I'm the Co-founder and CEO of The Grommet. We launch undiscovered consumer products. It's also the birthplace of Citizen Commerce. I write about design, cultural anthropology, and start-ups, mostly.

Seeing that Tipping Point of Joy Get Closer and Closer

joy

When you start a business you are constantly looking for evidence that you are not crazy, and that you are working on something that matters. In quiet moments of fear or self-doubt at The Grommet, here is the fundamental question I’ve asked myself when looking in the mirror: “Do people ‘get’ what we are trying to do?”

I am predicting that 2014 is the year when that question finally gets erased.

To assess that tipping point I don’t look at facts and figures:  I dig deeper into the soft stuff.  In particular, I study the stories and anecdotes from Grommet supporters.  Most are from people I have never met.  But the story below came via my college roommate’s mother.

Yesterday I was in Fairmount Letters, a small shop selling paper-related items and small gifts in Cleveland Heights, waiting in line to pay for a few greeting cards, and I began to listen to the woman ahead of me who was chatting with the sales person– evidently a friend– about a place where she’s done “half her Christmas shopping,” some sort of web site. “No, not like Kickstarter, the items are ready to buy, it’s thegrommet.com,” she dictated to her friend, who jotted it down.”

 “I spoke up immediately to register my three degrees of separation. The woman could not say enough about the site. She mutes the music when she logs on because otherwise her kids swoop in to see what they want.”

On the surface, this is a story about nailing that great gift.  And people do that terrifically well at The Grommet.  But I hope something more is behind this anecdote.  I hope this person has a sense of being part of something bigger than buying a product.  In that ordinary–yet most powerful–consumer act, she is voting for a different way of doing business.  She is supporting brilliant and creative people who might not otherwise get to build businesses at all.  And when a fresh kind of innovator and Maker gets to start something they don’t do it according to the old rules of business.  Instead, 2,500 Grommet Makers are shaping our economy around deep values that matter:  creating domestic jobs, enabling employment in impoverished areas on our globe, creating social enterprises, fostering planet friendly business practices, preserving craft, inventing new technologies, giving back to the community.

 Gary Hirshberg, the CEO of Stonyfield Farm, speaks about a simple but highly radical belief.  He says business has traditionally been about “subtracting” something from someone else:  taking something away from the competition, business partners, employees, consumers, and the environment.  He believes, as do I, that business can be additive. It can make things better, not worse.  There are indeed real-live win-win scenarios in contemporary enterprises like Gary’s business and The Grommet. Business could be a force for good, if we set aside our cynicism but also raise our expectations for what a business can and should do in the world.

So maybe the woman in the Cleveland shop was truly just excited to be giving really thoughtful gifts.  But what she also did was create a multiplier for good with every dollar she spent on a Grommet, with every conversation she had about these wonderful Grommet Makers, and with every gift she gave that made a new positive dent in the world.

I am hearing more and more of these kinds of stories, which made 2013 such a joyous experience, and why I expect 2014 to be the year where that kind of joy truly hits a tipping point.

52 Responses to “Seeing that Tipping Point of Joy Get Closer and Closer”

  1. Leslie Cowan

    I love the Grommet. I like it for a much different reason than most people. The site gives me hope. My husband and I ran a business for sixteen years that ould not compete with the chains. We were forced to leave something we loved and it left us financially shaky. We, along with our ten and sixteen year old dream of creating
    a new business. The daily emails and pool of creative people
    e gives us hope that we will someday join them as they create a new business market.f foing

    Reply
    • julespieri

      Leslie, It warms my heart to read your message about finding hope in the Grommet stories. I believe there is a tipping point forming around supporting local and small and independent businesses that may give you a fresh platform and community support to try again. A lot of us have realized the importance of these kind of ventures and the true cost of only buying things and services because they are cheap. I wish you well as you recover from your prior venture and consider the next one. It surely takes a lot of courage to start a business and not something you can fully appreciate until you do it.

      Reply
      • Leslie Cowan

        Thank you again for a wonderful site! I truly feel that customer service and small independent business is something that communities are beginning to crave!! Best wishes for a great 2014!

  2. Karen

    Your efforts do not go unnoticed! I have just discovered your website this year, and share it’s wonderful treasures with friends, family, and myself.
    Happy New Year!
    Karen

    Reply
    • julespieri

      Thank you Karen. You can’t buy the impact of a sincere endorsement like yours and I really appreciate your telling people about the Grommet and our wonderful Makers.

      Reply
    • ASHLEY

      Just discovered it today & I’m thrilled!
      Ashley
      Guntersville, AL

      Reply
  3. Patty Gale

    LOVE the Grommet. I only discovered it a month or so ago and just love seeing all the cool products, but more importantly, the stories behind them. It keeps me inspired as I venture into my new business, a total turnaround from what I’ve been doing the last 13 years. I have no doubt that tipping point for you is definitely closer. Congratulations!!

    Reply
  4. Sharon logan

    I have made several purchases from the Grommet, but this blog really brings home how differently even small businesses have to operate in the age of the internet. I bet the person who owned that small shop where the customers were talking about The Grommet wasn’t too happy about it. My local yarn store just closed because it couldn’t compete with the internet, and even Barnes and Noble is having problems competing with internet book stores that don’t have the overhead that any local business does. Just a thought.

    Reply
    • julespieri

      Sharon, You are sharing an important thought here. I have written very often about the importance of supporting local businesses on this blog. Here is one post. http://jules.thegrommet.com/2010/09/25/why-you-are-not-a-sap-for-buying-high-priced-milk/

      But if you dive a bit more deeply into what we do at The Grommet you will perhaps discover that we are helping a lot of small Makers (who are the true lifeblood of independent retail) get their first exposure and sea legs on The Grommet. Small local shop owners don’t have the resources to travel to trade shows and they often use The Grommet as a trusted source to find the kind of special products they would love to find. In that way we have quite a symbiotic relationship with Main Street. Our team always takes photos of “Grommets in the Wild” when we travel because we are really happy to share success with those kind of shops.

      Reply
      • Janet Syverson

        When I spend money I try to support locally owned businesses. It feels good to shop at The Grommet as you are “helping a lot of small Makers.” Love it. This year the best most inspired gifts I found for others were at the Grommet! Thank you for all that you do!!

  5. Brian

    I think Grommet is a great place to shop. I never ordered on line before finding Grommet. I had a prob w a product and let them know and I got a new one in no time… no grief!
    I tell everyone about it.

    Reply
  6. Catherine

    Jules

    We at Toffee Talk always say that the Daily Grommet is the gift that keeps giving.

    We are proud everyday to be a Grommet producer.

    Thank you and keep up the good work, I know it is not easy.

    Happy New Year.

    Reply
    • julespieri

      Catherine, That is so nice to hear. You should be very proud of all you accomplished and your delicious product. I wish I had some Toffee Talk right hear next to me and my cozy Christmas tree. :)

      Reply
  7. Sandra

    GDay
    I look forward to receiving the emails with all the interesting gifts on Grommet.
    I am 72 this year and just love gadgets, I’m sure I was born to too early, I would have indulged myself with the wonderful mysteries of the sort of gifts you offer.
    I live in Tasmania Australia so the postage makes it an expensive exercise to buy.
    However that doesn’t stop me from enjoying reading and checking out all the fascinating items.
    I think you are a on the cusp of being the “Having the Best gifts and Most interesting online Store around”
    All the very best to you and the staff
    Cheers sandra

    Reply
    • julespieri

      Oh man, I look forward to the day when we can ship to Australia more easily Sandra. On the topic of treasures and mysteries, I have three small and irregular handmade glass perfume bottles from Tasmania that are among my most precious belongings, having bought them on my first and only trip to your pretty country. They always make me smile, and long to return.

      Reply
  8. Gay dallek

    I really love The Grommet website and the wonderful products you offer. I have told many friends and family about The Grommet and will continue to do so.

    Reply
  9. Janice

    Yes, I “get” what you are doing. It’s a platform for unique ideas and inventors to post their products and see if they have legs. And good for them that you are posting their products because I know, from personal experience, that what you sell is a quality product in addition to being unique. If I want to give a unique gift, I go to your website. What is also good about your forum, is that it gives the small business person a chance to get up and running, with a good product, instead of getting overwhelmed with success and failing to fulfill their possibilities.

    Reply
    • julespieri

      Janice, That is an astute set of observations. Since retail got so big and consolidated we lost some of that natural growth path for new companies and products. They really need that local, Main Street, and small chain level of distribution to, as you say, see if they have legs

      We are doing our best to provide a community that replicates that but also modernizes this critical test period to give Makers the data to plan their next move and attract bigger retail. The old ways were pretty slow and fragmented and made it tough for these companies to survive the two or three year slog to sustainability. We can accelerate that in a healthy way because we have national feedback and The Grommet can provide critical advice and support.

      Reply
  10. Anne Marie Sweeney

    I love love love GROMMET.COM Christmas was super fun for the one that received grommet gifts . Like interactive jewelry the nonslip headbands etc after they saw your web sight we talked and talked about what this could do for America . And since I had items bought at grommet I showed how durable and well-made they are like back in the olden days were things were made to last.. I believe 2014 will be a great year for grommet . I have no complaints .. Other than I need more stuff from grommet . com .. HAPPY NEW YEAR grommet.com .. Yours in ink Anne

    Reply
    • julespieri

      What a fun story Anne. Thanks for telling everyone about your Christmas and your experiences with the Grommets. I love that you see what this (We all!) can do for America by supporting these Makers.

      Reply
  11. Susie

    I love the grommet! It is one of the few sales sites that I look forward to hearing from. even tho I might not need what you are unveiling that day, it is always interesting to see what it is. I have fallen in love with blue lounge ( thanks for introducing us). I have found ingenuous ways to store things that were driving me crazy. That is the best thing I can say about grommet, you introduce those entrepreneurs that think outside the box to those of us who appreciate their creativity. Thanks I didn’t know I needed the grommet till you put it out there, and my guess is I am not alone in that feeling!

    Reply
  12. murphylass

    I discovered The Grommet by accident, but it’s my favorite go-to for problem solvers, gifts, and just plain fun stuff. Every time I gift something from The Grommet, people are amazed and want to know where I found it. Spreading the word to everyone I know. It’s an amazing and delightful site, and you never know what you’ll find.

    Reply
  13. Jenn Choi

    I think people get what you’re doing. I kind of ask myself the same question because I write reviews on toys that I believe are not only wonderful for a child’s development but that the manner in which the toy was made and by whom is just as powerful as a teaching tool for children. The trouble is, someone needs to find these toys for them. Like other grommets, these can’t be found in local big box stores. The trouble is, I often wonder how much people really care. Are they curious about the maker as much as I am? Do they believe they can afford to buy less toys which happen to be amazing or do they want to buy more of the many cheaper toys out there that need to be replaced often because they just aren’t that great. Buying things that were made thoughtfully sometimes requires more thoughtful usage too.

    That said, I am truly inspired by the success of the Grommet. I love how you curate products. They wake up the maker and dreamer in me and I’m looking forward to buying more in 2014. I love when stores do more than supply but act as a guide. The Grommet has my deepest respect and I wish you lots of success in 2014 and beyond.

    Jenn

    Reply
    • julespieri

      Jenn, Wow, I am honored and humbled by your comments. I do also sometimes wonder “do people really care?” The comments here on this post are very energizing to me. But when I think more broadly I also conclude that enough people do care. (And the reality is sometimes you “care” when it comes to one kind of purchase, but less so for a routine one. If that makes any sense. )

      The US is such a huge country and if a big enough band of us join together to reverse some negative trends about nameless, faceless business, and mindless consumption, we can have a broad and lasting impact. If we just make 10% of our purchases reflect our values the shift in our economy would be gigantic.

      I love that we are inspiring the Maker and dreamer in you too! What wonderful words. Thanks for your good wishes.

      Reply
  14. Wayne Ortner

    Thank you for assembling an excellent company culture and an excellent team to carry out your plan. As a supplier to The Grommet, I am deeply grateful for the vision your folks have, as well as the efforts your company has put into helping our product succeed. The Grommet has been a valued partner for us and I don’t want anybody to think we’ve taken it for granted! Indeed, it sets you apart!

    Reply
  15. Vicki Valente

    I love looking at the products and purchased also, reason being they are totally different that you can’t really find anywhere else. When you want to buy a gift and want something unique, this is where you will find it. Keep up the good work and thank you so much for creating this web site and selling these wonderful creations.

    Reply
    • julespieri

      Vicki,
      We can only help people like Wayne (see prior comment) succeed because of supporters like you. Thanks so much for spreading the word too.

      Reply
  16. Jane

    Thankful you have created a site that provides an avenue for local U.S.A. innovators to sell their wares. I am a believer in what you are doing and do my best to spread the word. Best wishes for continued success in 2014

    Reply
  17. EL Hoard

    Jules, I’m a guy that spent 40 years serving both small independent dealers as well as huge conglomerates such as Walmart, Target, and other National chains. The last 25 of those years, I watched as the small independent dealer community virtually disappear in just about every consumer category there is, i.e. Stationery, Hardware, Drug & Sunderies, etc., etc. The National Chains literally drove manufacturing from this country to China, India, and other countries who, because of basically slave labor, has decimated jobs for our citizens. This process is complete now, however; with the advent of the internet, a new transformation is taking place, and brick and mortar chains are beginning to feel the pressure that they bestowed on the Mom and Pop Independent businesses across this country as well as other free societies.

    I applaud and get what you and your associates are trying to do. You have provided an outlet for those creative souls to share their talent and gifts to the world within a convenient single source location. These individuals may otherwise not have had this opportunity to share those talents with us.

    Might I suggest that you post the country of origin and manufacture with each product. These individuals are proud of their products as well as where they are made. With this you are recognizing the individual as well as their heritage.

    Wishing you and The Grommet much success.

    Sincerely,
    EL

    Reply
    • julespieri

      El, It sure sounds like you know of what you speak. It is amazing how US retail (and much of the world) became a race to the bottom…squeezing every manufacturer so hard to deliver discount prices that are totally unsustainable. There was a temporary false win for consumers. It’s not much of a win if they lose their jobs because their own companies cannot make a profit and stay afloat. It became very vicious. I love that you see some possible reversal here, as do I. As consumers and citizens we really do have the tools and power we never did before. Until social media and the internet I was really just wringing my hands over these bad trends at retail. I can see some light ahead and glad you share that point of view.

      Do take a look at the “Details” tab by each of the Grommets. We list the country of manufacture there. It does indeed range all over the globe for the reasons you cite, but also for other reasons. Some entrepreneurs feel a mission to create jobs in impoverished foreign areas on the globe.

      Country of origin is a huge area of attention for the Grommet community and the one that is most polar: we have people who say they will only buy American made (although the people who actually post the most vigorous comments on our site about buying American rarely buy any Grommets at all, oddly) and people who make an individual decision about each product based on broader factors. It’s fascinating.

      Reply
      • EL Hoard

        Jules. Thanks for the tip on COO (country of origin). Duuuhhhhhh :).

        Just FYI, I have yet to make a Grommet purchase, but assure you, I will. I visit your site regularly and repost on my Facebook page. I have friends that visit and purchase Grommet goods. Just haven’t found anything yet, that I am personally interested in. More stuff for the Ladies then men. Also note that it’s not all about, Golf, or Duck Dynasty hunting for some of us guys, unless you have something that will get my golf game under 100. :))). We love Tech things, garage things, tools, as well as Lawn & Garden stuff. You know, guy things. :))))

        Happy New Year to you and your associates.
        EL

      • EL Hoard

        Wow Jules, thanks for the tip on the golf training Whip. Never really associated the whip and golf in the same context, but hey, I’m open minded. I will check it out. Thanks.
        El

  18. Eddie

    “He says business has traditionally been about “subtracting” something from someone else: taking something away from the competition, business partners, employees, consumers, and the environment. ”

    Nope. Sorry, a good buissness is not a zero sum game. Since the dawn of man, good trade has been based on value. Monetary, or otherwise.

    Reply
    • julespieri

      No argument with me here Eddie. Gary was not arguing that subtractive business practices were successful or good ones. He was just pointing out that negative bias.

      Reply
  19. Bridget

    I also did half my Christmas shopping on the Grommet! I’ve been a subscriber and fan for years and, funnily, it’s been Pinterest that has converted my browsing habits into purchases. I watch every single daily video and love so many of the products but don’t have a lot of discretionary spending so a lot of what I saw went into a ‘wish list’ in my mind. With the dawn of Pinterest I was able to start a virtual list for both my own wish list and a separate list for gifting others. Come December I had all my gift ideas saved in one place and I was able to email my wish list to family and was also able to remember all those awesome finds and buy them for everyone on my list. Jules, the moment you’ll appreciate the most is when I opened my gifts from my boyfriend and everything was from the Grommet! Several months ago I showed him a necklace I liked from the Grommet and he ordered it for me. What I didn’t know is that he signed up to receive the daily emails and has been monitoring the site for things he knew I’d like. And he nailed it. He bought and framed the Litographs Literary Art Pride and Prejudice full text poster. I’m so excited to hang it in my apartment. So anyway, we’re huge fans and I’m spreading word of the Grommet wherever I go!

    Reply
    • julespieri

      Bridget, I shared your comment with our team because this is the first time I have heard of Pinterest playing so direct a role in changing someone from browser to buyer on our site. (Did you know we have a shareable wish list on our site too? I do understand why Pinterest has advantages though–for the way you are using it.) Anyway, your boyfriend sounds like a keeper and you particularly won my heart by falling in love with Litographs. It’s a very special Grommet for a unique kind of person.

      Reply
      • Bridget

        I’m so glad to hear my Pinterest insights were helpful. That’s exactly why I shared them. I work in PR and am constantly studying the changing trends in social media and I think it’s so important to know which ones a business should or shouldn’t be using. I did know that the Grommet has a wish list feature, which is fabulous. I think Pinterst just takes it to the next level. It’s so great you guys have an active presence. And yes, my boyfriend did well. I should have mentioned that he’s been enjoying his Razor Renew (as am I!), HomeMade Gin Kit (just started brewing last night) and he’s LOVING his Cupa Rocks Glasses. It’s been a very Grommet new year around our home! Keep up the fabulous work (and if you ever have an opening in your marketing department let me know! :)

      • julespieri

        Bridget,

        Thanks for giving me more color on your comment. I agree that Pinterest takes wish lists to a new level. Our team member Tori Tait is actually recognized–even internationally-as a Pinterest expert for business use. But she started learning as a very early adopter, personally. So she is really behind most of our advances. We have a group board where people can suggest Grommets ideas for us to consider. Let me know if you would like Tori to invite you to contribute.

  20. Deborah S

    Wishing you, your staff and your vendors a great Grommet 2014 keep up the great work!

    Reply
    • julespieri

      Deborah, And the same to you. We are going into 2014 with a ton of heart and energy. All these comments are really buoying me up, personally. I had two very difficult deaths in my immediate family this holiday week and it sounds sappy, but having this positivity from our community is helping me a lot.

      Reply

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