Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/3/2018 (1336 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Ten Thousand Villages, the fair trade stores that sell products from more than 20,000 artisans in poorer countries, is downsizing and hopes to sell more product wholesale and online.
Winnipeg-based Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is cutting nine of its 34 stores across Canada and laying off more than 35 employees.
Ten Thousand Villages outlets are largely run by volunteers, but there are some paid employees and managers. However, the greatest impact may be on artisan suppliers, who rely on the fair trade retail stores for their livelihoods.
"How do artisan families continue to afford having their children go to school, and having food security? Those are the kinds of impacts Ten Thousand Villages purchases have on artisan producers," said Rick Cober Bauman, executive director of MCC Canada, which oversees the stores.
Bauman said it was too early to quantify the effect of store closures on suppliers.
The executive director said he had to assess the cost benefit of the Ten Thousand stores. "Were there enough sales happening to cover costs? If not, then choices had to be made. You can’t keep operating if you don’t cover your costs," he said.
Manitoba has two stores in Winnipeg and one each in Brandon, Steinbach and Altona. Bauman said all of the Manitoba stores will remain open.
Efforts will be made to increase sales at all stores. He blamed lower sales on the growth in e-commerce.
"We recognize that retail is changing dramatically," he said. "Like many other retailers, Ten Thousand’s brick-and-mortar stores are struggling."
He conceded brick-and-mortar stores are part of Ten Thousand’s charm and provide consumers a unique buying experience. The stores are chock full of exotic handicrafts and serve as an inducement for people to buy goods from poorer nations. But the reality is more and more consumers are turning to e-commerce, he said.
Ten Thousand products can be found at tenthousandvillages.ca, but the company is exploring ways consumers can find its items without specifically going to their website.
It is also exploring placing Ten Thousand products into other retail outlets, perhaps having a corner stand in some stores.
Ten Thousand is North America’s oldest and largest fair trade organization with stores in both Canada and the United States. It partners with independent small-scale artisan groups and co-ops to bring their wares to this continent. Fair trade is a transparent way of buying and selling to provide fair prices to small producers in less developed parts of the world.
The first storefront opened in 1972. Altona operated the first store, called Self Help Crafts. It mushroomed from there into a chain of stores and later adopted the name Ten Thousand Villages.
The groundwork for Ten Thousand, however, was laid in 1946 by MCC worker Edna Ruth Byler, who visited Puerto Rico and saw volunteers teaching sewing classes to improve the lives of women living in poverty. She transported the embroidery work back to North America, stuffed it into her car and hit the road. She sold pieces at churches, parties and sewing circles, and the concept of fair trade — and Ten Thousand Villages — was born.
Some of the best-selling large items at Ten Thousand are rugs and carpets. The day-to-day fair trade purchases are chocolate and coffee. The top five countries in terms of Ten Thousand purchases, by percentage, are India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Peru and Nepal.
As well, Ten Thousand is that rare gift shop that doesn’t sell crafts on consignment. Rather, it pays the artisans up front and makes it its job to move the product.
"This has been the case for decades in MCC’s history. It is very central to our ability to have a sustainable development impact," Bauman said.
There are two types of stores. There are stores owned corporately by MCC, and then there are "board" stores where a local community comes together, forms a board and starts its own store. It then buys product from Ten Thousand Villages’ distribution centre in Ontario. Brandon, Steinbach and Altona have board-run stores.
Bauman, who assumed the helm of MCC last October, was asked if he was brought in to straighten out MCC’s financial books.
"Well, not directly, although that’s always the responsibility of the executive director," he said. But Bauman, who was previously MCC executive director for Ontario, said Ten Thousand "was already needing some attention" when he took over.
Stores closing or already closed are locations in Calgary (Heritage), Lethbridge, Saskatoon (2nd Ave.), Ontario stores in St. Jacobs and Stratford and two stores in Montreal (Monkland and St. Denis). Independently operated stores in Red Deer, Alta., and Windsor, Ont., will also close.