We may be a small family shop, but we have a big heart and ideas.
Part of our mission is continuously working to find products we believe in and know you will love too. Whether it is LetterJoy, Black Acres Soap Pantry and Deckled Edge (local and British made gifts and cards), or inspiring young British Entrepreneurs such as Marc from Sporting Hares.
Therefore, we find ourselves at numerous times of the year traipsing off to trade shows with the aim of tracking down the next new thing, and understanding what will be trending this coming year.
Monday 6 February saw the hubby and I spending our day off at the Birmingham NEC attending the annual Spring Fair. This is no jolly day out, this is serious hard work.
We have one day to go round all 20 halls of the NEC, which are jam packed with products and trends for us to wade through – in ONE day!!! We have friends who spend 3 days there, but we don’t have that luxury (not entirely sure I want it either).
Homework done, we had a vague plan of what we wanted to achieve and set off to Birmingham after dropping little man at school. This would be our first time without him (& I noticed we got far fewer freebies – dam it). First port of call was to drop the coats and grab a coffee.
We checked our watches, and as we wanted to be there for Mary Portas giving a guest talk, began the countdown of two hours trekking to find our targets. This is no gentle meander, more like an army yomp. As you make your way through the aisles, you cannot afford to be blind, but have to take in all the details as you speed walk past, looking for what is everywhere (last year it was Flamingos!), plus those little things that make you stop and take notice. If you stop and look, there’s a good chance your customers will too. Anyway, before long you start to feel like something out of The Exorcist with your head constantly spinning (or at the very least a deranged owl). Your head begins to feel mashed.
The very first time we went we had no idea, no plan and no way of filtering through everything and everyone. I can clearly remember the piles of catalogs and literature we brought back from so, so many stalls, unable to say no for fear of missing something. Gosh the weight of those things, (and the first year we didn’t take a rucksack – the pain!). Now we have a clear understanding of what works for our shop and what products we want to introduce. Admittedly, I have to be strict with myself as sometimes I can get a little over excited, bit like a big Labrador puppy (what you? never I hear you say!!???). The rules are simple, 1) No buying on the day (no matter how good a deal they offer), and 2) Does it fit the criteria we came with? These rules we have developed after previous visits.
We headed to Hall 6 – Retail Solutions. This was purely a recce visit, we wanted to see what was out there, talk to lots of people and get a feel for some of the changes we are debating making. Plus, it wasn’t too far from where we wanted to be for when Mary Portas took to the stage. In all fairness I’m not sure how tuned in I was to the information being pushed at us, my mind was already on Mary Portas.
In no time at all the hubby and I were making our way to the stage area, we were half an hour early and managed to grab a spot. Within ten minutes, all seats were taken, people were finding spaces to stand or sit on the floor at the front. It was all rather British, I observed, us Brits are great a queuing. I was getting excited at seeing my icon in the flesh, I was starting to get a little giddy and had my notebook and pencil at the ready. Judging by the wry smile on hubby’s face he was amused by my excitement and kindly held me down when I started to bounce (it’s that Labrador puppy thing again!). However, you could feel the excitement of the audience building.
An introduction was made as to who Mary Portas is (really didn’t think she needed introducing) and a round of applause went up with the expectation to see the lady herself that second. However, there was a slight delay until Mary Portas appeared on stage. It was a moment that for me at least made us hold our breath slightly, would she be the person we thought she was? Our fears were quelled as Mary appeared on stage and her first step was to apologise for the tiny delay as they were too busy “gassing back stage”. The lady was up front, honest and engaging from the on set. I wish I had half her energy, Mary Portas quite simply does not know how to sit still, or talk without her hands. By heck tho she engaged with the audience, making sure even those sat slightly behind the stage were not left out.
I could wax lyrical about Mary Portas and report every word she said. Here are what for me were the highlights:
A lady wearing the best hat ever was there with her baby, who with impeccable timing started to do what babies do, make noise. Mary turned to look at the cutie and the mum apologised, Mary’s response “no need, it’s not a bother”. During a discussion about online presence, a gentleman with a decorating shop said he didn’t need one, Mary’s response “You’re wrong” said without malice and clearly demonstrated to him why he/we/all independents need it. Lesson learnt. During a discussion about community, a young lady expressed her frustration at other businesses in her town not getting involved in projects. Mary was honest about this, that there are always people who do and others who prefer to sit back and watch. However, not to be defeated Mary offered to have a pic taken with the lady saying “come on ***** get your act together” . As much as the interviewer tried to guide the conversation, there was little he could do in the presence of such energy and candor, stories were told, advice was given and questions answered. We hung on every word.
The interviewer then for want of a better word announced there was only a few minutes of the session left. To which Mary exclaimed “But I haven’t said everything I need to yet – right you be quiet” (pointing to the interviewer and smiling mischievously) and to the audience “now listen up this is what you need to know” and all pens & pencils scribbled fiercely. Inevitably the session ran slightly over, but Mary kept her word and had her pic taken with the young lady and met with people from the audience.
Thank you Mary Portas for being our champion, inspiration and for making us not feel alone as independent retailers.