Monday, February 07, 2011

Picadou, Pug Snugglies, Red Bee, Etsy, and the Flourishing of Micro-Niche Markets

Finally, after only about 789 years, I got an iPhone so I can snap photos and instantly mail them to myself for this blog (maybe one day I'll become the David Lida of Coyoacán?). This photo (left) is my 10 year old pug, Picadou, modeling her winter coat from Pug Snuggly. Pug Snuggly is a company started by Jett Crane, a California-based pug owner who realized, about ten years ago--just when I needed to buy Picadou her first coat-- that the fact that it's not easy to find a coat that fits the cobby pug body represented a very nice business opportunity. Good for her and good for us! In other words, supply and demand in the pug couture niche have found their felicitous equilibrium.

Some of you know that, about 992 years ago, I used to work and publish as an economist under the name Catherine Mansell Carstens. I specialized in Mexican finance, and my last book under that name, published in 1995, was Las finanzas populares en México, which looked at the surprisingly rich variety of financial markets and instruments utilized by low-income people-- so of course, I had a lot to say about micro-credit for micro-businesses, etc, etc. (I left that career to write fiction and essays as C.M. Mayo because, after writing two books and more articles than I could count, I realized what appealed me most was the writing itself and the opportunity to explore the wider horizon of subjects that interest me --and frankly, after all that writing about economics, I was bored-to-Jesus writing about economics). All of this is to say that I can't help it, I still see the world through the lens of economics and I find it fascinating to watch, in the midst of this world-wide recession, the way Internet-based micro-niche-businesses, such as Pug Snugglies, are flourishing.

On the supply side, it is much easier to order on-line than it was ten years ago. The "shopping cart" features are better designed and more reliable, and most Internet connections faster and more stable (though, OK, I can complain about that sometimes, too).

On the demand side, I've noticed my own shopping habits veer dramatically away from malls in the past couple of years. I've been ordering books from and for an eon, but recently, just for example, I began ordering varietal honey from apitherapist, author, and beekeeper Marina Marchese's Red Bee website; Filofax refills from, and some wiggy protective covers for the laptop and iPhone from

Last December, rather than elbow into a parking space and endure long lines at the mall, I did most of my holiday shopping in late November on et voila, by December, the boxes just showed up on my doorstep. If you're not familiar with etsy, it's a gigantic on-line "mall" of micro businesses selling owner-made handmade items of all kinds, plus a few "vintage" thises- and-thats. Though items are not auctioned, otherwise, it operates very much like ebay: buyers and sellers can rate eachother (so bad apples are shown for what they are), and buyers do not give their credit card numbers directly to sellers, but pay via PayPal.

Some of the items listed on etsy are very unusual-- all I can say is, it makes for dangerously fun surfing (do check out "When Zombies Met the Baby Jesus Anti-Holiday Card" by Tina Henry, aka tinaseamonster who says, in her product description, "If you are offended by this, please don't write to me. I am a nice person and if I go to hell, that is totally my problem.")

And yes, there's a lot of vintage, um... steampunkerie galore, and stuff that looks like a 5th grader made it. But there are endless wonders made by expert artists and craftsmen/ -women who-- you can tell by the feedback and how quickly they "convo" (that's etsy-speak for reply to their customers' messages)-- truly value their customers.

To give an idea of the etsy's staggering variety: so far I've bought, among other things, a beautifully-made laptop shoulderbag (and, by the way, at a very low price), several sheets of gorgeously marbled paper, and a box of peanutbutter cookies.

Ay, and how could I forget to mention fiverr?

My own Internet-friendly micro-business, which I hope won't remain micro for long, is Dancing Chiva Literary Arts, S.C. Since 2007 I've been offering occasional writing workshops via Dancing Chiva in Mexico City (I had to slow down on those when I started my book tour for The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire in 2009). Later this year we'll begin publishing e-books and limited editions, specializing in Bajacaliforniana, Maximiliana, and works for writers. Want news about that? We'd love to see you on the Dancing Chiva mailing list (click here to sign up).

More anon.