent in their business practices. The important bit here is that these qualities don't hinge on the size of an organization. Large corporations can be accessible and warm, and small companies – even one-person shops – can seem impenetrable and cold.
Let's bring this beyond the yarn industry. I think these days we tend to see corporations as evil and indies as good. Corporations rape the earth and indies are all ethical and in line with our (varying) personal politics. Being specific, though, which companies do you enjoy doing business with and which ones do you hate?
Beth's post made me think about this, and I was surprised to discover that for me, it's nothing to do with a company's size or whether its products are handmade. Sure, I love to buy handmade, and I love to support local businesses. But really, I'm satisfied doing business with any company I think is, in addition to being run in sound ways ethically, accessible to me. If I'm treated with respect as a human being whose time and money are valuable, I'm happy. Whether it's the mom-and-pop toy-making business sending me stuff for my kid and asking me about his preferences, or an international e-book retailer answering a tweet about technical problems.
And the same happens in reverse. I've had some beastly experiences with, say, Etsy sellers who make like I'm inconveniencing them by buying their products, or customer service reps from huge telecom companies who give me the run-around.
I suppose I've ended up where Beth ended up, wondering if we need some new terms to describe creative businesses in a way that's more useful and accurate.
How do you think of your own business, or the businesses you most enjoy supporting? And the ones you wish would die a violent and bankrupted death?