Saturday, October 5

Plotting again!!

Apologies for lack of blogging, been slightly caught up in a few things!  We had our our Artists and Crafters Fair not long ago, 50 stalls of handmade gorgeous work from local makers with customers really impressed that it was a real craft fair and not just a bunch of re-sellers and the standard this year was amazing! One lady I talk to on facebook reckoned they all took evening wear to change into, will have to check on that one.

The other reason for being a tad busy is that we're plotting again - and this time it's on creating a co-operative of artists and makers.  Coming from a community worker background it was always the intention of the Hippos that we were more than just a shop, more than just craft fairs and it looks like it might just come off.  We've held down 18 months of trading, not got much left in the bank but we are in the black and we are growing.  The shop was never intended to make a profit for anyone, it was only ever intended to cover it's costs which it is doing.  So far we've managed to offer over 150 local makers the chance to sell through us and some have done reallly well while others had the chance to experience and learn what it's like to turn yourself self employed through your craft.  So it's all good stuff, and the people and friends that have come along is just lovely.  For me that's what it's really about, creating a family of makers that want to be part of something bigger and not just in it for themselves.  Sure, we all need to eat, we all need to pay the gas bill but none of us can work in isolation or grow without external support.  You might do well for a season but can you sustain that?  Can you take it up a notch and keep growing?  The simple answer is that without others to bounce ideas with you might struggle - some manage it really well, but for the most part that group collaboration and sense of family is something they value as do we. 

So, our next cunning plan! We've been in discussions with a very nice builder who has a rather large property that we could turn into small studio spaces, galleries, teaching workshops, cafe, bar and have the space to really put into action all the plans that have been bubbling away in the background but not got the space to at the minute.  We love where the shop is in Shropshire and aim to stay there for retail but it just doesn't allow us to expand as we keep being asked to.  We know so many artists wanting studio space, or wanting a space to come and learn something new or have offered to teach it.  We know loads of fabulous foodie artisans that could support a co-operative style cafe and we could all munch around the world with their varied backgrounds - the idea of Latvian cakes is always a winner for me (thank you Sandija!), but then you all know I can be bribed with cake :)

Now the harder part, we have to go through the legal process.  We have to come up with 3 years of figures for cashflow projection eek! And the name .... am having a little trouble with the founder members as they keep trying to call it Bloaters which is the collective name for Hippos, hmm not sure that's going to quite work somehow.  I can see that board meetings are not going to be your traditional suits and notepads, more a bun fight of giggling as they try and convince me that Bloaters is the way to go.  However, that said, that's all part of the fun; it's all part of how we want to work in the future and how we hope it will grow.  There's plenty of sensible meetings I'm going to have to go along to and it's nice to be able to say 'Bloaters' and giggle to myself while dozing off to droning about sensible things!

Friday, July 26

Capacity of the small maker - and why it's important to know these things!

This is something that is increasingly cropping up in conversations from those asking how to set up their own shop so thought it might be useful to explain.  I regularly get phone calls or visitors all excited because they have this dream of setting up their own shop and are bouncing away telling me all the fabulous things they will do.  But on digging a little deeper they have often understood how much time they need to do all the fabulous things they describe. 

To give you an example of the capacity issues: a friend of mine - let's call her Lucy - wants to set up a cake shop.  It doesn't have to be cakes, it could be anything that requires your time and expertise to make.  And she is rather good at making cakes, that isn't in question at all as my tummy has enjoyed them!  This is where it gets more tricky for her - capacity. 

For any small business starter you need to know your numbers.  Here's a basic breakdown:

  1. How much do you need to bring into your household each month to survive (notice I said survive, you are a startup so work on worst case scenarios as anything else is a bonus in year one)
  2. How many hours can you realistically work at your business - you need to sleep, take small people to school, visit your Mum and see your friends from time to time. If it helps keep a little calendar check of your schedule for a week and then work out the hours you do have or could make available.
  3. How long does it take you to make each item - if you batch make something then work out a time for 10 or 20 perhaps but as long as you know for example 20 cakes = 2 hours from start to completion.
  4. Now you need to work out how much profit you have after selling your work - ignore the time for the minute, just deduct materials cost from selling price.  Remember to include packaging!

You now have your four basic figures to work out if you can survive:
  1. Use the time per item and see how many you can make in your available time, eg if 20 cakes takes you 2 hours and you have 6 hours in a day then you can produce 120 cakes
  2. Now multiply that number by your profit per item - again, if your cakes have a profit of £1 per cake you have £120 profit per baking day
  3. Does that £120 per day multiplied over your working week or month cover what you need to survive?
  4. If yes, fantastic; if no what can we change?
I am often accused of being too commercial in my approach to the small craft businesses but the reason is that you do not start out to make a loss! And without knowing your cost base you may well end up in that position.  Many crafters have no intention of turning it into a business, but if you do dream of doing that (and good luck to you) then you do need to keep one eye on the costs.

If you end up with a situation where you realise you cannot produce enough to cover your required income then look to diversify.  In the case of the cake shop, can you sell supplies for cake makers?  Could you get a friend to do some classes in exchange for something?  Rather than you launch your own cake shop can you supply local cafes or shops to start with and build up your customer base?

Capacity is the hidden curse of the small trader - we are required to be all things at the beginning, maker, seller, advertiser, accountant, shopkeeper and the list is endless! This is where it is useful to look to what is sensible, where is your time best spent? What use of your time is going to best move your idea forward? 

Having said all that, there is also an element of risk attached to any start up and you have to decide where your personal risk limit is.  Some are happy to take on a shop lease and work out as they go along, some are more cautious and need to have a full spreadsheet in advance of looking to open.  Neither way is right or wrong, it is an incredibly personal decision.  Whichever route you choose, just make sure you stay on the right side of the balance sheet and have fun discovering your potential!  Also, don't forget there is loads of help out there to bounce ideas and get going.  We love being part of Enterprise Rockers as there are so many supportive and knowledgeble folk in that group, so make sure you take full advantage of the help out there to make your business work for you.

First published by Enterprise Rockers at:

Monday, June 24

Can jaffa cakes solve competition issues?

We have noticed in the short time that we have been open that competitors take many forms and some are not so subtle about it! We know we have fabulous makers that create amazing products, we know we have a loyal and returning customer base and we know we're good at what we do.  When we first started this all up I was accused of only being commerical, and I am beginning to realise where this comment came from.  If you are used to dealing with projects that support makers you sort of expect them to not worry about the finances because they are already covered through funding.  However, if you have no experience of real business then I agree, you would consider me commerical in my outlook because folk keep expecting me to pay them for things like rent and insurance!

However, it's still a jungle out there in terms of the business.  I recently went on a course about setting up and sustaining creative businesses and it struck me how much we have done intuitively and equally how much further we could go with the Hippos.  It got the small brain all fired up again on the possibilities and the fact that things don't always move in simple straight lines.  We know that our competitors come and go and some have even openly copied our working model, even to the point of emailing me the direct questions! In many respects that's actually quite flattering that we're worth copying and replicating, but equally it's not difficult to copy us.  You find some fabulous crafters, open a shop and say ta-dah come and buy this wonderful work - not exacly rocket science is it?

I don't have an issue with competition, after all BHS can't go into Marks & Spencer and whinge that they also sell red jumpers so please remove them from the shelf.  If we want to be treated as a business then we must act like one and accept that there will always be new and varied hurdles placed in our way.  Competition keeps you on your toes, makes you maintain customer service, keeps you searching for your next break and keeps you hungry to succeed.

One thing that has become apparent is how externally funded projects doing very similar to us is having an indirect effect on the Hippos though.  We recently discovered that a venue was overcharging us for room hire because they thought we had Portas funding and when I said we were likely to drop them due to proving too costly this all came to light.  They were genuinely shocked that we don't receive any support because of how we work and instantly halved the room hire when I explained which was helpful.  However, what worried me was that they had decided that if we had funding we were able to pay more, and it got me thinking.

Another issue that's cropping up is the capacity of our makers to keep us supplied.  We try to only deal with small, independent makers and support them as they move into self employment of their own and been fairly successful in doing so.  However, popup shops often have little or no overheads and can offer them a better deal because of it. Again it's not rocket science, if your outgoings as a shop are lower you don't need to raise so much to stay open.  Makers move or prioritise those offering a better financial deal - and quite rightly on their part, who wouldn't go where they can get a better deal?  They have overheads to meet and families to look after too, it's called shopping around for the best deal for you and it's not personal.  Small makers are not factories, they have a finite capacity level so 10 items made means they have to decide which outlet to put the 10 items into.  However it potentially causes problems as without stock we cannot generate sales, without sales our doors close .... unless

We have to look at the Hippos and decide how to help our own survival - or whether we can survive as we currently are.  We have to look at whether what we're doing is viable.  There will always be pop up shops and there will always be funding for small start ups.  Again, I have no issue with either as quite frankly who wouldn't take some help if it were offered - we certainly would! But, it does make me re-examine the very sector we're trying to support and whether we can continue in the same way or whether we need to take a sideways look at what we do. 

There are some elements that are unique to the Hippos, we can offer a very personal service to customers and makers.  We know all our makers and are able to take the time to help them develop.   I know that there are issues to be pondered over, and that's going to take a lot of jaffa cakes!  But equally I know that there is an answer, it just hasn't appeared yet.  Answers have traditionally appeared from the most random sources so it's all about looking and recognising those opportunities when they crop up.  Someone once told me there is no such thing as luck because luck is merely the ability to spot and take an opportunity so Hippo's on the lookout, and armed with jaffa cakes of course!  The next cunning plan is just around the corner and Hippo's on a mission to find it .... back soon :) 

Thursday, May 16

Why credit bothers me

Someone told me yesterday that it appears as if I just randomly pluck ideas out of the air and leave people going err where's this one come from???  So, thought it wise to try and give a little context to the banking comments I've been making recently on twitter.

Credit is not bad, unmanaged credit terrifies me, no credit means you get trapped, a poor credit rating these days means that some aspect of your life are halted.  To explain - these days most of our financial dealings are recorded and stored on credit reference agencies, miss a mortgage payment = black mark, pay your credit cards each month = good mark and so on.  Not that tricky to follow their logic - unless you find yourself out of your depth as so many folk do sadly.  Not always through buying expensive holidays but just through normal life choices.

To simplify:
you have £1,000 coming in each month
your credit bill is £150 per month
normally you pay this, but you can't pay much more
then ..... the washing machine breaks so you need a new one

this is where the crunch comes:
you don't have enough spare each month so you put it on credit
your credit bill goes up, and to pay it you need to cut back on something else

next month the car needs new brakes ..... see above scenario and you can see how quickly the debt problem can escalate very easily without a holiday or new fancy telly to show for it.  All you did was replace an essential item (the washing machine) and fix your car (needed to get to work).

I actually speak from very real experience on this matter, several years ago my then husband got into real difficulties and stopped paying the mortage without me knowing.  The first I knew of it was the estate agent querying why the locks had been changed and then over time unravelled a whole heap of inter-linked debt issues.  So the issue of debt and poor credit has had a real impact on my life, it took years to un-link myself and re-build a credit history of my own because without one you are pretty much sunk these days.

Solution: we should each have our own credit limit based on our ability to repay it, whether this be £1,000, £10,000 or £100,000 the figure is not the important bit.  The important bit is that when you combine all the credit you have from store cards, car loans, credit cards etc the total spend available should not exceed your personal limit.  So, if your personal limit is £20,000 you can have 1 card at £20,000 or 20 at £1,000 but the records should be linked so that you cannot exceed it.

Better solution: we join and start credit unions! These are fantastic ideas, you pay in a fixed amount each week or month and it can be as little as £1 and then you borrow against what you have saved.  But, and this is the clever bit - you always pay that £1 and some of it pays your loan and some of it goes into your savings.  So you can borrow and save at the same time, simple yet effective banking :) 

And then this is the really clever bit, there are hundreds and thousands of small businesses that manage their money effectively and don't want the overdraft or loan facility so if we set up a small business credit union we could actually keep the cash flowing so that none of ever get stung by stupidly high charges that appear out of left field because the Chairman needed to pay for gross neglicence on the part of their brokers that took a gamble that failed.  Most of us curse our business bank statements, get fed of being in a queue to someone abroad that doesn't get the question we ask and generally put up with rubbish service because we have to have a business bank account to legally trade.

Personally, think it's about time we took our own destiny back and create our own bank or credit union and will keep plugging away with the questions and the ideas till we can help each other.  Business, and small business is tough enough these days so let's start helping ourselves!

Sunday, May 12

Next stage for the Hippos

It's getting quite interesting at the shop, events and for the Hippos in general.  We seemed to have kicked up a gear, mainly because I actually got myself organised with the back office.  Cannot believe how lovely some of our artists were in not chasing me for information - most of the responses to my humble apology were things like don't worry, figured you were busy.  Without such a fab group around me think I would have gone nuts (no heckling from the back over that comment!).

So, next stage - friend told me about the Own Art scheme which is something I would love to achieve for us.  It's basically a credit scheme backed by Arts Council England where customers can buy larger pieces on credit and the scheme allows us to be a broker.  Win win :) The customer gets to buy larger pieces in stages, we get to sell more originals, artists get to be seen more so everyone's happy!

All the criteria is around having original work from living artists and the permission from the artist to sell them which we do.  Just got to wait till August to apply because we will have been at the shop for 12 months then which is the other criteria.  Can't believe that twelve months ago we were in a little garden shed on a really quiet site and now looking to Arts Council England to apply for their credit scheme - it's just such a positive progress marker.

We now have almost 60 local artists and makers in the shop, all fabulous people with amazing work and all so different.  Truthfully I think that's why it works, because we celebrate that uniqueness, they all come from such different backgrounds and some have had a bumpier ride than others but they meet at the shop on an equal footing.  Personally I don't give two hoots where (or if) you trained formally, some of our best artists have never sat through formal art training!  The thing they all have in common is they like making what they do so it's all good.  And the really lovely thing is we actually know them all to chat to and ask what mischief the dog got up to last week and other normal things so it really is like having a creative family that all trundle along together.

The other thing I didn't anticipate is how much button thumping I would do! This is my non technical speak for all things computer based such as blogging, twitter, websites etc.  Someone kindly pointed out that actually it's only me that calls it button thumping, oops.  Also, didn't anticipate the interest we would generate from other sources.  The amount of customers and artists popping in or contacting me via a referral is awesome, and there's me thinking I just stick a purple Hippo on things.

As always, a huge thank you to everyone that has allowed this to happen - and to allow me to see the possibilities of where we could go next.  Already in discussions about the next cunning plan with someone that sees opportunities the way I do, will share when there's something more definite to share but think it could be rather exciting. 

See you all soon, Hippo xx

Friday, May 10

Craft Fair survival kit!

This is not intended as an exhaustive list, especially if you have very specific needs or equipment to take to a fair but it should give you a starting point of some of the more useful things to remember to bring! 

  1. Table - Are tables provided at the venue?  If not you will need to make sure you have some way of displaying your work and a pasting table or similar is usually a standard size that's useful (and foldable!).
  2. PRODUCTS!!! might sound daft but you could spend ages checking your details and forget to actually take what you made!
  3. Covering for the table - either a table cloth, old duvet cover or door curtain - anything that is big enough to cover the entire table and hang over the edges.  It's sometimes useful to have something that covers the front completely so that you can store boxes etc underneath without customers seeing them.
  4. Banner or poster to attach to the front of the table saying who you are - not essential but if you have one make sure you pack it!  Also make sure you include the pins or string to attach it.
  5. Stall display material - height is a great way to make your display more inviting, rummage around charity shops or DIY shops for basic bits that you can use to your advantage.
  6. Baskets or containers for smaller items you are displaying - also useful if these come with lids so that packing up is made a whole lot easier later.
  7. Boxes to pack away with - where possible make them work as part of your display, cuts down on boxes under the table and makes storage and packing away much easier!
  8. Pricing labels - make sure your items are priced clearly, rounding up or down to make your change easier.  We round everying to the nearest 50p which makes the float tin simple.
  9. Float - don't forget your change! And the tin/box to keep it in.
  10. Receipt book - probably only if you sell more expensive items, but some may ask so depending on your prices may be useful.
  11. Business cards or flyers - how can people find you later?
  12. Notepad and pen - you will need to record your sales somehow depending on your method of record keeping.
  13. Packaging - depending on what you are selling you may need tissue, newspaper or bubble wrap to keep your items safe and bags to sell them in.
  14. If you have insurances for food hygiene, CE proof or CRBs take a copy with you - chances are you will never get asked but better to have it with you just in case.
  15. Useful box - I use a small plastic toolbox just for fairs and keep the following in it:
    1. scissors
    2. string
    3. blutac
    4. drawing pins
    5. pens
    6. plasters
    7. post it notes
    8. cable ties - these end up being used for the most random uses!
    9. roll of stickers
    10. business cards
    11. count clicker - not everyone is bothered, but they are useful
  16. If you have small people with you make sure you have some sweets, drinks etc and toys or games to keep them occupied (easier said than done sometimes) and please make the organiser aware that they belong to you so can be returned if found wandering!
  17. Chair and cushion - if you suffer with back problems or need to sit for long periods take a fold up chair and cushion.
  18. Cardboard - if the place might be cold take an old piece of carpet or cardboard box to stand on.
  19. Bin bag - to clear away any food wrappers etc.
  20. Food! You may be there for a while without access to tea or food so go prepared :)
That's all I can think of for now - please add bits as you think of them, and tailor the list to your particular needs.  And just remember - check it all fits in your car!!! Hippo x

Tuesday, April 30

Some thoughts on twitter

Another rambling that may be helpful, may not! As always tweak to your own needs, disregard what you disagree with and have fun in your own way :)

Twitter is a fantastic meeting and melting point for the small business owner, you get to chat to like minded, network, find customers, find suppliers and get loads of advice all from merrily clicking away.  I only asked the other day how did small businesses cope without twitter? And genuinely meant it because I have met (on line and then in real life) some fantastic people.  So many of our newer sellers are because of it, I found a helpful solicitor when I needed one, someone to help me with some branding issues and so so many more that the list would be stupidly long.

Why does it work for us?  Because I use it - and that is the simplicity of it.  To get the most out of it you need to play with it, engage with people, chat, share and generally be visible.

Try to imagine you walk into a party where you vaguely know one or two but the rest are strangers, who are you drawn to? Who do you continue to chat with and meet later?  Is it the one that just says 'did you know I sold 3 cars yesterday, I can tell you all about it ...' and then drones on with tedious detail about the engine size etc etc all of which you have absolutely no interest in whatsoever.  Is it the person that every time you say something they've been there, done it better and got the T shirt? Or is it the person that says 'hello, don't think we've met before - how are you?' and then actually has a conversation and a giggle with you?

Hmm not exactly rocket science is it, and that's exactly what twitter is.  There's a mix of car sellers, T shirt wearers and chatters and you can follow or be any or all 3 of these types.  If you are the one who only ever says 'I just listed 3 items on etsy' you're not likely to gain that many followers, let's face it that's quite dull.  Likewise if someone you tweet with just says 'oh no, another disaster why did I bother' they tend to bring you down.  We all have moans, just like in real life but again we have enough misery of our own without hearing other people's all the time!

I try to work on a 1/3 basis of tweets - 1/3 is information such as 'we've just got our lastest offers going'; 1/3 sharing - re-tweeting people, or talking about someone else and 1/3 random drivel - usually about the stupidity of my cat to be honest, but it works for me.  Not saying I'm an expert but that balance seems to work for me and a basic rule of thumb it's probably a good starting point.

Dont't be frightened of it, and just remember that in exactly the same way you wouldn't announce to a room full of strangers about something really intimate and personal don't do it on twitter!  When you tweet, try to imagine that at the party everyone can hear exactly what you say for good and for bad.  So, thinking you're whispering to the woman next to you 'flip, does she really think she can wear that?' is heard by everyone, including the woman in the wrong outfit! 

Gradually, as you would in real life you start conversations with folk and find some utter gems of people that become friends.  I have twitter buddies around the world, and it's great to catch up with them, it's sort of like when you had pen pals at school and talk to people you've not met yet.  Equally I have met some trolls, and if in doubt block and report them - use your instinct about people, don't engage just report.  It's their choice what they put and not up to you to police them, but often if enough report a person they are suspended by twitter so use that facility if necessary.  Please don't say 'you all need to unfollow @bibble-twit' because all you do is give them exposure which is often what they wanted.

You are not obligated to follow anyone, but use your common sense.  Again, the party scenario - and also try and remember that just because you get annoyed by seeing stuff about for example Britain's Got Talent but love tennis there will be followers on your timeline going yuk tennis again.  We can have different interests so don't be rude about others, just go do something else or ignore them for an hour till it's finished!  As in real life your friends will do or like stuff that you just think is odd, they're still your friend just with a different take on things - exactly the same on twitter.

Hope that helps and have fun, Hippo x

Sunday, April 28

so you want to set up a shop?

We get asked quite often about setting up a craft shop, what advice would we give etc so figured it might be helpful to put a few things on the blog.  As always, not saying this is a foolproof plan or even that what we did would work for you but if nothing else it might get you thinking about what you need to consider - and most of all, good luck! If you don't try you never know what you might have achieved :)

Business plan - ok so this sounds a little formal when all you want to do is knit, natter and enjoy creating.  It doesn't have to be a formal document, but there does need to be some sort of plan.  Even if it's a really basic diagram of what you want to do, ideas of how to get there, what you will sell, who will help out and a rough idea of what you would like to see in 5 years.  Then get the most negative person you know to pick holes in it!! If you can answer and stomach being picked apart and still be determined with a sound idea chances are it will work.  If however you end up sobbing going 'but I just want a pretty shop' then you may to re-think some bits.  Start again, re-write it, go back to grumpy guts and stand your ground.  It may take a few goes, but believe me if you can get past grumpy guts you will have had to consider all the things that might not work and come up with a cunning plan to get round them.  We all need cunning plans to succeed.

Location - this is absolutely critical.  Easier said than done when rents etc are high these days, but would urge you to do some research.  Just because you walk past an empty shop and think 'that would be great as a craft cafe' consider why it's empty?  Did the previous tenant struggle with footfall, did they move, did they close because of ill health?  There are tons of reasons why people close up, just make sure it's not something that might affect you such as footfall.  Do not rush into long term contracts until you know it works - always go for short term where possible, or even blag a corner of someone else's shop till you figure out your stock and customers and know it's working.  Empty shops are often available to start ups for peanuts because they would rather something than nothing - be cheeky and ask! Be aware where your limit is, if you really can't afford it then walk away as there will be other opportunities.  Think of it like buying a house and what you would look for and then replace personal with customers' needs.  If most of your crafters are in a wheelchair a second floor shop is not going to work well.  Try to see venues as a customer not a business owner first.

Customers - without them you are pretty much sunk! Sorry to sound brutal but unless you do all your sales via the internet you are going to need customers.  Don't rely on all your friends and family who are so so supportive in your front room, they have lives too and unless it's something they want to buy or have the time chances are you probably won't see them much.  Again do some research, it doesn't need to be vastly high tech just sit on a bench near where you're thinking of opening up and ask yourself 'this person walking past, would they come to my shop?' If you're brave enough, take some flyers and stop and ask them.  You're going to need a skin like a rhino later so just bite the bullet and stop folk!  The worst they will say is no thank you, the best they will say is wow that's just what I was looking for, when do you open?

Time - the evil thief of creativity! There is going to be tons of work in the background when you are setting up and do you have the time to do it all? Can you go into partnership with people and share the workload?  If you have small people to collect from school you're not going to be able to open till 5 unless you get some help.  It's fun to help at the beginning when it's all new and full of possibilities but you will need the help in month 3 onwards when the slog kicks in.

Systems - sounds deathly dull but you're going to need them! Think about how you work best and play to your strengths.  Some are experts on excel some love pencils - doesn't matter, just make sure you know what's going on and can show this.  You will need some way of tracking people's stock, who they are and keep records because the tax man is going to want to talk to you later - and trust me they always find you!

Change - things change, constantly so accept and embrace it.  You have  a unique position in that you can change quickly, you can respond to customers and sellers easily - you are not a high street giant with a chain of command to work through.  Use this to your advantage, it's your massive plus point. What works for Martha next door may not work for you, but equally you will have several donut brain moments where you go 'ahh that needs to be done like this' so go with it.  Concentrate on the changes that keeps you going, if you are struggling to get customers in the door change your window display, change your marketing.  Try to be as self aware as possible, if you are great at the customer service concentrate on that first and get folk to help with the bits you struggle with.

Money - ahh the sordid topic of coin! Get as much for free as you can, including time.  Time is the biggest cost to any business, and not just paying people.  If you are doing one thing you can't do something else - work out if you were to pay yourself for a task where is that best spent? Back to working out your strengths and weaknesses, ask friends what they consider your best points. Always start with free, then barter, then pay for things.  Ask people if they can lend you display items - you'll be surprised what's lurking in garages and attics. We work on buttons, barter and borrow!  But, and this is quite critical - you do not want to look like a messy throw together, upcycle where possible by using pretty fabrics as covers for units that don't match or ribbon to hold up signage. Be gently critical and think 'would I walk in here? What is my eye drawn to?'  Again, if you're brave enough ask grumpy guts to pick holes and work on the things you can easily and cheaply first.  Things take time, don't expect it to look superb from day one.

Failure - be realistic, because it is sadly an option.  Apologies for sounding negative but once you accept this possibility somehow the risk seems so much smaller.  If the worst that happens is you tried but had to give the keys back then what could be the best? The best could be you working with your creative friends in an environment you love and making it work for and around you.

Instinct - don't be fooled, this is a massive asset to the small business - especially a creative one.  You will get a gut feel for people, customers, trends, what might work so use it.  And be yourself, always.  You have to sustain this, you have to drive it forward with your vision so pretending you love pink and dressing the shop in pink because you saw it in a magazine will not work unless you really do love pink.  Falsehood is quickly exposed, and you do not want to be considered false.  Kooky, ecclectic, slightly bonkers but lovely is all fine and to be honest partly expected but false never.

Above all, have fun! You chose to do this, you stuck your neck out so try to enjoy the bumpy ride and with tenacity, hard work and using your strengths you could be the next big thing!  Hope it helps, Hippo xx

Saturday, April 27


This is a collection of posts to showcase our amazing artists and crafters, apologies if your favourite isn't on here yet but got quite a few to go through! 

Friday, April 26

How and why we work the way we do!

It has come to my attention that it's not always easy to figure out what we're up to. Not in a horrid secretive way but because we don't really broadcast it that much.  We figured you would rather shop and trade somewhere with lovely things and fabulous makers rather than listen to my political beliefs all day!  So, if you don't do politics or mission statements look away now and coo over some of Silver Ether's bunting (which I have to admit is rather gorgeous).

Firstly - we aim to make a profit.  Profit in community ventures is not an evil thing, however what you do with that profit potentially is.  Any profit made goes straight back into the shop, events, or advertising for everyone.  Like me paying for a website to show off everyone, or getting new banners done to say 'craft fair here today' as they all cost and need paying for.  No one person ever profits from someone else's work or takes a wage.

This is a grass roots group - our main target group is the start up artist or crafter.  The ones that have made a few things for their friends who have said 'you ought to sell that' and thought err how do I do that?  We run low cost events so that everyone can have a go, and even if it doesn't work for them at least they got the chance to try. 

We intend to grow and stay around for a while - we know it's starting to work.  We get a lot of interest from other community groups such as WaveLength in Telford who asked us along to their event to show how disabled people might start working for themselves if that's their choice.

Choice - it's all about your choice.  We don't tell you how much to sell for, we don't tell you what to make or how.  That's down to the makers themselves - we have absolutely no right to challenge their creativity or desires, just as they don't have the right to tell me not to watch Emmerdale!

Makers - we don't really care about your background or what drives you to create.  We just like working with creative people who have a passion for what they do and want to improve and meet like minded.  We have a wide mix of self employed artists including artists who use it to top up pensions, crafters who use it to bolster self esteem after mental illness, crafters that need an extra income on top of disability benefits.  Your background is your story, if you choose to share it that's fine but we would never judge or discriminate.  Some of our most talented crafters have had a varied life journey with many bumps along the way, but they found us somehow and we love working with them.  Also, we don't believe in putting up signs saying this person is disabled - why would we? What does that achieve? The customer is looking for a present for Margaret's birthday, not a back story.

Support - one of the over-riding things coming back to us constantly is the support we offer.  So many of our crafters arrive with hugs and presents saying 'thank you for all your help'.  Truthfully we just see it as helping someone be the best they can be, and if tweaking branding or saying maybe that would be better in yellow helps then we will.  We don't have all the answers, but we certainly have a growing communuity that might!

Community - the Hippos are growing fast and solicitors are working with us to become a legal Community Interest Company which is where we ultimately want to be. We like the challenge we place on the High Street, we like the speed that we can change at because we are grass roots and a bunch of small makers.  We like the community spirit we're building which was brought home today from an event where the venue said 'we tried this before, but obviously having the right people running it makes it work - thank you'.

If you think you could get involved, or have something to share then get in touch - and as many of the crafters already know bribery with cake will always get you an excellent first hug! Hippo x

Wednesday, April 17

A basic guide for putting work in the shop

This is not meant as an exhaustive list, things change all the time so please don't take this as set in stone.  However, the principles that apply to us probably apply to other shops and galleries so it may be useful to use this as a starting point for other sites.

Do some research!
Where possible visit the shop/gallery beforehand.  Would you shop there? Can you see your work fitting in with what else is on offer? Do they already stock something similar to you? Which items are likely to be your biggest competition? Does their price range match your work?

As a general rule shops and galleries have lots to do in the background so just turning up with boxes of items with no prior warning will not get you the audience you would like.  Try to chat to the owners first, find out how they like to be approached - or, if at all. And once you know this, follow the guidelines they give you.  If they ask for 5 examples don't turn up with 20 - all  this says is you can't follow instructions and therefore puts in question your ability to work with us.

Be aware of your prices - most galleries and shops will want to know your trade price.  They then put a percentage mark up on to create the retail price.  If you have really strong views about your sale prices say so, but be aware that if the gallery doesn't agree they are under no obligation to stock your work.

Don't be offended if they say no - sadly we say no to more than we say yes to.  Mainly because we already stock similar work, it doesn't quite fit our audience or practical things like it would require specific display that we just don't have room for.  It's not personal though.  We are not saying we don't like you or your work is rubbish - we're just saying that at this time it doesn't fit in for a variety of reasons.  Ask us for feedback on why not - is it something that can be overcome in the future?  Also, please remember that sometimes our location restricts what will sell or won't sell.  We have seen the most amazing pieces that would work in an urban gallery setting but not with us - each shop/gallery knows their own audience and can usually signpost you to somewhere where the customer audience would be perfect for you.  We're not out to stop folk sellling - but need to ensure your work is sold in the most appropriate place for you.

Shops and galleries are in business - we need to know that the work we stock has a chance of selling because without sales none of us keep going so bear this in mind if you don't get the reaction you wanted.  Listen to the feedback, it's not criticism it's feedback - big difference and it's there to help you.  Sometimes we ask people to have a craft stall with us first because we're just not sure of public reaction.  This is not a no - this is a genuine we're not sure so want to test your work out first before stocking it.

Also, and this is important try to do some research on what people think of the shop from a trader and customer point of view.  If all the comments you see are 'what a lovely place to shop, so glad I found you' then chances are they will look after you too.  If all the comments are 'please can you reply to my complaint' chances are something's not quite right.  Use your instinct, you are about to leave work in the hands of strangers and trust that they sell it for you.  We have come across some horror stories in our time which is why we always try to be as open and honest as possible. 

Be clear on what you want out of the agreement - because it is an agreement between the shop and you.  You as the crafter have the right to say sorry I don't want to leave this with you as equally the shop have the right to say I like the blue ones but not the yellow ones.  Negotiation and communication are part of building a working relationship.

Visit the shop - everyone is busy, everyone has loads of demands on their time but just as you expect the shop to sell your work they expect some interaction in return too.  Don't just turn up when you want your sales money, try to keep in touch or just pop in to say hello.  We know from experience that the more folk pop in and check how things are going the more they get out of the arrangement.  They can see customer reaction to their work, see what sells well and what's struggling.  Also rotating and freshening your stock helps you and the shop.  A strong relationship really helps in the future too, especially to those bribing me with cake :)

Be clear on what promotion you expect and ask the questions, again this is an agreement between two parties and you as the crafter have the right to query things.  Without crafters we can't survive, without shops stocking work crafters would struggle - it's a two way process so remember that when you get all excited about being in your first shop then get home and think err I didn't ask whether they would actually put my stock out or just leave it in a cupboard?!

Tuesday, April 16

It's your first craft fair stall - don't panic!

This is not meant as an exhaustive list of things to do or not do, and those of you that are more experienced will probably chuckle at some of the things you forgot on your first outing!

Firstly - don't panic! Easier said than done when you are surrounded by fabulous stalls that seemed to take no effort, but everyone started somewhere.  Each crafter had their first stall somewhere - however slick and organised they may look today.

If you get chance go to an event, look around, talk to the stall holders.  We all borrow ideas - especially regarding display from each other but far nicer to say 'wow that looks really good, think I  may need to borrow that idea' because chances are you'll bump into each other later.

Look at stalls and think about it with your own stock in mind.  Do you need to show off smaller items, or would yours look better hung up? Do you need people to be able to try or taste work on offer? Also, don't forget we never stop learning new things so don't expect to get it exactly right first time out.  Expect to use each event to learn something new.

One of the things often overlooked is making sure people know what your work is for or does.  Might sound daft but if you sell chalk boards make sure one is hung up with a piece of chalk and something written on it - you have now explained the function without having to tell everyone! Plus if you are shy it saves you explaining each time.

Change - again might sound obvious but if all your items are rounded up to the nearest 50p do you really need lots of small change? Plus, make life simple for yourself - round sales figures up or down to make your cash handling simpler. 

Card readers - unless you already have one do not rush into a contract until you are sure it's worth it.  Sadly you might lose a few sales, but the costs are quite high until you know you can justify it.  Make sure you know where the nearest cash point is and offer to take a holding deposit while the customer goes to the cashpoint if necessary.

Tables, chairs etc - find out from the venue what is provided and what size.  Also, it is worth asking if you have access to wall space or back boards to hang work on.  Many venues don't but if they do then take full advantage to create your display.  If you have a bad back or need to be seated for any length of time I would always advise you bring your own chair to be sure you're comfortable.

Power - if you need power it's best to ask the organisers in advance.  Depending on the size of the venue this is often something they have little or no control over but if they know they can work with you.  Arriving with 20 minutes to set up demanding a power socket is not going to make you their favourite person!

Temperatures - might sound obvious but make sure you are warm enough! If a venue is likely to be cold take a piece of cardboard or old offcut of carpet to stand on to stop the cold striking up at you.  There is absolutely nothing worse than being cold while trying to be pleasant to customers.

Practice getting your stuff in the car - will your table, chair, 5 boxes, dog, child going to Nanny's actually all fit in?  Also, try and pack so that tables come out of the boot first to help you set up more easily (don't forget to take the child to Nanny's either).

Leaflets, business cards, flyers - it would be wise to print off some simple A5 leaflets that tell people who you are and where else they can buy from you with the details you want them to find such as your Folksy shop or facebook to contact you.

Layout - you will probably be stood behind your stall all day but have you looked at it through a customer's eyes?  Stand at the front, make sure you can see everything, is it priced up, can you reach things to look at them, does it look interesting?  Or, if you have a willing assistant set it up at home first and ask them to look objectively.  Mixing height is a good way of making a stall look interesting.  Concentrate on using your most attractive items to draw folk in, or maybe you have an unusual gimmick that draws conversation?  Anything that gets folk to stop, chat and engage is helpful.  Don't forget, you don't have to stand behind a table all day - you can often change layouts to make it a little different.

Talk to customers - craft fairs are a social outing for both you and the customer, they are usually really interested in how or why you make things so take the opportunity to share what you do.  Sitting down all day with your nose in a book will not gain you the highest sales of the day!  If you are able to actually demonstrate what you make then do it - people love to watch crafters at work, plus it proves that you really did make all the gorgeous things you have on display.

Share - make sure you take your details to share amongst the other stall holders and get their details too.  It's surprising how many times the same faces pop up so it's far nicer to be able to chat to them between events and possibly share ideas or suggestions.

Be realistic about what you expect from events - unless you are very lucky and have a loyal audience you are unlikely to make your fortune on your first outing.  Or, is it more realistic to use events to generate new business leads?  If you have food products be sensible about quantities and use by dates.  It is better to sell out of a smaller volume than have to take home 50 unsold cakes (however happy your 6 year old is with this idea!).

If there was something that was really bad make sure you tell the organisers - sometimes they are unaware of your issues and without being told they can't put it right for next time.

Above all - HAVE FUN!! You chose to do the event, you spent the time making your goods and you paid to be there.  There will always be good and bad events, grumpy and happy stall holder, organised and disorganised event organisers.  Trust your instinct, if you think it's not right for you then don't book.  There are many different events for different audiences and in time you will find where you best fit.

Hope this helps, and if you have other bits to add in please do so.  Hippo x

Monday, March 4

Oh, you don't have a trampoline?

This is meant as a light hearted way of showing you some ways of how not to get your work in the shop (please don't get offended - and please don't bring a trampoline down!)

please do the following:-

  1. Ensure you arrive in the middle of a busy craft fair day with 6 boxes and then place them in the middle of the floor and proceed to empty bubble wrap in the shop
  2. Bring a random selection of photos on your phone including one of the cat's birthday party and your Uncle Graham trampolining
  3. Ensure that you have accidentally brought the box containing your daughter's costume for her school play and left your samples with her head teacher
  4. You must at all times place yourself in the most awkward position to ensure the most customers are blocked from travelling around the shop
  5. You must at all times restrict our ability to make a sale while continuing to hunt for the photo of your current work while admiring Uncle Graham's skill at trampolining
  6. Guess a random figure for the sale price of your work - please make sure this is completely fictious and has no logic behind it
  7. Be offended that we have already stocked similar work and that we had made no effort to seek you out beforehand
  8. Be offended that we do not have a trampoline to entertain your 6 children that are playing paintball in the shop
  9. Tell us that you tried to come down but we were closed, and that you have tried several times but we are always closed on the Monday which is the only day you can get there yet make no contact with us so we remain clueless about you trying to visit
  10. Bring Uncle Graham's trampoline and tut loudly that we don't have the space to put it up, while collecting the 6 paintballing offspring who have just created an amazing mural which actually is rather good so we'll keep the mural, but not the trampoline if that's ok?


Monday, February 25

What a difference a week makes!

Wow, what a difference a week really does make!  Last week I was a tad miffed at the lack of co-operation we were on the receiving end and this week it's like dealing with a different company - in a really good way :)

It would appear that me raising quite valid grumps was listened to, and actions are already becoming quite visible on site.  Hurrah!! So, now we are back to a bouncy happy Hippo which is probably a relief to some.  And then the most awesome people turned up with some new work for the shop so it was a double whammy of a good week.

This is a piece by Andy O'Boyle who creates the most fabulous pieces out of cast bronze, and according to his daughter Daddy is amazing (which he is) and that he uses earwax to create his work.  Not entirely sure that bit is true, but the end results are simply stunning and the tactility is such a lovely thing to have in the shop.  What was lovely about meeting Andy was that his daughter is right, Daddy is amazing, and because he was very much in agreement with us that art should be accessible.  He was uncomfortable with folk not being able to touch his work, after all if you see something of this scale your first reaction is always going to be to touch it so he seemed quite relieved that you cannot find a 'do not touch' sign anywhere in our shop.  Art should be accessible, it's not always something that should be locked away and merely admired by those in white gloves nodding and muttering 'yes I can see what he is trying to express here'.  Andy creates fun in these bronzes, there is a subtle whimsy coming out of the fact that he is extremely good at what he does and therefore is comfortable in his own work.  Next time you visit, come give the ducklings a pat on the head!

And then Katherine arrived!  We've known Katherine for just over a year now, from doing a craft fair many moons ago where I had always admired her skill in both design and the quality of her products.  And we're not the only ones to notice, since we last met she's racked up several major clients so we were extremely touched that she was happy leaving her work with us.  Katherine uses her own designs to create the most gorgeous silk scarves, ties, glasses cases and basically anything else she can think of  - and each with amazing levels of detail and quality of finish.  Again, she was of the opinion that her work needs to be touched and felt so again she was relieved not to see 'do not touch' signs around the shop.  Her attitude is very much one of it's silk, you need to be able to see it and touch it to appreciate it so please don't just fold them up in a cabinet.  And already, in true Hippo style we've put her in touch with people that might like their own designs on some of her work.  Almost forgot, she also runs courses and has offered to run some for us later in the year.  With her skills and attitude I can see folk walking away with some amazing designs they didn't realise they were capable of.

So, a week really does make a big difference to a tired and slightly frazzled brain! We started the week feeling ignored and on the hunt for new sellers and ended the week on an even fuller shop of amazing work and inclusion on site posters.  And the best bit is, it's only February so what else can we achieve in 2013?  Apologies as there are loads more new sellers that I will be showcasing over the coming weeks, so please don't feel left out if I can't get to your favourite for a while! Hippo xx

Monday, February 18

You distract them while I draw a Hippo!

We seem to have reached a plateau, normally when people say this it is seen as a negative in that you are no longer moving forward or learning something.  But in this case I see it as a positive.  We seem to have figured out our client base and are now attracting some amazing new crafters to the shop and to our events and so many are returning customers which is even more proof that what we do, we do well.  The icing on the cake is when our regulars pop in with friends and you hear them say 'this is what I wanted to show you, isn't it gorgeous?'.  Then we really know we're doing something right.

But .... we have learnt that no-one will do the work for you, and to be honest never expected it. We are an independent trader, and as such must stand or fall on our own merits and hard work, but we did expect a little better communication and promotion within the site we're on.  This may seem slightly trite but to give you an example of what we are up against.  We are based at a gorgeous farm shop in the middle of the Shropshire countryside but we are neither employees or outsiders.  We pay rent for the shop and try to support and promote any activities the site are doing as that helps everyone.  The ToyShop is independent too and we always advertise any specials they are organising.  The site is not big enough for one part to go off doing their own thing without damaging another.  So, we foolishly anticipated joint advertising of events.  But no, a simple thing like their blackboard which welcomes you to the site only includes elements that they own.  Might seem sensible, after all why should you advertise something you do not get direct benefit from?  You have your own site to promote, and that should always be your priority - we understand that.  However, we had a customer in on Sunday saying I didn't want veg and thought they only sold food till my friend told me you were here too.  She then went on to say that actually she had bought some food for her tea as it all looked rather lovely.  My point is, had they decided to advertise the whole site rather than just their own elements they would be attracting a wider audience who then impulse buy their gorgeous food and intend to return.  We get a lot of customers saying the same thing, had they realised there was more than just a farm shop they would have been down sooner and now they know where we all are will be back with their friends. 

Two of our crafters that supply the shop and are close enough to walk to us (that's how local we really do work) came through the farm shop asking why she didn't see our name anywhere and how on earth would people realise their work was being sold? We had to explain the scenario discussed above that because we are not strictly part of the site we don't get included. One cup of tea and much huffing later we were already giggling and plotting how to plant Hippos in the celery or other such subversive acts!

The other message coming back loud and clear was that folk like the craft markets we put on.  While handing out leaflets to customers the reactions were pretty much all along the lines of 'oh I'm so glad you're doing those again, we love bringing our friends up here then' one lady was really impressed that we normally have a live acoustic set going as her children were fascinated by live musicians.  Generally everyone was saying what a lovely atmosphere it created and trying to work out when their friends and family were visiting and could they all pop up for lunch. 

Because this is the rub, by getting people onto site they go for lunch they use the playbarn and generally potter around the whole site.  They may have come for a craft fair but are delighted to find so many other elements to the site so is it really that dangerous to be including us on their advertising?  We love being where we are, the scope to work with so many amazing artists is incredible and as a landlord (apart from the communication) we couldn't ask for better but the frustrated Hippo is growing daily which is a shame as it can so easily be rectified just by using a piece of chalk and adding us to a blackboard.  We shall keep plugging away, keep working with awesome crafters and listening to very contented customers and meanwhile always keep a piece of chalk in my pocket in case the chance arises to add a Hippo or two to the blackboards! 

Monday, February 11

The Crafters' Dilemma

We have reached a bit of a mid point dilemma with the Hippos and it's all to do with buyer's perceptions, crafter's capacity and pricing structures.  We set out with the noble intentions of only stocking hand crafted items from local makers and in the beginning it was great.  People were keen to get involved, stock was arriving constantly and folk were eager to see what new things we had in stock.

But then capacity problems hit us.  Hand crafters by their very nature take time to make, and many of them have to have jobs to support their lives.  All quite understandable, after all the gas board don't care how beautiful your work is they just want their payment.  And then we hit another aspect.  As we came to learn about our customer base it became clearer what would and would not sell.  This is no reflection on the care and skill of our makers, just the harsh reality of some things sell in some places and not others.

So, we took the decision to buy in some things such as books, magazines, and other items that have been bought in that our makers cannot make such as jossticks and soapstone carvings from around the world.  We are heading towards a 3 way split between those crafters that are professional and can work to lead times, hand crafters who are essentially hobbyists and a third from items bought in.  The bought in items allow us to have constant stock so the shop doesn't look empty and takes the pressure off us chasing already frazzled hand crafters.  We took the decision to not buy in items that someone makes, so for instance we would never re-sell bags as we have several textiles crafters that supply us.  However, we potentially hit the dilemma of if customers want the bags (for example) but our crafters cannot supply them due to personal capacity issues what do we do?  Do we stick rigidly to our ideals but not pay our rent or do we buy in to cover the shortage till our makers bring new stock.  And then, what if customers prefer the bought in items?  And worse still, if we start hard chasing crafters we remove the fun and very essence of why they started in the first place. Eek is the word rattling round my head most days.

And then we turn to our customers.  This was a startling discover on Sunday. A very pleasant lady and her daughter came into the shop, we had a lovely chat about how the majority of the work is handmade locally and she was impressed with that.  She then went on to say that it's a shame that the High Street is full of items brought in from China and how lovely to see different things sourced locally.  But here's the rub, what she actually bought were items that I had bought in from China - didn't have the heart to remind her that these pieces were not made locally but it got me wondering.  Are customers so used to what a craft shop should look like that they are unable to distinguish between the items and worse are we wasting our time by having this ethos?

There are 3 key issues facing the Hippos and sadly they all settle ultimately with the sordid topic of coin or money. 
1.  Hand crafters take time to produce, they cannot mass market otherwise they would be a factory and not handmade but that may leave us with an empty shop if we stick rigidly to our ethos.
2.  Customers whether we like it or not do seem taken in by items brought in from abroad, as shown by my Sunday customer and there is a sense of safety in having seen something before - new scares some people.
3.  If we bypass the hobbyist crafter just to stay in business they may never get the chance to be seen and that would be disastrous for all the up and coming crafters we come across and completely defeat what we wanted to achieve.

Time is an issue too, what was supposed to be a shared venture is actually me running round like a headless chicken trying to stay afloat.  We would love to become a social enterprise but so far the social seems to be missing somewhat, and the longer it continues the more likely it is that the Hippos become a business like any other because we will have invested so much time and money that why on earth would we hand it over?  It's like if you own a house and someone lives there rent free while you're doing it up, and once all the hard work is done they say oh great I live here so that means I can have half doesn't it?  Err no, we didn't see you with the paintbrush at 3am or not eating one night because the cupboards were empty and no money to buy food.  The flip side is no-one forced us to do this, but it is a little sad when the inital promises of support and shared ideals haven't materialised, but again real life takes over and don't think any of us envisaged just how hard a slog it is to get momentum for a new start up. 

We're doing quite well for a start up business in a recession and all things considered we should be around for quite some time to come.  Hard lessons are being learnt and they are not necessarily the ones I expected.  However, the dreamer and idealist in me will just keep popping up ideas so that somehow we will achieve the crafting village that was first envisaged but it may be a new project and the shop remain as our business separate to it.  The momentum is definitely building, more and more are getting really interested in what we're up to but the hand crafters' dilemma will still remain and it's up to us to balance it so that they get a chance, we stay in business and the customer's enjoy shopping with us. 

Monday, January 21

Dreaming is what Hippo does best

Apologies for not posting for a while, been slighty chaotic inside the small brain lately!

Ok, so where have we got to? We now have over 40 makers in the shop, not exactly setting the retail world on fire but it is taking off.  We're seeing lots of returning customers and they love the stories behind our makers.  Who wouldn't? They are so varied and each maker arrived at us through such unique routes it's fascinating.

Craft fairs, again getting there.  We struggled a little last year because footfall wasn't the greatest at some events but as always we take the criticism on board, listen to the grumps and try and put them right.  We know that the venue is critical, but balancing the accessibility against venue is tricky on times.  Had an interesting conversation with our newest Hippoette about this on Sunday, and thankfully the crafters see all the hard work we put in and just feel flat for us that sometimes the venues don't seem to be as supportive as they could be.  So we are trying to be more realistic.  Stick to those that are working, try new ones for a while but need to be a little more business minded and cut them if they don't work.

I have also discovered that I am now getting bored! Not that the shop isn't great, and loving what it's achieving but I didn't set out to be a shopkeeper.  Nothing wrong whatsoever in being a shopkeeper but we're starting to get some serious interest from economic regeneration teams around our area and that part really gets me excited.  The thought of being able to create something of a meaningful scale is just too tempting to my brain.  I've already had talks with a few people about expanding the Hippos and if we can get it to work, my goodness it will be awesome for everyone.

One thing I've tried to stay away from on here and on FaceBook is the politics of it all.  However, think it's reaching that stage now where you kind of need to hear some of it.  So, for all of you that just want pictures of the cat - log off now!

One aspect of work that is particularly frustrating for many is having no control over their own destiny, even William Morris recognised this one.  And for us as the Hippos what we are trying to achieve is a working craft village where they do start to take control of their own work.  For some it may not work, but the chance to try it is something that just seems too far off for many and that needs to change.  We're not trying to say we are the only ones that can do this, however we are finding that folk trust the Hippo idea, feel confident to ask the questions and we have seen some amazing growth from so many Hippoettes that it would be fantastic to offer that out a little more. 

So, the small brain will continue to come up with random ideas - some will work some will just be too bonkers to consider.  But think about this for a second, if no-one ever tried something so silly we wouldn't have aeroplanes or radio or other such amazing inventions and ideas.  The dreamers are needed, but thankfully I have a lovely sensible group around me to flesh out details into something manageable.  Hippo xx

Tuesday, January 8

The sordid topic of coin

We've hit a bit of a snag! Not a major one, but if we don't address it soon it will become a major one and possibly close us down which would be a crying shame as we are so so close to being really sustainable.

The snag:  we need to create an income to pay all our bills but we're not quite managing it yet.

Possible solutions:
    increase the % we charge all our sellers
    only deal with what we call professional crafters
    buy in items to re-sell
    close down

With each of these options there is a plus and a minus, some obvious and some not so obvious.  If we increase the % we charge all our sellers then all the prices need to go up to ensure that what each crafter wants for their item is what they receive which may well put customers off.  Also, some sellers may be uncomfortable with this idea as they have an idea of what the market will bear for their work so either need to reduce what they are happy to receive or use an alternative retail outlet.

Only deal with professional crafters - the reason this option is on the table is because if each seller sold at least £150 pcm all the %s add up quite nicely to pay the bills.  However, a small crafter often produces smaller quantities or lower value items due to their capacity issues as most have a main job while they try to transition to becoming a full time crafter.  The obvious snag here is that if we only deal with professional crafters we lose the ability to offer hobby crafters the chance to show off their work and gain valuable feedback to take them to the next level.  If we had sufficient stock from everyone it would probably work, which takes us back to potentially only dealing with professional crafters who have the capacity and means of production to produce in volume.  And, again if we asked smaller crafters to produce in volume it takes away the fun and the reason they started - often to escape the 9-5 pressures of an external employer which is the role we would have to take on and that in turn would mean they say I didn't sign up for this.

Buy in items to re-sell - the obvious thing here is that it completely goes against what we stand for in that we want to offer locally hand made original work and buck the trend of only finding the same things everywhere.  However, we do stock some items that are not hand made already such as books and kits so allowing a small element of stock to be re-sold items isn't quite such a horrific thought.  But obviously we can't buy in items that one of our crafters currently makes, the easiest example is dreamcatchers. 

There is a big argument for supporting fair trade and giving workers around the world a fair deal, and we want to do that too.  If we ask crafters to reduce their costs they in turn have little or no chance of making it for themselves and we would be doing them such an injustice that quite frankly we would deserve to be closed down.  There is also the argument that we are in retail, we do have to compete with the real world and maybe the fight can't be won, maybe we were a little too ambitious in our thinking.  Or maybe we just got the figures wrong in the first place. 

But here's the rub - we are just so so close to making it work that with a few tweaks here and there it's almost touchable.  But, at what point do we draw the line and say we are unable to subsidise anymore.  Because up till now we've taken the hit, we've never taken a wage or even been paid for our work to allow for the cashflow to build up.  We don't expect sympathy, it was our choice after all but we did anticipate it turning around slowly so that the early months of not taking payment would eventually turn around but sadly it's not turning that fast and our food cupboards are constantly empty!

So, to all you crafters out there - we'd love to hear a suggestion or solution.  If you were working for a company that continually didn't pay you yet expected you to work a 60 hour week I can imagine what most of your reactions would be! Sorry if this sounds pessimistic for the Hippos, but we will work something out and I suspect the simplest one is to put the % up so that everyone can get involved if they choose to.  But if someone has an out of the box solution that we didn't consider then please shout up, Hippo xx