Tuesday, December 4

Humble Hippo saying thank you lots to fab folk!

Today was mainly spent button thumping - or web site building to give it it's proper name.  We now have a new shiny website to showcase the amazing and talented folk that make up the Hippo Family.  And then it dawned on the small brain that we have so many people to say thank you to that this post would rumble on for pages and be like a Gwyneth Paltrow acceptance speech if I did that.  So, I will try to narrow it down to the core bits.

Firstly, we trundled along to Apley Farm Shop with a few humble possessions, a fingers crossed attitude of 'hope this works' and a few Hippo-ettes trundling along with us.  So, firstly thank you to Clare's Prints for allowing us to fill our walls with her fab pictures in those early days.

Then the fun really started! Err, this is a big space folks and we don't actually have a lot of stock.  And then, from nowhere this voice popped round the corner saying 'hello, I do paintings, do you want to have a look?' Being blissfully ignorant of who this person was, or what they did we just said 'ooh yes please'.  And then this amazing array of pictures turned up from Simon along with various helpful things like browsers for prints.  Then there was Maureen who giggled her way into the shop with the most amazing quilts ever, and again then turned up with helpful things so we could show them off better.  We cannot thank them, and others that joined in the early days enough.

Here we were, two strangers just arrived to take on a lease who they didn't know and all these amazing artists trusted us with their stock that had taken them hours to produce.  In some cases the work they use to raise funds for their charities which means so much to them and now to us, thank you John and Kath. 

I look at the button thumping done today and realise that we are incredibly fortunate to be trusted with some fabulous work, have and continue to meet some lovely people who are just so talented it's jaw dropping on times.  From about 3 Hippo-ettes we have grown to almost 30 in a matter of four months and most have been like Simon, Maureen and John just popping their head round the door to say hello.
Apologies if you now feel like calling me Gwyneth, but this is a truly Humbled Hippo at how much we've gained in terms of new friends just from putting up that sign that says 'Hello, we are open so please pop in and say hello'.  Hippo xx

Monday, December 3

Facebook for small businesses

This is meant to be helpful to those just starting out using facebook for their small business, but equally may be useful as a reminder to some.  Not saying this is an exhaustive list, just some helpful things we picked up along the way!

Is is a page or a person?
This might seem like a daft question, but what we've found is that some don't set up a page for their business which means they can't be 'tagged' in posts and we can't direct traffic to them.

How to set up a page:
while logged into your personal account enter this in the search bar: http://www.facebook.com/pages/create.php

go through the various choices depending on what you want to set up and there's your page done!
make sure you add some pictures, your contact details, about you etc etc BEFORE you start going after likers - give them a reason to like your page.
once you do start advertising your page you need 30 likes from people not pages in order to secure the URL which means the name then becomes yours - once this name is set it can't be changed, so make sure you search through beforehand that the name is avaiable.  And where possible try to make it short to avoid folk typing in the wrong name when searching for you.
Does your page look pretty?
Pretty obvious question yes?  Well in some cases no.  If you're asking folk to come along and 'like' so make it personal, show people what you want them to see.  If you want to say you're the best hairdresser out there show some of your best work, or your salon with happy customers.  It's sometimes hard to think from the other side so often it's better to ask a friend if they would find it interesting.  It's easy to miss something obvious or simple because you do it all day, every day so always ask for outside opinions.

you're got your page - how do I get the likes?
This is tricky - you require patience now!  There are various sites out there offering '1,000 likes in 10 minutes' however from personal experience I would avoid them.  Why? Because visitors aren't that daft, if you set up 2 weeks ago and suddenly have 500 likes if can look a little odd, better to let it grow slowly and steadily and be able to know that all those likes are there because they are genuine and you get the chance to interact and be seen to interact with them.  If you're in any doubt have a look at our facebook page, full of pics and happy banter. 

However, one sure fire way to get people coming over to you is to share.  Might seem a really simple thing, but if you are the one saying 'wow look what I found when I visited @fredscats' people don't think you only care about yourself.  There are hundreds of pages out there all competing with you, stand out by being lovely!

How to tag posts:
This is one that a lot don't realise but it's dead simple!  Firstly, if you want to tag another page on one of your posts you have to 'like' them so make sure you've done that bit first.  So, using @fredscats as an example pop over to their page, like it and say hello to them so they know where the like came from.  Because in order to raise likes they have to come from a person, Fred's Cats won't know that 'Abi Smith' is 'Hair is Lovely' so what you say is:

Hello from @hairislovely, thanks for the gift today it was really kind of you, see you soon Abi' or similar depending on how you met them.

notice the @ sign?  This is the magic symbol for tagging!  If you want to include a page you must put the @ sign in front of their name, if you have already liked them it will immediately start to find them from your list of likes.  If it doesn't find them, it means you haven't liked them so go back, like them and tag them again.

Also when you share pictures make sure you add a comment to the effect of: 'We just had to share @fredscats pic, it's so cute!' that way you not only share the picture but you tell folk who you are, where the picture came from and you also tell the other person you shared it because it will now pop up on their timeline.  This is what you're trying to achieve, pop up on as many timelines as possible.  Those statistics that mean not a lot?  The reach is about how many people saw your post, and if you are new you won't get it on your own but by sharing and cross promoting you increase their audience and yours.  If you are asking people to trust you as a brand, a business or an enterprise they want to know you will share and help because that adds trust, it proves you're human and not just about yourself.

Hope that helps, but if not please add bits!  Hippo xx

Thursday, November 29

We are having a shuffle around!

We are aware that the Hippo names have probably caused a little confusion over the months, wasn't intentional just a natural progression of things!

It started with the idea that Chez Hippo would make the glass and Little Hippo Presents would be the shop selling the glass and work from other makers and that this side of it would become the community business.  However, it's got a little muddlling over time.  So, we've decided to re-name things properly so folk can follow our logic (or not I hear the hecklers from the back - Sarah, Justine and Rachel I will see you lot after class!)

Ahem, drum roll please .....

The shop will still be called Little Hippo Presents, because after all I am Little Hippo and I am presenting other fantabulous work from superb makers so that name still makes sense.  Plus I get to tweet as #happyhippo #busyhippo and all the other hash tags that keep appearing.

The glass will be made under the name of The Glass Shed:
still exactly the same products, still available from the shop just under a new name is all.  It just makes life easier when we try to explain how the names are split, the fact that yes the Hippo's sell their own product but they are a seperate maker as well and the umbrella organisation is a different entity.  Also if we want to do craft fairs we can now ask 'do you want us as the Hippos, a community group or as The Glass Shed, a separate maker?'
Might seem like we're being a bit pedantic over names, but as things progress with Little Hippo and the other projects that are bubbling away it just seemed appropriate to do this - plus it was getting confusing as anything thinking 'am I putting this post as us the maker, or us the shop??' 
You may have noticed that the blog name has changed too, it now reads as Little Hippo Presents, again to allow The Glass Shed it's own blog should it want one - though quite what a shed would write about is anyone's guess!
Hope that's not too confusing, or if anything settled some existing confusion we previously created!  See you all soon, Hippo xx

Sunday, November 18

Useful and Helpful things

This page contains downloads and documents relating to the Hippos, whether as a business or for helpful and useful notes relating to craft fairs.
If there is something that is useful to your group please contact us and we can send you a word format document.  We don't mind folk borrowing our ideas but please, if you do borrow it do us the courtesy of telling people where you got it from! 

Our business plan: Little Hippo- Big Idea

Friday, November 16

We sincerely apologise for being viable!

Hippo's on a slight rant, so step away now if you are just tucking into your tea and winding down for the evening!

I am getting increasingly cross that people seem to be missing the point of what we are trying to do, or rather what we are actually doing - and more's the point, winning!

We are a community business, in extemely simple terms we take work from other artists and makers and sell it in the shop for a percentage commission of the sale price.  We take this % because we have bills to pay such as rent, card machine and packaging to sell their lovely work to happy customers.  What we are not is a pity case.  We only stock work that is well made, by hand and by brilliant local makers who will hopefully each make the transition from hobby crafter to professional crafter (but only if they choose to - that's their decision to make not ours to impose).  Sellers or Hippo-ettes offer time to support the shop, either in delivering leaflets for events, marshalling cars at events, or working in the shop for the day.  No staff are paid, we all do it to support the wider ethos of the Hippos.

What irks me somewhat is that because we have a great shop, in a great location full of fabulous things that are so well made we are sometimes viewed as a purely commercial venture.  We didn't set out to look like a community business, we set out to look like a good place to come and buy some quality gifts - and not surprisingly, we're doing just that.  Yes we do make money, not much though!  Yes, we do have a very decent turnover, and yes we have hit breakeven after only 3 months trading which is no mean feat in this climate.  But that's because everyone works like mad in the background as a group.  We have to beg, borrow and barter our way through it all.  One of our painters who is world known lends us an easel to stand his work on because we don't have the resources to purchase one! 

However, because we don't look like a 'needy' group, we all work extremely hard at what we do.  We don't ask for charity - of course we'll accept the easel and other such helpful things but we want to be a proper trading community business.  So, my apologies for not putting posters all round the shop showing you all the people that are actually helped by customers loving what they make, my apologies for trading effectively and not requiring external grant funding because we got our budget right, and my apologies for us working hard and not just going cap in hand to councils for a hand out because we can't get our business model right.

Here endeth the rant! I will now go off to find some chocolate and watch drivel on telly while thinking of our next cunning plan to put a Hippo on your High Street too!  Hippo x

Wednesday, November 14

The Hippo Pages

A new cunning plan from the small brain!

We've all seen this image:

But ... what if it looked like this:

And what if, it contained a listing for as many crafters as we can find?  It's quite a simple idea really, in the same way that people used to have a listing in the Yellow Pages crafters could have a listing in the Hippo Pages.  That way, crafters get some advertising and those looking for a crafter know where to look for them.  Not sure on the details as yet, because with all these things it starts as a small, easy to manage project and before you know it it's snowballed and become a whole entity in itself! However, the snowballing would be rather fantastic if it did happen :)

Because we ultimately want to become a self sustaining co-operative it may become a brilliant project element of the business in it's own right - time will tell.  But for the time being I will stick to chuntering with my facebook and twitter buddies and we will begin to shape the first Hippo Pages - will let you know how it all goes.  Hippo x

Monday, November 5

finding that USP

It's taken us a while to figure out who we are, who we sell to and more importantly why people buy from us.  In the early days of business you are so caught up with the shiny bits like 'wow, that's my branding on that bag' that you don't really get chance to sit back and analyse it.  Or more importantly, you don't really twig why you should analyse it.  There you are with a shop full of beautiful things that you adore, so why shouldn't shoppers adore them too?  But, that only works if your shoppers are exactly like you!

We twigged a few weeks ago that our USP or unique selling point is the stories behind the product.  In reality there are hundreds of fantastic photographers selling up and down the country so why buy ours?  The reason is  that we can tell you who took it, the giggle he had trying to set up a tripod in the snow and the daft sheep that were trying to escape while he balanced on the gate.  And, we can tell you his name, point out the track across the field he takes to get to us and the fact that it turns out he taught one of my friends at school.  Now you start to get our USP - and we can do that for all our products.

I was taught a long time ago by a fantastic PR guru the importance of connection, but didn't realise the importance of this till now.  People buy from people and love being able to chat and meet the makers.  We have a really unique service because we can say 'hang on, I'll call and see if they're in and able to pop down for a chat' when the customer asks 'is it possible to make that slightly bigger?'.  And while the customer goes across to the cafe for a coffee, the maker will trundle down to meet them.  Now, that's customer service by the Hippos!

The other thing that comes back to us loud and clear and on a regular basis is that our crafters love meeting up with each other, they like being part of the Hippo family as we have now become.  Our last craft fair on Sunday was full of hugs and 'how lovely to see you again' along with the err bribery of cake so that I would put people next to each other! We seem to be gaining a really fabulous bunch of happy makers that all share, get along really well and the amount of pitching in for gazebos by committee is fantastic. 

We see these building blocks as more important than the till receipts.  Get the foundations right, create a happy experience for everyone and people will come back for the next story - and they do! We have a real core of returning shoppers now eager to see what new stuff has been made.  They have a sit, and then tell us stories they know and the spider web of connections is becoming so interwoven that it's now a patchwork of people and stories with overlapping seams everywhere.  The day job has shifted - I am now a storyteller of journeys :)

Wednesday, October 17

How we stay in business

Our business idea isn't really that complex to follow, and for anyone that wants to replicate it - feel free to borrow our model.  And if you want help setting it up then please get in touch and we can help you become the next Little Hippo Presents :)

What possibly is slightly different from us compared to others is that no one person makes a living from someone else's work.  Our personal income, as with all the other sellers, comes from their own work sold.  All the percentages taken from sales pay for boring things like rent, telephone, bags, stickers and all the other things we need to operate as a retail outlet.

The Hippos are a community of makers, we all want to make our living from what we make but none of us want to take anything away from another maker.  We started from the position of adding up all our bills, working out how much shelf space we could fit in, how many craft fairs were sensible to do in a year then dividing it equally between folk - and that includes our glass.  As makers selling through the shop we also pay shelf space and also pay our sales percentages towards the bills just like other maker in the shop. 

What we now have to sort out is spreading the time and workload a little better, but that will come as we build the business because it is a business.  We do have to be accountable to our customers, our makers, the tax man just the same way as any other business has to.  The difference is we just choose to use any profits made to make the shop stronger, or put on other workshops, or invest in things that help many.

This is basically the model we work off, each element contributes to the whole which spreads the risk, helps the cashflow and stops us getting bored! 

The reason I felt the need to explain was that someone pointed out that it was fair to take a % as we had to make a living and they seemed really impressed that we don't make a living out of other sellers, we make a living by making things that are sold.  Hope that all makes sense, and see you all soon.  Hippo xx

Monday, October 8

Behold I give you the internet!

For those of you that follow me on Twitter or facebook you will be aware of my err slight rantings at the ineptness of BT over the last few weeks.  And that is probably the understatement of the century :) However, during all the various phone calls and emails to get us up and running I constantly felt as if I were in an episode of the IT Crowd.  For those of you not familiar with it, this is the episode I mean:
Behold, I give you the internet!

Bless em, not sure BT realised at the time but this is how they actually came across to me.  On a more serious note at all times they were reactive, unable to talk to each other or to me effectively.  Just out of morbid curiosity I looked up what communication actually means and this is what I got:

          "Communication (from Latin "communis", meaning to share) is the activity of conveying information through the exchange of thoughts, messages, or information, as by speech, visuals, signals, writing, or behavior."

Interesting! hmm a couple of key words there - share, convey, exchange and information.  So, a company with the word communication in it would quite rightly be expected to convey and share information to a paying customer? Yes? well actually no - this would appear quite difficult for them.  Even the chap who runs their twitter account was laughing at one point when he told me that the team wouldn't be able to see his notes as they had access to different record logs.  So, if they can't communicate with each other it's not really a surprise that they can't communicate with customers who foolishly hand over shiny pennies for a service that as Jen found out - we don't know what it is, we don't know how to find the elders and it is all shrouded in such mystery that we should just be in awe of the fact it happens at all.  To BT I present to you the elders of the miffed customers, you are unable to find us, you are unable to know what we think and you are unable to talk to us - mainly because you don't try very hard!

My teacher comments for this would read
"you have failed to understand the question.  What you have done is interesting and you tried very hard but next time please make sure you read and understand the question before answering it.  Also, you would have got higher marks had you structured your answer to guide the reader through your train of thought as it felt a little disjointed and muddled at times, almost as if you were panicking to reach the word count and at times I was unsure what you were trying to do.  Your links to other material and quotes from others did not support your arguments, and at times contradicted your original statements but good attempt overall" D+

Wednesday, October 3

Before and After!

Before ....

our pitiful belongings brought from the Purple Shed, which looked so lost when we first arrived!  It was really odd that everything echoed, and just so lovely to not be bothered by rain anymore cause we're all snuggly and cosy indoors now :)

 And after ...

See what I mean about the vast space we now get to fill?! And it all got filled up in about 8 weeks, which is pretty awesome really considering we work on buttons for pennies!  21 amazing artists and crafters from the area now sell with us and these photos need updating again to be honest as there's even more stuff in there now!
And apologies to all those expecting a giggle at my ranting at BT, that will be posted up tomorrow, Hippo xx

Monday, October 1

New Chapter for the Hippos

We found ourselves outgrowing our previous home at the Purple Shed, but wow did we learn so much from it!  Boring things like branding, advertising and marketing - you can have the best product in the world but if no-one knows you have it then you may as well give it to the cat.
So, where are we now?  Well, we now find ourselves in a rather lovely and shiny converted barn on an existing farm shop site at Apley, near Bridgnorth.  With my usual, yeah it'll be fine attitude we packed up our things and trundled down the road with our pitiful bunch of belongings.  It was a slight shock to realise just how much extra space we had gained when what used to cram the Purple Shed didn't even make a dent in this space!  You know when you move from that first one bedroom flat to a real house and think oh maybe that sofa isn't so big after all?! It was that kind of moment. 
Also, we only had a few sellers with us to begin with - 3 in fact, and 8 weeks on and there are now 21 Hippo-ettes with us and they keep coming.  Because it's a real shop, in terms of look, feel and layout we're managing to do rather well.  Not out of the woods yet because essentially we started the Hippos with a £400 loan from my parents and been chugging along on pennies ever since.  But we always knew it would work, always knew that good handcrafted items would sell and knew that there were awesome makers out there.  We just had to put the open sign up and sit patiently and wait.  Yes yes to the heckling from the back from those that really know me. Ok, so it wasn't that patient but given that not everyone who reads this knows me personally allow me the indulgence of pretending I was patient and horribly professional (cakes as bribery for all those that nod at this point!).
The other thing that seems to be happening is we're getting a rather lovely reputation for helping - not doing anything special, just reminding folk that they are good at what they do and offering a few suggestions along the way.  Quite sure that most go home and go flip she's barking, why on earth would that be a good idea?! But can't be doing that bad as gets loads of hugs and thank yous off folk - hmm more bribery perhaps??
So, in an effort to try and be more organised I intend to update this more regularly, get the books a little straighter (any accountants reading this you really can have cake if you help).  Oh, and for those of you that follow the chunterings on Twitter the BT complaint letter is coming next post - and it's a doozie!
see you all soon, and as always many many thanks for allowing the Hippos to flourish even if we do now need to get our own tractor.  Hippo xx

Monday, September 24

So much has happened!

Hello, and firstly my apologies for not blogging for a while - but so much has been going on it's just bonkers!
Since I last wrote, we have moved shops, set up some more craft fairs, met an amazing amount of new crafters and oh yeah - started to go into profit as a business woo hoo!!
We have also been having a bit of a re-brand so over the next few days will be changing the blog around a bit.  We have also noticed that sticking a big purple hippo on things seems to get you noticed and even better, remembered which is superb to keep the project going.
The major pain was that BT failed to get their act together so it meant trying to work from home, run the shop and at odd moments getting a bit of sleep - not ideal which is why things like the blog dropped off the radar for a while.  But thankfully we are now up and running properly, so fully intend to keep you all updated on what's going on with regular blogs.
The other thing we've noticed is that we seem to be getting a reputation for helping and supporting others, we always did this but didn't feel the need to put it on big banners.  We sort of figured that if you felt comfortable recommending us then we were doing it right, and my goodness have people been recommending us - they're coming from all over the place, it's awesome.
Today is a bit of a catch up day for me, we are starting to turn the corner from headless chicken of reacting to being more in control and planning as we should be doing.  As always, thank you to the fabulous support from those around us - you may not see or hear from them, but they know who they are and hopefully know how much I value their support.  Hippo beers all round very very soon xx

Saturday, July 14

ooh tents at basecamp - hello all!

Ahh, someone turned the light on at the end of the tunnel - thank you xxx
Well, not quite true - several people all put their lights on and made a lovely chain of lights to make a path for me to follow, but best of all it feels like we're holding hands along the path.  The easiest way to describe it you know when it goes dusk and you're not sure whether to put the garden lights on or not?  It's that half light where you can still see, but the details have all gone a little fuzzy round the edges but because you know where things are you don't actually see them anymore? That kind of describes where I am right now.  And because these people are such a diverse bunch all the lights are different shapes and colours and some twinkle. 
There is still a huge mountain to climb, but suddenly it feels like there are loads of little tents appearing at base camp.  And this time I need to explain the route a little better which I fully intend to.  These past couple of weeks have been a wake up call to me too in terms of needing to be much more open about shouting for help, and also being much more assertive in saying 'this is what needs to be done'.  Not in a horrible way, but I have such a clear long term vision for the Hippos and where we will be in five years that it would probably be helpful if I actually told a few people! The cat, whilst a very clever cat, is not in a position to tell you because lets face it you don't offer him tuna on a regular basis :)
Sadly for reasons of top secrecy I can't actually reveal the next stage of the cunning plan - itching to, but can't due to boring legal stuff that has to be sorted out first.  However, if all the phone calls necessary next week are helpful I should be able to tell you something rather fab, if not err umm ... quickly thinks of something that sounds interesting ...... will come back to you on that one!

Wednesday, July 11

Think I'm runnning out of puff

Apologies if this is a negative blog, it probably is but I feel slightly like I'm drowning a little.  The Hippo name is becoming quite well known in our little circle which is great, but we didn't really think through the business model in terms of a community business and I'm starting to struggle to hold all the strands together.  As a start up there are 500 things going on at once and all happening in my head alone which is confusing me let alone those around me!

For instance, if you sell with us why on earth should you then give your time and money to essentially help us have a living?  No-one in their right mind would do that, especially if ultimately it's what you want to be doing yourself.  You're stuck in a 9-5 while I appear to be swanning around meeting lovely new people and having cups of tea and biccies with groups that I find, and then I have the audacity to say please help me? Not on your nelly is the gut reaction - and think it would be mine too!!!
So, we are going to have to have a re-think about the structure of Little Hippo.  Because as a community worker at heart I think what's happened is I assume that everyone understands what a social enterprise is, but the reality of it is that most don't.  Why should they?  Again, it's like expecting me to understand quantum physics just cause you've mentioned it once - err nope, not happening.  Also, it's not clear what the sellers get out of it for themselves because at heart whether we like it or not we are selfish creatures.  That isn't a criticism - after all I'm selfish in that I want to work for myself, want to poodle around and meet lovely new people and play with glass.  However, the other thing that has come to light is the level of risk that each deem acceptable.  I didn't realise how much of a risk taker I actually am until seeing others more cautious approach and thinking come on, get on with it, make a decision!

So, Little Hippo is going to hole up for a while and do the usual divving around to try and explain the logic and actually put it down on paper for people to read, understand and then decided if they want to play or not.  It has been pointed out on more than one occasion that I can be a bugger for not giving you the whole picture but assuming you get it and then being confused that you don't!

Monday, June 18

The shop's growing up - and so are we

Eek this suddenly turned into a proper business!  Was I asleep when this happened, or just painting things purple?!?  Probably painting knowing me.
Well, what's been happening in the land of the Hippo - yet again I moved the shop around, keep getting told off that things never stay in the same place.  However, it now feels like a proper shop and I feel like it's a proper business.  It actually feels more like yes, we are doing this for real rather than err would you like to see some bits we made? Also, I've got over the initial crafters dread of apologising for pricing stuff - you know that horrible thing where you know that your stuff is worth money because you've seen it in catalogues or shops elsewhere but because you made it there's that stumbling moment of err yes please, if you don't mind it's £xx? To all those crafters out there struggling with that bit, believe me it's quite liberating when you actually cross that threshold.  You suddenly wake up to the fact that actually what you made is good, it is worth money and you don't have to apologise.  Just because you grew up making things that maybe your friends didn't understand or in my case Dad saying 'what on earth you doing this time Ange?' doesn't mean that your creativity and ideas are worthless. 
The other thing I've discovered is that there will always be those that in order for them to succeed they have to push others down.  It's hilarious when customers actually pop in and tell me this about other sellers - slightly awkward but still very funny.  However, we don't need to do that because we know where our shortcomings are and working hard to get around them.  A friend always described that as moving from the unconscious incompetent to the conscious incompetent then to unconscious competent and finally to the conscious competent.  I like that phrase as it sums it up quite nicely. You move from the ooh we have a shop to the eek we have a shop and then to the oh we're selling at the shop to the ahh now I know why we're selling at the shop.  Apologies if you are now all oohing and ahhing as if at a fireworks display!
I love this journey, and can't wait to see where it takes us next - and thank you to all those that have joined the rollercoaster that is the Hippo brain, and apologies if your seatbelt is a little loose :)

Tuesday, June 5

lesson learning is ongoing

This seems quite apt at the moment!  We organised our first craft fair with our name on the weekend and some things were good and some were not so good - but we're not that stupid or arrogant not to recognise and learn from the not so good.
What was good - the crafters as ever were the most lovely bunch of people you could ever hope to be stuck with on a dreary afternoon.  All had made their most wonderful things, decked out their stalls in red, white and blue and generally come along with the most fab attitude.  Feedback was that it was a very well organised event, stall holders were great and the networking invaluable.  And as Hippos we seem to be building a wonderful group of dedicated people keen to see crafting develop and grow which is great.
What was not so good - footfall.  We had advertised as best we could, but it seemed that all in our town had decided to disappear for the weekend.  We even had the local press photographer tell us that too, as well as others who had come through town to see us said that people were noticeable by their absence! 
What we learned - to keep trying! Had a bit of a personal thump earlier when I found out that someone was having a pop and kind of took it personally.  However, it's not personal - well one comment was but we will assume they had been on the gin he he! But we're not that daft to believe that a good day out with lovely people makes up for spending on a stall where you don't sell much because I would be grumpy too, so completely understood their frustrations.  So, we shall re-group and take the good bits (of which there were loads) and try and put right the not so good bits (but please don't blame us for the weather!). 
And a huge thank you as always to those that help behind the scenes that you may not hear from, you know who you are ... and we know where you live!!!

Friday, June 1

Don't fib - don't get squished, simple!

Been a weird couple of months this self employed lark!  At first it was really exciting because it was new, then I started to panic because we were struggling to sell and now we seem to have reached a secondary stage of exciting where sales are picking up and the network building is truly amazing.
To begin with, it was all new and shiny and loads to keep me occupied and out of mischief.  You see, that is the curse of the Hippo - boredom! Never leave a Hippo unattended for too long, goodness knows what might happen.  And never fib to a Hippo either - that's been a weird one too.  I trust that when people say I'll do that, then they will.  However, in business there is always a plan b, c, d required and have been a little taken aback at some of the not so well disguised attempts to take advantage of this.  But ... did you know more people are killed by Hippos than lions, that's because when they get annoyed they charge and squish you! So if you don't want to get squished, don't fib - simple.  Usually placid and full of ideas, but not so happy when they smell a rat and keep digging and digging until they find where the smell is coming from, yep bullshit is usually the main cause!
That said, am truly loving this self employed lark and have met some people along the way that hopefully wil become lifelong friends and the learning curve, wow! Years of business school could not have prepared me for what I've already learnt - both about the business itself and myself in a business environment or more accurately how to add a little colour and  cunning plans into it.
You see, ours is not a truly corporate world.  Yes, we have our branding or as someone said 'those Hippos get everywhere' and yes we have to play with numbers and pay bills because we are a proper business in that sense.  But it doesn't mean we have to lose our identity or purpose just because we have to play with a calculator once in a while.  If anything it's made me feel even stronger about what we are doing - especially when I hear horror stories of other crafters being fleeced.  And the idea of supporting others to set up is gently building and taking shape and can't wait to get out there and start sharing.  But as ever the impatience is growing - see, you should never leave a Hippo unattended with ideas, it's dangerous.

Monday, May 21

Vistaprint business cards - and how to save money

Are you one of the army of small business users that want to get cheaper business cards but using loads of images which means vistaprint gets expensive? Aha, we have a cunning plan!
This is a copy of my business card:

But, how many images or text boxes can you see?
Hippo logo, Hippo background, 4 text boxes at least? All of which vistaprint charge for ...
nope, there is only one!
How to get round their pricing:
open publisher or photoshop, drop all the images and text boxes you want and play around till you're happy with the finished result and then save it as a SINGLE IMAGE which you upload to their site.  You are then charged for only 1 upload because it only recognises 1 graphic and saves you loads!!
Happy playing :)

Trust - are you in or out of the sandpit?

Trust is one of those words that we use constantly, and usually from a negative perspective 'I don't trust them, do you remember when ....'

It's tricky isn't it?  Do you really want to be the one that assumes everyone is out to get you, or using you for their own ends or do you want to be the one that is secure enough in themselves that others letting you down is their loss not yours?

This is written because since we have taken the Hippos to a new level of working, ie actually running it as a business, we have come across some lovely and some err not so lovely people! There are those crafters who embody the spirit of crafting - like our Hippo-ettes who were chosen on a highly scientific basis of 'ooh, we like working with them' no fancy CVs no artists' statements twaddle just a gut instinct of them being lovely.  Then there are those that I call the fast buck crafters - the ones that think they can make a load of money quickly by taking ideas off everyone else and never crediting other crafters or artists. 

Time will show the real crafters but sadly the casualities along the way are building from what we can see.  Also the fast buck crew are usually the ones doing nothing but complaining that everyone else has stolen their ideas. They bore me, and they also annoy me because the genuinely creative are the least likely to shout 'look what I made' which is partly why we opened the shop so that we can do it for them.  I am not perfect, made many mistakes along the way but would never deliberately create gain off the back of someone else.  As Pooh Bear says 'it's much nicer with two' or three, or four or in fact loads of you.  The Hippos welcome all that want to play but closes the door to those not wanting to play nicely.  We banish you from our sandpit so nyah! And on that highly adult response, I am off to the making shed :)

Wednesday, May 16

Ignore this post if you recycle

Apologies in advance, this is a slight rant from the small brain .... about recycling ....

as most of you probably realise we use loads of recycled materials to create our stock, but we always have re-used things around the home or created something out of nothing ... just because we can!
However, and again some of you will have been subjected to this rant in person so apologies if you are now being subjected to reading it too.  Why are we, the end user constantly being battered over recycling???  We have very little control over where all our food comes from (unless you are lucky enough to have your own piggies and allotment that supplies you).  We have very little control over how we get to work - most of are reliant on the small tin box with wheels which requires feeding with fuel.  We have very little control over the fact that nearly everything in our homes requires that weird thing called a plug which in turn requires electricity - again, unless you are lucky enough to be able to generate your own power. 
So ..... how come we keep getting bashed??? And this is the theory from the small brain - because it's easier than tackling the supermarkets, the fuel producers or the electric companies.  In reality each of our own countries in turn has little control over the companies operating in their countries so it is far easier to bash the end user, which is us the consumer, than get together and risk annoying a really big supermarket.  So, we get hassled about putting cardboard into one bin when we didn't even want the cardboard in the first place, it just came with the food that we did want! And so on, and so on.
Hmm, making any sense yet? So - next time you're shopping for your foodstuffs why not take all the packing off the shrink wrap stuff and just leave it in on the 'happy to help desk' and when challenged, just say 'but you ask us to recycle so figured it was quicker to do it here than take it home and you did say you were happy to help'
Just a thought!  And I wonder how much difference we could make if we all make the managers at Sainsbury, Tesco, Morrison etc grumpy!!!

Tuesday, May 15

Hippo HQ and other stuff!

It has come to the attention of the small brain that the shop is not doing what was intended!  No ... it clearly has other ideas, and while I was busy painting things purple and other important things it changed into something rather special :)
It has, in fact, become Hippo HQ!
We knew that the site being where it was, and the state of the economy and other sensible things that it was never going to turn us into retail millionaires.  However, what we absolutely did not allow for was the people we would find along the way and how much better that made it.
We asked some friends to sell with us in the shop initially out of a sensible business decision but had not realised what lovely friends they would all become.  We set up craft fairs and had not anticipated people popping by to show us what they were planning to sell on the day and also teaching us some of their craft too.  And such a mix too - we've met people from all crafts and walks of life and can't wait to see who turns up next!
Parents - although my mother (the little tinker as my friend calls her now) decided to run away with the float one night also helps out in the shop so I can off and do sensible things.  Ok, not always sensible but does give me some time to do errands (ok, ok, divvying around on facebook!).  Friends that offer to ring round to help get advertising for our next event - admittedly we are going to sit through the Jubilee stuff on telly while drinking bubbly and wearing deeli bopper headgear, err isn't everyone??
But basicially what the small brain has noticed is that Hippo HQ is becoming a rather interesting thing to be involved in, and I love the fact that it evolved organically from the people that support the Hippos.  And now, having read back through what feels like some sort of gushy acceptance speech I will end with the fact that Hippo will probably be careering onto the site tomorrow with yet another 20 bags of stuff for the shop that clearly needed three trips back to the car but was too idle to do that - that leaves you with a more normal image of my daily routine!!

Friday, May 11

Hippo don't do rules!

Oh well, a few weeks in and I now realise that inadvertently some feathers may have been ruffled at the garden centre ... oops!
When we first arrived to sign our contract there were a few things we needed to be sure on, normal business specific stuff.
Firstly:  the cabin was a dull pale blue so before signing I asked 'can I paint it any colour?' and was told basically to do what I wanted as long as it didn't damage the shed.
Secondly:  can we only have our contract saying we are open 5 days not 6 please because we have to make our own stock and need time to do this - contract changed.
So having sorted these two things which were important to us I merrily got the purple paint out and generally pottered around making it all look pretty and colourful.
Ahh, it would now appear that I am one of the few people that asked to change things because others are sighing and saying 'I love the colour of your cabin, we couldn't change ours'.  Also, because I have always been the type of person that spots a potential problem and tries to do something about it rather than waiting and groaning, it would appear that this is not the done thing either! I have now roped pretty much everyone in to helping create a welcome sign for our part of the site - and now find out (again with sighing) that this was tried years ago and never happened; another oops for just getting on with it!
So, the moral of the story as far as I am concerned - if it's your business, take ownership of it and make sure you are able to do the things that are important to you.  It is business, and it is your business - no-one is going to do it for you and all the groaning in the world doesn't sell more stock.
We openly said that if we couldn't change the contract then there was no point us being there - not from a 'oh be like that' attitude but because if the site rules didn't allow us flexibility to trade then it wasn't the right place for us and we would have looked elsewhere.  But as for expecting me to not paint things purple .... come on, that is not the Hippo way!

Tuesday, May 8

Marketing is confusing!

This retail lark is somewhat harder than I first imagined! Ok, so I knew it wasn't going to be a walk in the park but had not prepared myself for the subtle and hidden aspects of retail and marketing. 
Things the small brain has finally learnt!
It took me a while, because for us recycling is a natural part of who we are.  We have always just thought, oh what can I use that for now? but never specifically put the label of recycling on it.  However, in a retail environment we now realise that we need to.  Just because we know we re-use everything possible why should a customer know this? 

The strangest thing for me was watching people pick up the bottle clocks and not know they were glass or not realise they actually started life as a bottle.  So, we took down 3 coke bottles - normal, flattened and then drilled to show people what we do, and kids love the tactility of this. But then, if you've never seen it why would you know? So, now we realise that we have to signpost people a lot more than we have done up till now.  Also, because we genuinely recycle the bottles to make clocks we never know what we'll have next - and I now know that this can be used to our advantage to remind people that if you don't buy it when you see it we can't guarantee another one later.  What did it for me was selling the Chateauneuf du Pape bottle clock and thinking it will be a long time before I see one of those again.  And again, just because we know this how on earth would a customer know this?  Simple answer is they don't, it's up to us to tell them.  Not in a horrible pushy way, but a genuine we never know what will be made next kind of way.  Hard selling based on half truths is never going to work with us, I'd probably end up looking at the floor and apologising to a customer which is not a good or professional technique!
Apologies to those in the know who probably think I am a right donut brain, but the learning curve is great - ok I wish I'd twigged on some things quicker but that's life and the main thing is to use what you learn not just file it away under err useful, maybe?
So, with that in mind I am off to create some posters for the shop :)

Tuesday, May 1

Swans, craft fairs and missing toasters!!

We have gently put our toe into events management and our June event is gently bubbling along has already seen loads of cross contact and sharing going on amongst all the attending stall holders which is how it should be. 
Many years ago I was extremely fortunate to work with a brilliant public relations company and was lucky enough to get involved in setting up stands for clients.  These stands were at events like Hotelympia and BBC Good Food Show with international clients.  It gave me the most amazing insight into what actually needs to be done, the timescales involved and at all times give the impression that it took no effort at all.  My boss was a consumate lady, and there was never a time when it was appropriate to scream or go 'aarrrrggggh' even if the most appalling disaster was heading our way.  She saw event management as a swan, the world sees a graceful bird doing nothing in particular while the legs are going like billio underneath - and that's how she explained it and she's right.  We could argue the toss and yell in the privacy of the board room to each other but never in front of a client, supplier or customer and this ethos is so true.  This is what one client wrote to me after an event:

see, a swan to the client and a huge white paddling bird trying to beat the current to those behind the scenes!!  If memory serves right this is the one with the missing toaster - had to barter one off another stall in exchange for food products from the client, you would be amazed how much bartering goes on at these big events.  To this day we still don't know where that wretched toaster ended up but it certainly wasn't on the stand where it was supposed to be!
To those of you arranging and setting up craft fairs, the very best of luck to you because they are a lot harder work than some realise.  Those of you in the know will be nodding thinking yep, while re-arranging a floor plan yet again!  However, get your support network right, get your time planning in place and know your stall holders and it is the most amazing day out for everyone and no-one gets stuck in the current :)  And if we can help or just offer virtual hugs in support please drop me a line at angie@chezhippo.co.uk as if we don't help each other we are definitely sunk!

Thursday, April 26

just too many ideas!

Not sure if this is a good thing or not, but the small brain for some reason is absolutely buzzing with ideas!  So, for those of you that like a quiet life I’m probably not the one to be around right now.
However, certain things have come to light that need addressing – mainly my inability to explain things fully and delegate properly.  I have the most amazing people around me in the form of the Hippo-ettes and in no way doubting their abilities.  I am doubting mine.  My ability to actually take a random idea and add the detail, to be able to explain it in a linear way so that others know the start and end point and my ability to effectively delegate so that others can help when they offer - which they do, frequently. 
I have worked with amazing managers in the past and equally some very ineffectual ones and know that I am probably one of the ineffectual kind.  I have just landed us a huge project to work on and the Hippo-ettes have all pledged their support , which will be fantastic so this has given me the kick up the bum that was badly needed to move from ineffective to effective manager.  I can manage projects where I don’t have to explain the detail – but that’s usually because I don’t really worry about the detail till I have to!   So I have been a good Hippo and really tried hard to start thinking about the details already – but got bored and ended up writing this instead, says it all really!!! So, with that in mind I am going to utilise the skill set that surrounds me – there is one Hippo-ette who is particularly good at giggling at my lack of detail while gently nudging me without  shouting either – and she is already earmarked for area manager because she is good at it!!
However, we all know what will happen – I will chunter the outline while getting distracted, the others will giggle pleasantly while shaking their heads at me and gently fill in the detail in the most helpful way possible! And we will all have a lovely time, well they might be chuntering about me while going flip she forgot that again grrr.  So my advance apologies to the ever supportive Hippo-ettes who probably now spend their lives playing fill in the blanks to the cunning plans J

Tuesday, April 24

Time Flies!

Time does literally seem to have flown by lately!

We have been busy in the making shed, busy in the selling shed and busy setting up a craft fair.  Also been busy writing press releases to local and national press.  One of the things that has struck me lately is the amount of absolutely incredible crafters we are getting to meet just because we opened the purple shed!  So sales are not worthy of note just yet, but we are getting some wonderful comments and people saying 'ooh Aunt Sarah would like that, must pop back later' however the frustration in little brain is saying nooo buy it now please!!!  However, that is unfair on our shoppers who have all been very pleased with all the shiny things we have on offer.  And the networking and meeting up has more than made up for a slightly quiet till.

Marketing, ahh the bain of the small brain at the moment! It has been quite tricky to shift from a seller to a buyer brain to try and second guess what people might like, and how they might prefer to see it displayed.  I really must call up my girlfriends (those of the Norman persuasion!) who are wonderfully critical in a supportive way.  I sense a complete overhaul of the shop space if the two I have in mind pop down, but their opinion is also incredibly useful and done without malice or agenda so cannot be ignored.  Well, I could ignore it but seeing as we have too much dirt on each other it will no doubt backfire at some point!

What else have we been up to? We have a craft fair set up - venue booked, all the stall holders are locked in and now the advertising campaign starts.  Prepare to see bunting and Hippos all around the area.  But again, we have had the most amazing response from some superb crafters that we just want the day to come around so we can see them all together.  And the best accidental find was a scrapbook group who are going to make us a memento of the day from scraps gathered from all the stall holders.  Have to confess my absolute ignorance of what scrapbooking is all about but so glad I went to see them - it's stunning!  Can't wait to see what they create for us.

If you are in the area, pop along to the purple shed and if you are a crafter yourself then please bring some work to show us.  That is proving to be the best part of being open, and the ability to be able to say 'oh, you ought to talk to xxx as they could help you with that bit' because they've come to visit us too is just so lovely.  As someone said to me the other day we are linking the crafters together one Hippo at a time, we kind of like that idea too!

Friday, April 13

We are finally open!

My humble apologies for not getting these onto the blog earlier - but it's been such a whirlwind of a few weeks. Whilst I miss those days of being able to sit around all day in my jimjams chuntering away on blogger and twitter opening the shop has been such a learning curve and I don't think I'd prepared myself for the hours you need to put in. Time management fail, as ever, from the Hippo.

Anyway, we had our fantastic proper opening day - balloons, cake and kinder hippos and the sun came out so we all had a lovely day.

these are the before and after of the shed:

Saturday, March 31

The Hippo knows lovely people!

I promise to blog about the shop properly soon - with all the inbetween photos of us fighting with the paint tins! But, just had to share this with you all before the thoughts go from the small brain.

We had our official opening today, and we had forgotten how lovely our friends and family truly are - apologies if that sounds awful. However, think we're all guilty of bumbling along saying oh, must call her and arrange to meet up and the day to day life gets in the way of remembering how fab our friends are.

So here's a photo taken by my fabulous friend Buffy who just happens to be an awesome photographer, and is happily mad as a badger (in a good way of course!)
l-r: Sam Kat; Clare Sherwen, me, Claire Martin

all the lovely people that agreed to be part of the first wave of the Hippos taking over the world!!

We genuinely want Little Hippo Presents to grow into a social enterprise for local crafters and artists and as luck would have it we just happen to know some rather talented crafters who are also good fun to be around - which makes life much more pleasant.

Friday, March 9

Time Management Fail!!

Err, there are only 24 hours in one day - this fact is well known to me and has been around for some time now .... so why on earth did I think getting a new shop ready, helping organise a craft fair and getting our stock ready for the craft fair would be a good plan?? Nope, beats me too! However, this is the situation we find ourselves in so it's just a case of roll up those sleeves and get cracking.

We recently took the keys to this fab little place -

near to us is a garden centre where all the retail units are set up in their own huts and it just seemed the perfect stepping stone for us at this time. We've been trading from the web, doing a few craft fairs and not doing too badly so now to jump into retail!

However, the list of things needing doing just keeps growing and growing and as per usual had I actually stopped and considered them properly then we possibly wouldn't be in this position. But, in true Hippo style of yeah, course we can do that! there was a massive leap into the unknown complete with an assortment of paintbrushes and filler. What is fabulous about this venture is that we can do what we like to the hut (within reason!) so we can truly make it the home of Little Hippo.

One aspect of the business which is growing fantastically is the idea of selling with other people and use it as a sort of community arts venture. Ultimately we would love to have Little Hippo Presents as a social enterprise supporting local artists and crafters and Chez Hippo remains as our commercial venture. That's a way off yet but as per the true Hippo logic in my brain it's only a small step away. Not even finished painting and fitting this shed out and already thinking about the next idea! Beware all of those you that have agreed to sell through us - my ideas brain just keeps going, and going, and going ......!!

Thursday, March 1

All excited now!

Ok, so it's not something that Alan Sugar would be jumping up and down about - but it's a biggie for us! We are venturing into the world of retail. Very, very small to begin with - but hopefully in time we can do ok with it. The parental support has been fantastic, if tempered with the realism of 'have you worked out your costs?' but equally playing shop is one thing as a little girl, making a shop work to bring in an income is something completely different.
 A wise friend of mine said 'if you can make something work when the economy is this depressed, just think what you can do when it picks up' and she is so right. Her words were said years ago to me, but they've always stayed in my head. Before I get carried away with dressing the place, without thinking ooh eck I need to pay for that I would like to say thank you to all those lovely people that have supported us to getting this far. New businesses start and fall by the wayside all the time, we've tried to keep true to our ethos and not just respond to faddy trends.
At the end of the day what we make is hand crafted, it does all start life as a doodle at the dining table and then you have to fight the cat off the kiln to make it. We are an old fashioned cottage industry and hope to keep it that way. Friends make the journey fun, friends pitch in with the paintbrush and if you have continually chased the bottom line of profit then you will quickly lose these friends. So a huge, huge thank you to all of you who have helped us along the way - and if we forget this then please feel free to shout up! xx