Build a better business through reciprocity

Call it the Golden Rule, the threefold law of return, Karma...every culture has it's version of Do Unto Others. Running a retail  business offers endless opportunities for beneficial mutual exchange with all kinds of people...vendors, customers, suppliers, staff, delivery people, neighbors, tech support: the question is - what are you going to do with it?

 Kids on seesaw, constance heffron, happy days, 1951, allyn and bacon
 It takes a relationship to make it work. Illustration by Constance Heffron. Happy Days, 1951 Allyn and Bacon

For me, part of the thrill of retail is being able to cultivate relationships. If I'm excited about a piece of art, a product, a service, a website, I want to get to know what, or who, is behind it. My first impulse is to write an email, make a phone call, write a blog post, send a note on facebook or twitter. If I like something I want to tell the world about it. But after a point, I really do need to be supported in kind.

It's been my experience that only a portion of the people I extend myself to bother to respond in kind. Do I understand why? Not really. I guess some people are just not connectors. Do I accept it? Yes. And move along.

I'm not quite snarky enough to tattle on those businesses who don't see generosity as part of their work ethic. The law of threefold return will bite them in the derriere eventually. If I like their products or services enough I might continue to use them, or sell them, but I won't go the extra mile to help publicize them. There's no juice in it.

But those who do... ah, the sweetness of mutual delight and support. Here's to the connectors.


flashbags Flashbags started in business the same time I did. We are all Burlingtonians. Our kids go to school together. I adore them, personally and professionally. We've always featured each other in promotions and events. Ali and Laura, now just Laura, are the most generous, enthusiastic co-conspirators a business could ask for. Flashbags are the staple of my retail business and I couldn't imagine retail life without them.


I was excited about Cardboardesign from the moment I found out about their products.Liquid cardboard I think I read about them on a design blog when they first started, and was one of their first wholesale accounts. Because I was so in love with their product I started blogging about them. Because their marketing director, David Rosenzweig is such a nice and cool guy, he started emailing me. His daughter even commented on this blog. Did I mention he knows Simon Doonan? (who has never contacted me, ahem...) And recently they quoted me on their new sales brochure. Was I excited? You bet. Does this translate to sales for me..and them? Of course. Why? Because the personal connection, the reciprocity, makes me want to work that much harder for them. [update: sorry to report that Cardboardesign went out of business. sniff...]

Canetti frames Canetti frames are, after Flashbags, my best selling product. It's always easy to sell a product I love so much. But when owner Nancy Halper and I started exchanging chatty emails, when she took the time to research and answer my questions, when she invited me to Linked In,  I knew there was a real person behind the product and that relationship spurred me to be even more excited to sell their beautiful, pure acrylic magnet frames. I'm sure that in the scope of things I'm not that big of an account for them. Au contraire. But Nancy always makes me feel special. At their booth the recent NYC gift show, Canetti featured my store advertising postcard in their frames. Yeah, it's a great card, looks super in their frames, and mentions them on the back. But they didn't have to do it. Again, wow. 

Tech Stuff:

I used to send gallery and shop announcement  email blasts via my website, which was cumbersome. Then I only used facebook, which is good but doesn't have any extra oomph. Then a few months ago I was blog surfing and someone mentioned Mad Mimi email marketing. I regret not remembering which blog, but a couple of days later I googled Mad Mimi, browsed their site, and decided to give them a try.

The MadMimi webpage was inspiring, their testimonials glowing. I decided to give it a try. Heck, I need to promote this store.  At some point while I was designing my first promotion I had a question, even though their design program is super easy to use. I emailed their tech support and ....right away someone was there, live, in real time, answering my questions. Patiently. Nicely. I mean, Hello!!...when does that happen??

But then there was a bigger bonus - besides my amazing and amazingly easy to design promotion. At  the Mad Mimi site they have a gallery of some of their clients and I decided my goal was to get into that gallery. They've got cool stuff there - great clients. I emailed and got a really sweet response from Gary, CEO and Founder.  We chatted about this and that...he lives in my old Brooklyn neighborhood..and yes, they loved my promotion and put it on their site. So...not only did I get super tech support, get to design and send a gorgeous email promotion, which my customers loved, but also they put me on their website. Again, sure, my promo was great... but that's the thing. They didn't have to. But they - Gary, Dean and the others on the team,  understand reciprocity, they are nice, down to earth folks running a savvy business. Part of their savviness is in their genuine customer relations. 


If you've ever tried to get tech support from web or blog providers, you know just how frustrating this can be, and how likely you are to get the response, "we got your question and will be back with you soon" and then you wait and wait - and wait - until you get an answer that confounds you even more. Not mentioning any names typepad.

Some tech support makes me want to gnash my teeth and tear out my hair, which makes my happiness with MadMimi  even more impressive. 

Link some Love:

Love what someone's doing, selling, writing, designing? Send them some link love. Why not? Tweet them, it costs you nothing, and the goodwill you get back is astounding. Or post a link on Facebook. I'm new to the tweet world, an old hand at Facebook, and here's what I think: you can build community through links, tweets and retweets.

A while back, book designer and blogger Ian Shimkoviak tweeted a post of mine. I only knew because I followed the trail on sitemeter when I noticed a bump in readership. Then I wrote about him in my recent post on book covers. Then he tweeted that. And it was picked up by a couple of his followers. Today I tweeted MadMimi. They tweeted me. And tomorrow??? Maybe I'll tweet you. Or you'll tweet me.


What it boils down to for me is more than the golden rule: in my mission statement I say that Pine Street Art Works is in business to build community  through retail. I am a fierce advocate for local neighborhood community building, but,  in addition, in this cyber age, neighborhood can be anywhere and everywhere. We build it one email, one tweet, one link at a time. Share the love.

Cardboard wish tree at The White House

This year The White House has 26 Christmas trees. One of them is made of cardboard. Not just any cardboard, but recycled cardboard made into a Wish Tree. Who made this cardboard wishing tree? My friends at Cardboardesign in New York City.



"white house wish tree" "white house cardboard Christmas tree" "cardboardesign"
Cardboard Wish Tree at The White House by Cardboardesign mfg. & design


I spoke with  David Rosenzweig, sales and marketing director at Cardboardesign to get the skinny on the tree.  So how did it come about? Something like this: The White House (pardon the metonymy) decided to do a Green Christmas. White house social secretary Desiree Rogers knows design superstar Simon Doonan (be still my heart - Doonan is one of my heroes.)  Doonan was hired to oversee the Christmas decor and design at the White House. Doonan knows  Rosenzweig.  Et Voila. Doonan asked Cardboardesign to make a special order Christmas wish tree.



Christian Serratos, white house christmas, white house cardboard tree, cardboardesign, simon doonan, twilight star christmas Dec. 29th.Christian Serratos at the White House adding her wish to the tree.


Mrs. Obama and her daughters, Sasha and Malia, made a Christmas presentation at The Children's National Medical Center, and when someone asked about the trees at the White House, here's what they said:

SASHA:  What about the wishing tree?

MRS. OBAMA:  Well, there's one -- you want to talk about the wishing tree, one of the trees?

SASHA:  One of the trees is called the wishing tree, and it is made out of cardboard.  And so you can write down a wish and you roll it up and then you can put it one of the holes and it might come true.

MRS. OBAMA:  So that's a new tradition at the White House.  So what we want you all to do next year is to come to the White House, because you can see all of them.  It's open to anybody who wants to come.  (Bo barks.)  You, too.  (Laughter.)

All right, you promise me that next year you'll come by the White House and see for yourself?  Okay.


The tree and the rest of the White House Christmas decor will be on HGTV on Christmas Eve, or you could probably find it at the HGTV website after the broadcast, so be sure to check it out.







UPDATE Jan 7th - Simon Doonan writes in The New York Observer about his experiences with the Christmas White house:

"Last spring, Desiree Rogers, the glamazon White House social secretary, invited me—are you sitting down?—to help decorate the White House for the holidays!!! I felt honored and stunned but not, if I am to be honest, totally surprised. This may sound arrogant, but if not me, then whom? With more than 35 years of Holiday decorating at Barneys and elsewhere, I am, après tout, one of the most experienced elves in the land. Why, conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart (more on him in a moment) was still in diapers when I began practicing my craft.

My accumulated holiday savoir-faire did not stop me from being utterly terrified by this fabulous project. The responsibility! The gravitas! The White House! What would happen if I screwed it all up? What would happen if it all turned out looking all horrid and naff? What would happen if some self-appointed Web luminary blogged about some infinitesimally small aspect of my holiday décor, thereby setting off of a gruesome and hostile Internet fatwa? But let’s not get ahead of ourselves." More here


"cardboardesign" "liquid cardboard" "tabletop sculpture" "recycled cardboard sculpture" Liquid Cardboard tabletop sculptures by Cardboardesign. A best seller here at PSAW.

More on Cardboardesign

CARDBOARDDESIGN: Liquid cardboard


 Liquid cardboard display
Liquid Cardboard by Cardboardesign at Pine Street Art Works.

I can't remember how I first heard about the NYC company Cardboardesign. Maybe it was on one of the home design blogs I frequent. I do know that when I placed my first order a few years ago I was one of the first, if not the first wholesale customer they had. Hooboy, not anymore.

Cardboardesign products were  featured at the Guggenheim Gala honoring Frank Gehry, at the American Museum of Natural History Climate Change Launch. They were featured on Big Ideas For A Small Planet on The Sundance Channel and on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Look for Cardboardesign products at some of the tonier retail venues around the country, including, of course, Pine Street Art Works.

Liquid cardboard 8 on hand
Liquid Cardboard #8. Liza Cowan photo.

The various products made by Cardboardesign - furniture, toys, tableware - are all made of recycled and recyclable materials. Even the glue they use is eco friendly. Equally important, they are all design forward, sophisticated and fun. I'm featuring the Liquid Cardboard line, pieces that can be used to hold flowers, candy, candles, or just sit on the table to amuse your guests. They morph into all kinds of shapes and are endlessly fun to manipulate. I've even had a customer buy one to use as a bracelet.

 Liquidcardboard #6 cd
Liquid Cardboard #6 used as a votive holder.

 Liquidcardboard #6 lc
Mannequin pumping Liquid Cardboard #6. Liza Cowan photo

If you live near Burlington or are planning a visit, come on by and check out the coolest line of table top sculpture you'll see this season. If not, you can buy online direct from Cardboardesign

Liquid Cardboard #3.

Some Liquid Cardboard items are available at our online store. Check it out!


Liquid Cardboard #4