Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Good bits I forgot to put in yesterday's rant ...

I noticed when I was re-reading yesterday's epic that I completely forgot to mention the lovely Dorothy Stiven who I met at the CL Fair - she and I are on the same wavelength completely with regard to our taste and it was amazing to see her stand, which is all unadulterated vintage pieces (unlike mine!). It could have been the antique shop that I used to have up until I started producing the Twice products eighteen months ago. Naturally we got on famously and it turns out that she is often in Scotland, although based in London. Do look at her website and make sure to look her out at the next CL Fair in the Spring.

I also want to bring to your attention the completely delicious Christmas wreaths that Jane at Snapdragon is doing - I have put in an immediate order! I really think they are the happiest I've seen. Jane - I tried to nick a photo to put here, but Blogger is being beastly and I can't make it work.

The links to Dorothy and Jane are both on the right -


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ups and Downs

Golly. I am sitting in the Twice office having just completed a marathon tour of the UK, taking Twice to all the Christmas fairs that I last wrote about four or five weeks ago. It has been shatteringly exhausting. I manage to have the most unwieldy stand set imaginable and consequently it seems to take me longer than most to set up and absolutely longer than most to breakdown (the stand, not me, although sometimes both). I have lost count of the number of times I have been the last exhibitor left at a fair, with some poor man who's job it is to close up wondering if (or rather, hoping that, so he can see the back of me) I need help to load the van.

Along the way I have met some of the nicest people - Karon (Dream Acres) at Duntreath Castle, Anna (Luna Lighting) at Spirit of Christmas and Simone (launching her new business, Simply Twisted, at Spirit and without who's fanastic tool box I would have been in deep trouble). The VitaMix boys - who fed us all week with smoothies and ice cream (incidentally everyone, the machine I bought has yet to turn up!). It was great to see Harriet with her Hunter Gatherer again at Country Living. My immediate neighbours there were lovely - thanks to all of them for allowing me the breathing space to have the odd coffee break - Jo and Jane at Home Scents and Debs and the gang at Lilybrook.

I then had a morning which reminded me exactly why I am so glad we left London - I packed up my stand at CL on Sunday evening and left everything ready to pick up on Monday morning before heading home to Scotland. I duly left Stockwell, where I was staying, at 8.30am, thinking it would take me about an hour to get to Islington. How wrong can you be? Very wrong. At 9.30 I was stuck in a stationary traffic jam at the Elephant & Castle, having programmed the SatNav to avoid the Congestion Charge. Realising the implications the traffic was having on my home time, I decided to spend the £8 on the charge and avoid the traffic. Oh yes? No. I turned up towards the City expecting to go straight through the wonderfully free moving congestion charged streets, only to find ..... exactly the same level of traffic as there was outside the zone. I'm not sure that I was ever out of a traffic jam and finally arrived at the Business Design Centre at 10.45. It had taken me the best part of three hours to go 4 or 5 miles and my estimated time of arrival at home in Perth had moved from six in the evening to nearer nine. It was the longest time by far that I've been away from my family and I was really feeling it. The result was that when someone was rather sharp with me at the BDC I burst into tears and had to be comforted by Walter, an incredibly kind parking manager. I have to say the man is a saint - at the time he was also trying to deal with the fact that an articulated lorry had pulled into the already cramped loading bays, causing the mother of all bottlenecks, with attendant effing and blinding from all around.

I finally got the van loaded and headed up the M1, M6, M74 and M80 (I think) back to Perth. I am only happy that the afternoons get dark so soon or I would have been seen with tears flooding down my face when they played Westlife's "Back Home" on the radio. When I finally made it I can honestly say that I have never been happier to be home.

That was last Monday. Since then I have been up to Banchory in Aberdeenshire for a one day sale, then to Hopetoun House near Edinburgh for a three day sale and then today I completed a two day sale in the Agricultural Mart in Perth (called agricultural, smells agricultural).


And so, after all this, where is Twice and where am I? Well, on the face of it, it should all have been worthwhile. The bank balance is healthier, lots more people have seen what I'm doing, lots more people have shown enthusiasm for it and I've had lots of compliments. But I have to admit that I feel very flat. And the reason is this. It is unbelievably hard to run a company that produces the kind of goods we produce at Twice in the UK and compete. I'm not sure that the fact that our fabrics are vintage and that the linen and leather we use are made in the UK means enough to enough people. The people who were really successful at the fairs I exhibited at were, by and large, sourcing or manufacturing their products abroad. I had some great companies approaching me to enquire about stocking Twice goods, which they liked precisely because they were original and made in the UK, but because of the relatively high production costs we have, there isn't sufficient margin to sell to trade customers. It costs me more just to have things made here than people are selling the equivalent product made abroad for at retail.

So, I am sitting here this evening wondering whether what I am doing at Twice is ever going to work. Even with all the lovely things said about it, from other exhibitors, from customers, from magazines, the bottom line is that most people seem to want something for nothing, or as near to it as they can get and I just can't produce what we do at Twice for nothing, or anywhere near it. There are, of course, some ethical and interested customers out there who are prepared to pay for what companies like mine do and I love them and really, really thank them - but all the small companies like mine rely on these customers and I am really wondering if there are enough of them to go round. And while everyone talks about wanting to support local businesses, the fact is that I may talk about the wonderful linen mills in Kirkcaldy that we work with and the deerskin tannery in Glasgow and the machinists in Dundee, but it doesn't translate into the majority of peoples' willingness to spend.

If this all sounds a bit depressed, it is. I'm sure it will all seem brighter in the morning, or the New Year, or sometime. But I know that there are lots of us out there feeling just like this - putting hours and days and months of effort into something that should be right for our times with all the re-cycling and ethical trading and supporting our small businesses that is constantly being talked about in the media. What to do, what to do?

First day without a set up, breakdown or sale for weeks tomorrow - can't wait.


PS. Can't quite believe I'm about to publish this post - my blog was supposed to be a marketing tool, not an outlet for my exhausted emotions! Forgive!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Phew! Off and running ....

Well, just a quick post today before I set off for London first thing in the morning. As I speak, the large van is parked outside with all the stuff from yesterday's sale falling out of it and not even remotely ready to leave tomorrow morning. Somehow things always work out though, so I'm not in the panic that I really should be.

I've had two great sales so far - I had a wonderful time at Camphill near Bedale in Yorkshire. Best ever day for sales - which is great and really gives me a good feeling going into the big fairs later. I think the new products that I've got in for this Christmas are just what people want and that is great. The Aromatic Pot Rests are just brilliant for presents and they went incredibly well on Thursday. And then yesterday I was at Duntreath Castle near Glasgow for another good day. I was next to a really lovely lady called Karon who creates the most wonderful Christmas decorations you have ever seen. I bought a little hand-sewn Christmas pudding which I am thrilled with. It will be this year's addition to the tree. I am putting a link to Karon's company, Dream Acres, on the side bar. Have a look - I'm sure you'll love it.

So, back to the packing and planning to leave at about 6 tomorrow morning. Really looking forward seeing everyone who's had a ticket for Spirit or Country Living through Twice. Don't forget - we're on Stand G115 at Spirit and Stand T12 on the Gallery level at Country Living. See you there!

PS I've put this photo of the Nativity Christmas tree decorations that we've got in stock because I just love them!