Thursday, January 10, 2008

It Ain't Easy, But It's Necessary

It is the new year, and at the trading post we have been diligently working on our New Year’s resolutions, and wagering on how long they will last. Realizing that people have been making and breaking resolutions since the Babylonians began the tradition, we have allowed ourselves to become somewhat sanguine about our New Year’s commitments. This year, however, will be different.

Bessie & Ruby Coggeshell
Navajo Weavers Bessie & Ruby Coggeshell

Barry, Jana, Priscilla, Tina, Tarrel and Rose have not fully disclosed their resolutions as of this writing. Mine on the other hand is relatively simple in concept, but may prove difficult in practice; I have resolved to improve the organization at the store, find new and innovative ways to capture and preserve the rapidly changing Navajo culture and better support the artists who are working hard to maintain those swiftly mutating traditions.

This resolution is the result of a conversation I had with a friend just prior to the end of the year. As we slouched over the counter, cussing and discussing 2007 and the experiences we had during the year, he said, “You know Steve, it ain’t easy, but it is necessary.” It struck me that his philosophy pretty well summed up my life to this point.

In truth, 2007 was a genuine challenge, both personally and at the trading post. Not that it was bad, it was simply extremely demanding. Things are rapidly changing in the trading post industry and in this part of the country. For example, the internet has hugely altered the way we do business, and Barry and I are struggling to understand its complexities and requirements.

Although Barry and I are of the generation that came of age during the computer revolution, I have always felt half in and half out when it comes to understanding computers, or as the Navajo people refer to them, “the talking metal.”

I remember the first time Damian Jim asked if we wanted to put up a web site. “A web what?, Barry and I asked, looking dazed and confused. “A web site, you know, on the world wide web,” Damian had impatiently explained. “The world wide what?, we responded, even more confounded. After several days of Damian’s often exasperated explanations, Barry and I looked at each other, crinkled our foreheads and said, “Why not? How much will it cost?” Damian should have replied, “It won’t be easy, but it is necessary.”

There are times when being ignorant is a blessing, and this was one of them. Had we known what we were getting into, we likely would not have had the courage to undertake the project.

For a few years, the site was mostly static and did not require a lot of time or financial commitment. Damian was learning, the web was developing and Barry and I were trying to understand why Damian was doing all these incomprehensible things on the computer we had purchased for the project. It was not until about ten years ago that we began to realize the power of the web. Still, even after reading The Internet for BIG Dummies, we did not understand how to make it all come together.

In early 2007, I called John, a friend who is living in Vermont. We had been trying to decipher search engine optimization and had gone through a number of people who said they understood it, but really didn’t. “Oh, I have been doing a lot of work on my site and have learned a bunch. Want me to give your site a go?”, John asked. “Why not,” Barry and I said once again. Some people never learn.

After months of keyword coding, duplicate content changing and web site redesign, we noticed the traffic to our web site had increase exponentially. We had bought new equipment, started recording the artists on video to capture their unique personalities and worked Tina, Tarrel , Rose and Jana to death, but the freeway had been built. But where were the sales?

“The site is too cumbersome, you must strip it down and make it easier to shop. All those people are coming to your site, but they don’t stay, because you confuse them with too much extraneous content.” Extraneous content? I have decided he must mean bull you know what, and we surely generate volumes of that around the post.

So here we are in the new year, trying to better organize ourselves, trying to understand a waning culture and trying to keep that culture and ourselves alive long enough to make a significance difference.

Happy New Year, and long live the resolution.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

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