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 as if we don't help each other we are definitely sunk!