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 :)