Category: Archive

Working Lives: Internet reshapes the ethnic gift market

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

"Art is not a mirror to reflect the world but the hammer with which to shape it," the late Russian poet Vladimir Mayakobsky once stated. Now, Dubliner Gerard Power is using the saying as the motto for his new business, the retailing of ethnic art and crafts. But like Mayakobsky and his ideas about shaping art, Power, in his new venture, is using the internet as a tool to drastically recast the conventional ethnic gift store.

In the fast-moving world of e-commerce, the address of Power’s workplace, his apartment in midtown Manhattan, is not that important. Ask him where he’s located and he’ll give you his website, artshapes.com, a name inspired by Mayakobsky.

In his plan to become a global ethnic retailer, Power has started with the Irish, and a eclectic collection of gifts ranging from as little as $10 to more than $500. Orders, many of them custom requirements, are e-mailed to the artists in Ireland and shipped directly to the client.

But Power is setting up artshapes.com as more than a virtual Irish gift store. Because the internet allows people around the world to communicate, artshapes.com will be an interactive site, allowing members of its Irish Arts Club to chat with authors, actors, poets, playwrights, craftspeople and movie directors. Every month, club members will receive, via email, the Irish Arts in America newsletter which will focus on current Irish art events. The site also gives Irish artists a forum to communicate with the market they are trying to tap.

That Power, 29, is an internet entrepreneur is no surprise. In 1992, he graduated from Trinity College, in Dublin, with a degree in economics and social studies. He worked with Ideal Dial, a Denver-based interactive telephone company with media clients such as Conde Nast, Hearst, ESPN and the Discovery Channel. Subsequently, in two years, he helped create a $3 million media entertainment unit for Las Vegas-based BFD Interactive. "Any media group wishing to communicate with its audience and set up a 1-800 and 1-900 numbers would deal with these companies," Power explained.

But working for others was not to be Power’s destiny. "In college, I was president of the Entrepreneurial Society," he said. "I always wanted to set up my own business and I dabbled with a couple of ideas. Then the internet happened and, having been in the interactive media business, I got to attend a lot of shows about the internet."

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Power said he was particularly influenced by the rags-to-riches story of Howard Shultz, the CEO of Starbucks Coffee, and by Steve Forbes. "In 1997, I had heard Forbes compare the internet to the modern industrial revolution which would have profound implications for society,"

For Power, the budding entrepreneur, the question was "What to do?" In January of this year, he launched his website.

"For someone who wanted to set up their own business, it’s the perfect time to give it a go. But everyone is giving it a go," he said.

Power, however, insists that his idea is "breaking new ground" in bringing not just Irish products to a virtual mall but in having their creators there as well.

"The internet allows you to gather all these craftspeople into one virtual mall, and you can meet them year-round rather than just once a year at a trade show," he added.

Like all risk-taking, dream-making entrepreneurs, he needs capital, about $2.5 million.

Money, it seems, even on the information superhighway, is still the ultimate convertible.

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