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