by Mina Bergsen
(Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal.)
My business was failing.
For my sixteenth birthday, my grandparents gave me a trip to wherever I wanted to go. For some reason, I decided on Nepal. Perhaps it was because of some pictures I had seen or maybe I had read about it in school. I don’t remember why I choose Nepal, but that summer, for two weeks, I visited one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Each year for the past twelve years, now, I have traveled to Nepal. There is something wonderful about that mountainous place which just draws me there. After my father died I was left with a small inheritance which allowed me to live modestly and do this traveling. I didn’t want to live there permanently (I like the creature comforts they don’t have), but each visit would be refreshing and make me feel wonderful. My trips usually lasted for two or three months. I would spend up to six weeks just in the capital of Nepal, Kathmandu.
A year ago my banker informed me that the person who had been in charge of making investments for the annuity program in which I had kept my inheritance had taken some foolish chances and made some major errors. As a result, my annuity, if I wanted it to last, would need to be decreased. I didn’t mind that I would have to cut back. I have few possessions and do not want them. But I was heartbroken thinking that I would not be able to return frequently to my beloved Nepal.
It suddenly came to me that if I made a business out of selling items from Nepal, my trips over there would be tax deductible as business expenses. So that’s what I did. Nepal Exotic Imports was born.
Most businesses fail within the first few years, and now I know why. Starting up a new business isn’t easy. With no experience I literally had to learn how to run a business, Including understanding the laws and techniques of importing goods to the US and exporting them from Nepal. I like the way it challenged me and the people I met. It was good. But my money was getting lower and lower.
My shop is a small business in a large city. I had a big sign made up for over the door. I had nice racks for the clothes, displays for the religious and secular goods, and cases for the jewelry. And in almost no time, it was a disaster waiting to happen.
Everyone who came in said the place was beautiful and the products were good. But few people actually came in through the door; fewer still bought anything. Like most of the businesses which fail, I was underfinanced. I had made a trip to Nepal, purchased the items I needed, stocked the store, paid for advertising, and lived on very little. I knew I would either have to turn my business around or shut it down. And if I shut it down, Nepal would be even further away from me. I was feeling desperate.
DISCOVERING FENG SHUI
One of the things I will often do when I am upset is roam a good bookstore. There is something very profound about the experience for me. It’s somewhat like visiting a giant library with huge stacks — it’s almost religious. But is some ways, bookstores are better than libraries. All of the books are new and not beaten from frequent use. To me, opening a new book can be as special as getting into a new car is a special experience for others. Like a library, I can take books home. But I get to keep them for as long as I like. And unlike a new car, books are a lot less expensive and don’t need insurance.
While driving home from my shop I saw that one of the big chain stores was still open. As I wandered through the aisles, I saw some books on feng shui. I had heard of this method of getting the natural energy of the universe, Qi (pronounced “chi”), to flow easily through your home or business, but I didn’t know much about it. Perhaps one of the books could give me some help? There were several titles, though, and I didn’t know which one to choose.
For some reason, the book The Art & Science of Feng Shui attracted me. Perhaps it was because of the Chinese watercolor painting on the cover or maybe it was because the author, Henry B. Lin, was a native of China, the source of feng shui. Sometimes people who are not born to a tradition do not have the full information to share. But whatever the reason, I bought Lin’s book and took it home.
This book shares a great deal of the philosophy and theory behind the science of feng shui. That was something I did want to learn, but I wanted to learn it later. It would probably be nice if I told you that I had immediately started to study the philosophy and science presented in the book. But I really wasn’t interested in theories and sciences. I was interested in help, fast.
As I thumbed through its pages I noticed some odd drawings toward the end of the book. Although they had some unusual line figures, they were mostly filled with what I assume to be Chinese letters. The book explained that the illustrations were talismans. “Talismans are an integral part of the remedy system in feng shui. In a sense, they are the last resort when all other countermeasures are either too complicated or costly to implement. The beauty of talismans is that they are inexpensive and convenient (just hang on a wall), within the reach of everyone. They can be powerful countermeasures against inauspicious impacts from the environment.” (p. 198)
I made some copies of the ones in the book and put them on a couple of the walls of my condo. As I was making them, I started to feel more peaceful and calm. “It’s probably just subjective,” my scientific mind thought. I knew I wanted peace and calm and hoped that these talismans would bring that to me. “I had created the feelings within myself,” I thought. This was no proof that feng shui worked. On the other hand, there was nothing to show that the talismans hadn’t worked. In either case, there was no reason to not accept the warm feelings of bliss. I made some extra talismans to hang in the shop. Perhaps they could help sales, too.
That was the real key. I felt that if sales would improve, things all around would go better for me. That night, before going to sleep, I was delighted to find a section in the book on “Commercial Feng Shui.” Here are the suggestions from the book, what I did, and the results of working with feng shui.
“To help improve the environmental landscape in order to solicit and attract customers, a store or commercial building should plant some bamboo, evergreens, or flowers around the building. These plants generate comfortable feelings and a good impression, and can attract heavenly Qi energy to the business. This results in more and more customers coming into the business.” (p.174)
WORKING WITH FENG SHUI REMEDIES
Unfortunately, my shop is right on the edge of a busy sidewalk, so there is nowhere outside of the shop where I could actually plant anything. There was a garden shop I frequented (I love colorful flowers in my condo) about half-way between my home and my shop. I remember seeing long, rectangular, flower boxes on rollers the last time I had been there. “Why would anyone want those?” I had wondered. Now I knew. I made up my mind to get two, fill them with colorful flowering plants, and wheel them to run in front of the windows of my shop. With the wheels I could take them out in the morning and bring them in at closing.
“Another effective way to beautify the landscape and enhance the feng shui is to create a spring pool in front of the building…some businesses even create a garden inside. All these designs serve the function of not only beautifying the environment, but also accumulating the Qi energy and consequently boosting business.” (p.174-175)
I had been thinking that having one of those indoor desktop waterfalls would make nice sounds. I also figured the motion of the water would add negative ions to the air. Those are what makes being near a waterfall or by a beach feel so good. But I didn’t know they could have such a powerful feng shui effect. I determined I would get one and set it up near the door.
The next morning, bright and early, that’s what I did. I found a beautiful, medium-sized waterfall that made a lot of water sounds. Beside the rocks, it had a decorative waterwheel and what appeared to be an elderly Japanese man fishing. At the top was an elegant bonsai tree. I also got the rolling flower boxes, planter mix, and several flats of small, colorful flowers.
When I arrived at the shop I started out by setting up the waterfall and turning it on. What a delightful sound! Next, I attached the talismans to the walls. Finally, I filled the flower boxes with planter mix, planted all of the flowers, and gave them a drink of water. As I rolled them outside, it was time to open shop.
In the morning, business was about the same as it had always been — slow. But by closing, sales were slightly better than normal. However, my scientific brain told me this was nothing that chance couldn’t explain.
That night, I read further in the book.
“The environment in the immediate front of the main entrance of a store should be pleasing to the eye. Such an environment can easily be created by putting pairs of green plants or potted flowers on both sides of the door. A pair of stone lions is also good…[as they] symbolize wealth and security in traditional Chinese culture.” (p. 175)
“The glass used for the front window of a store should be clear so that people can see through it easily and know what products are sold in the store.” (p. 175)
The next morning I returned to my favorite nursery. They had some stone lions that were about a half a meter tall. But they were heavy, so I purchased some rollers to make it easy to move them. That way the Lions, like the planters, could be easily shuffled in and out of the shop.
When I arrived at the shop, the first thing I did was tear down all of the notices and posters I had placed on the glass door and which had blocked eyesight into the shop. On went the fountain and out went the lions and planters. I wondered if this would help. By closing, I was disappointed. The traffic into the store had been no better than usual. But when I checked the register, I noticed that sales were up again. Perhaps this was working.
During the day I had cast an eye about the shop. The front windows of the store were actually huge display cases with solid, sealed backs. It had seemed like a great idea to me, but people could not see into the store. I made a few phone calls to remedy this feng shui problem. That evening, I removed everything from those windows. With the landlord’s permission, I had a couple of workers remove the backs of those windows while I rearranged the products I had taken out of them, placing them around the store. Now people could see fully into the shop.
Later that night, I went a bit deeper into the science of feng shui. As in the mystical Western system of “elements” (Air, Earth, Fire, Water, Spirit), the Chinese have five elements. However, theirs are Water, Fire, Wood, Metal, and Earth. A chart in the book showed me that my shop was related to Wood because I sold furniture and books. However, my shop was also related to Metal (because I sold jewelry), Fire (because I sold clothes), and Earth (because I sold antiques). The colors associated with these elements, respectively, are green, white, red, and yellow. (p.24)
This posed a bit of a problem for me and I spent the night thinking about what to do. When I woke in the morning, I had my answer.
It was Saturday, and business was good. In fact, I did more sales that day than on any other day since the shop had opened. I was starting to become a believer in feng shui. I was elated, but the profits still weren’t enough for me to meet my needs. I turned, once again, to feng shui to improve what was already getting better.
After closing, instead of going home, I rearranged the store. I put the furniture in one area, the clothes in another, and so forth. Sunday the shop is normally closed. I came in and got to work. I painted each section the appropriate color, with highlights in hues of the pure color for each area. The wall behind the furniture and books I painted green. Behind the clothes I painted the wall red. I painted the wall behind the antiques yellow and the area behind the jewelry was white.
What had been a problem for me was what to do where the colors met. I didn’t just want a line where they butted together. What I came up with was a sort of mural. It featured a long, coiling branch with leaves on it between the sections. I also decided to add more lamps to increase the light. I left the exhaust fans on as I locked up the store for the night and went right home. Hopefully, there would be no paint smell in the morning. The work had been very tiring and I slept well that night.
On Monday morning I purchased the lamps, brought them into the shop and set them up. I had to rearrange them a few times to make sure that the store was well lit throughout. Then I put out the rolling flower beds and stone lions, turned on the waterfall, and opened for business.
SIGNS OF SUCCESS
That day was my best day yet. Many people didn’t come inside, they just looked through the windows. Although I would have loved to have them come in and buy something, they were acting like advertising, encouraging people to look in and come in. I was very happy, but this was just the start.
Within two weeks my sales doubled. Finally, I had enough to keep my shop open, pay for my food and home, and make my yearly trip to Nepal. Two months later sales had doubled again. They great thing about this is that because my costs (excluding the items I had for sale) were fixed, I actually made more profit from this doubling of sales than I had from the first doubling. Things were going well.
One of the problems with doing well is that you have to spend more to continue doing well. One woman, Astrid, had been into the shop on several occasions. She had been to Nepal a few times and, like me, loved the place. We spent many hours sharing our experiences. I eventually found out that she had been laid off from her job. It was mid-November, and I was hoping for a huge holiday rush. I was rather exhausted from all of the work I had been putting into the shop and was hoping for some time off, so I offered her a job for the holiday rush. She did well and the shop made a lot of money. But now I was low on stock. I had to return to Nepal.
It was mid-January (not a great time to go to Nepal, but I didn’t have a choice). Although sales were slower than for the holiday rush, they were still much better than they had been before the season. I asked Astrid if she would like to stay on and offered her a raise and a commission on the total sales each month. She stayed on while I went to Nepal.
EVIDENCE OF FENG SHUI’S VALUE?
When I returned, I was surprised to learn that sales were down. In fact, they were down quite a bit. Although I had spent two months in Nepal, I had air freighted several shipments of items to Astrid, so sales should have been good. Right away I saw a problem. “Where are the planters and flowers?” I asked.
“After you left there was a huge rain,” Astrid replied. “All of the plants drowned. I put the rolling planters in the store room because I didn’t know what plants you would like in them.” Before the day was out I had purchased new flowers and replanted the flower boxes. Within two weeks sales were back to where they should have been. Now, Astrid is a believer in feng shui, too.
This has been my only experience with feng shui. All of the things that happened could have been coincidence or chance. But I don’t believe they are. In my opinion, feng shui works.
Editor’s note: Both the name of the author and her shop are pseudonyms at the request of the author. All quotes are used by permissionArticle originally published in The Llewellyn Journal. Copyright Llewellyn Worldwide, 2001. All rights reserved.