Does sustainable mean not for profit?


I'm often asked how my business is doing. Costumers popping in after a couple of months, concerned friends and family that never really understood why I chose to take this path, and this weekend it was my boys. They are nine (I have twins) and at this age conversations between my husband and me about our finances do not go unnoticed anymore. They love the shop -and make a point on telling me it is the coolest one around-, but are aware that footfall on our high-street is almost non-existent, so they wonder if I make any money. So this weekend, while driving to The Netherlands to a family reunion (which gave us plenty of time to debate about worldly issues), I was taken to a corner and asked, point blank: mum, what is the profit of your business at the end of the year?

I had, like always, many things to explain as to what it takes to run my kind of business, but they wanted to know the profit and I had to say: cero.

I think their little hearts skipped a bit, bless them, and then they wanted to hear the other things I had to say. I didn't mind explaining it, because I believed this was a great opportunity to explain what VALUE actually means. So here's what I had to say to put their little minds at ease about mum's entrepreneurial endeavors: I am OK with having no profit last year, because last year was crucial in the sense that I wanted to be free of debt and we kind of managed, which I think is already an incredible task!. Economy is definitely slowing down and the outlook for retail is quite bleak (with brexit and all).

I believe -and hope I'm right- that as a consumers, a lot of us have grown out of the need to follow the "traditional" retail path and go to farther lengths to find products that offer more VALUE. I don't need to buy it cheap, I want it to be of good quality, I want to know where it comes from and I'd like someone to explain to me why the product is relevant when there are hundred similar ones on offer.

I believe this is our strength: we offer things that are different from brands that are consciously trying to make a statement. I take a painstakingly large amount of time choosing our offering, and can therefore explain exactly why the thing that caught your eye is in our shop. We are building strong relationships with the brands we stock and make a point of letting you know where things were made and out of which materials, and we make sure to give them feedback as to what we think could be done better and what we would love to see in the future.

Then there's the fact that when you spend your money on any independent retailer on your high-street, your money goes further. In our case, literally all of it went back out.

So, does sustainable mean not for profit? was the last question from my lovely little ones. Well.. Yes, in the sense that a sustainable business has an objective much larger than profit alone. In its most deliberate, it would aim to make life better for everyone, everywhere. Wouldn't that be nice?

Such a business would go to great lengths to educate the consumer on ways to reduce their impact on the world, how to make the products last and how to dispose of them when they no longer serve their purpose. It would rely less on discounting products' prices -as value doesn't reduce in time when a product is of great quality-, and invest larger amounts of money to guarantee the products it offers have a reduced environmental or social impact. All of this needs to happen while prices remain competitive, so profit is definitely harder to achieve.

So even tho I'm OK with not having had any profit last year, a business can't be considered sustainable if it can't maintain and grow through time.. So, here is to finding out in the next couple of years if my business is truly sustainable!