‘Lockdown’ and the Small Business

It’s a strange situation that we find ourselves in at the moment… the world we know is having a bit of a blip and its quite unnerving. A while ago I wrote a blog about shopping locally and I thought it might be a good idea to publish it again to try to help those people that are going to be staying local, shopping local and hopefully feeling local. Some of the points I raised are probably not going to cover our current extenuating circumstances, but others will still support customers. The points I would like to add to this blog are included at the end.  

April 2015 

**In the UK we have been witnessing a lovely resurgence in the local shopping experience. This has been lovingly and loyally supported by our biggest community institution, the WI, with their ‘Shop Local’ campaign ‘SOS for High Streets’ launched in 2014. Here at Oh Sew Crafty we have been graced with a steady stream of new customers over the last 3 years and locally our business group has added a town-wide shopping loyalty scheme that has been received really well by the shoppers. 

Whilst this situation helps develop a great shopping experience with both retailer and customer, it also brings with it a whole range of more challenging issues that can frustrate everyone! I think that many people are out of practice when it comes to local shopping in small businesses. We have been provided with fantastic shopping experiences over recent years from supermarkets to online stores. We have 24 hour delivery for products that are coming from massive warehouses full of wondrous technology. Customer Services that can be contacted deep into what would be classed as unsociable hours are commonplace on the paper information that comes with our orders. Items can be ordered and delivered ‘Postage FREE’, in bulk and from anywhere in the world. 

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So – lets just look at this from the ‘local’ and small business persepective… 

  • Opening hours – this has to be one of the biggest organisational and frustrating aspects of shopping for anything. Customers work long hours, they often work shifts. In fact some customers experience this directly as they work shifts in large retail businesses. The small retail business in many instances are run by a family or a sole trader. They will open their doors to the customers during traditional opening hours of 9 – 6pm – or thereabouts. Why is this? This is when the bulk of their customers will come in to shop. “What about the workers?” I hear you shout… well they are also workers, and often the only ones working in that establishment. They need to go home, to look after family, to shop for their own needs…. They will endeavour to open later at seasonal times such as Christmas and maybe if they are in a tourist area use some seasonal opening times – it just needs a little time management from everyone…. 
  • Payments – we live in a plastic society, our money is mostly invisible; it comes into our bank and out of our bank without even touching our purses and wallets. What is money? Money does make the world go around its true – however for small businesses money needs to be real. It needs to be visible and accountable on a daily basis. We have items for sale from 5p to £70 and it is frightening how many people do not understand that a card payment cannot be reasonably offered for a very small purchase. I dont think many people realise how much the processing of card payments costs. The amount of money in transactions that are being processed from large corporate businesses is so vast that they can negotiate their charges – even have them removed in a lot of cases. The large stores do not want the cash hanging around the building – it is safer to have an invisible transaction. For the small retail business however things are very different. We pay for everything… did you know that we pay for our change for the till? Did you know that we pay rental for the card processing machines, as well as paying for each transaction? Did you know that we pay to bank our money in the banks? We pay more if we go to the counter and are offered a cheaper rate to ‘post’ our money to central services that the banks use. When you want to purchase something for £1 on your card the large companies will ask you if you want a cashback added to get rid of the real money… we will likely decline to take the payment as it will cost us more for the transaction than we will receive for the goods. It just takes a little planning from everyone… 
  • Stock – how wonderful it is to walk along vast aisles of products that have been arranged in an orderly and clinical fashion to speed up our shopping experience. To gather our purchases into our baskets or trolleys in the knowledge that we have had every choice available and have fulfilled our weekly requirements quickly and without having to miss out. If a particular product is not available then chances are your choice is enhanced by the same product from different companies being available on the same shelf. Hmmmm – not much fun though… It is lovely to be able to purchase 20 loaves of bread because you are taking a group on a picnic or having a party – did you know the local bakery can also provide you with the 20 loaves – and might even do a small deal – if you give them a little bit of notice? The large craft stores provide a fantastic range of products but then – how frustrating that the ordering is done centrally and that they are not going to get another bag of that wool so you can finish your jumper! The small retailer is often happy to make sure you get your products – the biggest difference is that it cannot be done in 24 hours. We need to have minimum orders with suppliers before they will send out an order. We pay for carriage in a lot of instances and we cannot get just a couple of balls of yarn that you need – we need to order sensibly. It just takes a little planning from everyone… 
  • Service – with a smile? A small business is very visible to its customers. When you dash around the supermarket chances are the only time you interact with a member of staff is to ask where the store has moved a product to! You might get a short conversation with the cashier as they try to smile and make your shopping experience a little more enjoyable – oh but you are in a hurry, not impressed with the chit chat as they whizz your items down the shute. The store is busy and they open up more tills – or you choose to opt for the completely impersonal option of the self serve tills… When you shop local the smile and chat are a large part of the service. You are trapped! There are no extra tills to open – there is probably no-one to man them if there were… The small retailer enjoys giving a more interactive experience to its customers. We like to share our knowledge and advice for product use. We like to answer questions about skills and techniques… oh but you are in a hurry! Hmmm It just takes a little patience from everyone… 
  • Response – I think that everyone at some point will have asked a question of a retailer or ordered a product that is needed for a project. In a large organisation there is probably a system where the information is placed onto a form then passed down a processing line to a person that will respond. With a small business there is probably a system where the question or the order is placed onto a form and then passed to a person…. oh yes – they are that person! That person that will need to go to the children’s school play that night, after they have made tea, got the family ready and once home from the play – after a full day in the shop – will sit down to update the books, count the money, sort out the stock orders and probably need to sleep but will not be in bed before midnight! If your response is not there in 24 hours… there may be good reason… It just takes a little organisation from everyone… 
  • Support – This is were the small business excels! The larger stores have lots of staff but they may not necessarily have the quality. In lots of instances the small retail business will have people working that have knowledge and experience. They can help you get started on a project, pick the correct tools and resources, explain the task instructions, work out problems and probably know your name! They will want to see you finished project – they are interested… It just takes a little determination from us all… 
  • Prices – I place this subject a little further down the list than you might expect but here is why – I know that there are goods and services out there that are cheap and effective. There are stores for everything ‘budget’. They have their place in our shopping plans, it is always lovely to get a bargain. The larger businesses have the ability to buy in bulk – and we know that is better for costs; but also they over buy which gives us even more opportunity for bargains when they sell off surplus stock. The small business does not often have a reasonable chance of buying in too much bulk. Their prices however needs to remain competitive. The internet is not always cheaper – if you look at postage etc. The small business cannot necessarily negotiate cheap postage. They do however stock items that are relevant and of good quality. Recently in our local area we had a retailer that closed his doors for a final time because he was fed up of permanently having to re-price products  as customers asked for discount so they would buy from him and not online or in a larger store. We need to earn a wage – if a product is discounted you can bet that it is already priced with the smallest of margins and that margin, after the tax and the VAT and other overheads have had their bit is our wages. It just takes a little respect from everyone… 
  • Variety – This is definitely an issue for a lot of people. We love to have choice, variety and we want it quickly – but I think this is something we can control very easily. It’s like the strawberries at Christmas scenario. Sometimes the small space available means you have restricted choice, however often the alternative options are available. They may be in the small storeroom as there is no space, or maybe they have the chance to add them to a next order. Talk to your local shops, tell them the types of choices you need to make. At midnight, after a long day, when you are choosing colours of buttons the decisions can be made without much reasoning as the energy is waning. It just takes a little communication from everyone… 

In this fast moving marketplace that has developed over the last 10 years or so we have become a little complacent with shopping. I see many people now opting to have the afternoon off, go out with a friend for afternoon tea and have a general browse around the local shops as well. Thank you to you all – we really don’t mind the browsers – they often come back again when they know what project they are going to start. Thank you as well to the shoppers in a rush – you are also always welcome. I know it looks like I am having a good old moan in this blog but nothing could be further from the truth. I suppose it is a little education for our customers… it just takes a little inside knowledge for us all!! 

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so to conclude…. this lovely local community is ready to support each other in potential self isolations and lockdowns. We will all be finding provisions for neighbours, friends and relatives. The madness that is all around us can be calmed slightly if we think locally. I have heard and read about businesses closing their doors to the shoppers – their choice. I have heard about and seen the empty shelves in the big supermarkets. If we shop with the small shops the chances are they will still be in their shops or businesses throughout this whole episode. They will be on the end of a phone or an email. They may even have offered to deliver provisions to their customers. TAKE THEM UP ON THE OFFER! Small businesses will need to stay open as much as they can – the alternative is something I really don’t want to see (for me or anyone else). Some of the things that will help us include purchasing goods, communicating needs, buy some vouchers for use at a later date and keep us in your routine. Thankyou to all our customers past, present and future. Stay well.  

Crafting Mends the Soul…

cropped-img_2109.jpgI don’t know about any of you, but I know I have times when I would love the world to stop so I could get off for just a wee while. I am a very busy person by my nature, I cannot just sit down, I detest having nothing to do and I love being able to potter around creating crafty masterpieces (not that I ever really achieve the latter very often). Even when sitting in boring meetings I have doodled my agenda in the most fascinating ways. Recently someone created the ‘Zentangle’ phenomena that has made colouring and doodling a fun activity for adults and children alike. Art therapy is now widely recognised as having major benefits to illness recovery.

I remember being in hospital when I was about 10 years old (a very long time ago) and the most awful thing was the boredom – but the best time was when we went to ‘school’. This was a room in the ward where a teacher was employed to work with us. It wasn’t like school really – we did a lot of drawing and painting and making of things. My crafty recovery carried on when I left hospital and I spent time with a family friend who taught me to crochet. Over my month of rehab I became very proficient at making glitzy skull caps! (Well it was the 70’s!).

I have many customers that call into the shop for craft kits or project resources when they are about to set off IMG_2110on holiday. The rest, the peace and quiet, the time to absorb themselves in a craft means they feel refreshed and revitalised when they return. There are those that search for a craft for someone else to do whilst they are laid up with illness or injury. So many times people turn to craft for their therapy and this makes me think that we all have a need to be creative or constructive at times. Why is this? I know there is a great sense of achievement when that project is completed. I know that a knitting or crochet project allows for some thinking time whilst wielding the pins or hooks. I know that most crafts can be achieved whilst relatively immobile. Is this just twitchy fingers or is there something that our soul needs?

There are many quotes out there that suggest this is an age old state of mind…

“Methinks it is a token of healthy and gentle characteristics, when women of high thoughts and accomplishments love to sew; especially as they are never more at home with their own hearts than while so occupied.”  ~Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun, 1859

  • Sewing mends the soul
  • Stitch your stress away
  • May your bobbin always be full
  • Any day spent sewing is a good day

All of these are credited to the ‘Unknown Author‘ but how right they are!

How about this one? – “The innocent sleep, Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care…”
~William Shakespeare (was he a crafter?)

I have a customer that has had a rough time with illness over the last 18 months but all through this time she has had her crafting skills to see her through. She has managed to knit, sew, crochet and other crafts even at the most tiring time of the treatments and it has helped her to mend. This week I had a young customer in with his mum, he was suffering with a rotten bug and was quite weary. Obviously school was not going to feature in his day but he still wanted to do something (I don’t think he was old enough to have caught man-flu!). He settled on creating something with felt and bright stranded threads, and of course the googly eyes.

So from this I have to extend my intended thoughts to the whole craft world and not just the sewing world. Quite definitely, Crafting mends the soul….

 

 

Inspiration, Activation, … Frustration…

I love to create something from nothing. In fact I love to create something from something else, something that was not intended to be what I would like it to become! Re-purposing fabric from clothing has been a small passion of mine for some time now. I could never be a serious patchworker so making quilts etc.. does not excite me however, creating an item of clothing or an accessory from something that had a different purpose is really fun. I am not patient enough to make sure all seams are the accurate and precise – I want to see the finished item!

If fabric is a little frayed or worn then it can bring a little character to your project. If you don’t have the correct thread – then contrast and compliment – make a feature of of the differences. It is lovely to add some embellishment using the buttons or belt loops of a pair of trousers or jeans. Use the old zips to make flowers or a top stitched feature. I am not patient enough to be careful to match completely the colours or patterns of fabrics – I just cannot wait to see the finished item!

Recently a friend of mine brought me a challenge. Her mum had been given a lovely tea-towel for Christmas but didn’t want to use it as it might spoil. It was a Fortnum & Mason linen tea-towel in a gorgeous green colour and just too nice to leave in a drawer. What to do…. what to do….IMG_20150122_132905

Action time, this tea-towel is going to regenerate into an apron! I had some similar colour fabric in my stash of used fabrics. I think it was part of a bedding set that never got used. I could add panels to the sides of the tea-towel and also across the top so that the correct shape could be achieved. I could also use some herringbone tape to create the ties and the neck strap. Here we go… remember – I am not that patient….

I set off with my scissors, seam ripper and pins. the bobbin was wound with thread that was pretty close to matching the fabric, in fact it couldn’t be better to be honest. Halfway through winding the bobbin it looked like I might run out of that colour, it was getting a bit thin on the spool (rummages desperately through the sewing box – unsuccessfully). Ah well,  I think there will be enough to finish the project (eternal optimist takes over the thought process at this point). IMG_20150122_132932

The seams of the tea-towel are taken apart using the seam ripper… oh dear. The print on the tea-towel is clearly not going to look good if I just do a normal seam, it is going to need to be a sealed seam, after all it is a Fortnum & Mason tea-towel! Slight change of plan coming on… French seams to be used. Will the thread last? Of course… optimism wobbles a little!

I plough through the task now – pinning, tacking, sewing. Shape the bib of the apron by removing a small amount of fabric from the edges of the tea-towel.

Things are looking really good – the apron is taking shape… I am getting very excited and cannot wait to see the finished item! Remember… I am not patient!IMG_20150122_132830

Alas the anticipation cascades into frustration as I drive the sewing machine down the final seam triumphantly, only to come crashing down when I realise that I have run out of thread… I cast a quick glance up at the bobbin on the top of the machine and see that it is dangerously close to being empty as well! What to do… what to do… then I realise that I have a shade of thread that is a little paler than the one I am using. Think…. well it is being used on the seam that is at the back. In fact it is being used on the ties! Actually – if anyone notices this is a different shade then they must be on their knees peering around the back of the wearer! Perspective returns – and breathe…

Job complete – very happy customer! IMG_20150122_133419

To Inspire…

PHD 2Before I opened my little crafty store I used to shop in other ‘little’ stores to get my inspiration. I would browse, chat, explore the products, ask questions and generally try very hard to glean a little idea then I could develop it at home. The problems occur once it has gone wrong!

All this happened before the arrival of Social Media and its lovely, almost endless, supply of ideas. Today we can visit Pinterest, Facebook and even look at the websites of micro businesses that Tweet their web details to us via Twitter. We share via Instagram and Google+. Whilst my background as an IT teacher would welcome that situation I have always felt that I had a grounded attitude to the IT world. On a number of occasions my class would debate ‘bricks & clicks’. Often the outcome has been that there is a place for all aspects of communications in the world.

As custom in my shop has increased I hear more comments from customers that show me they love to communicate face to face. Crafters love to see, touch and feel the results of several hours creative work. I find myself still encouraging people to have an exploration of the Pinterest pages etc but then so do I. I do so love to see the ideas that I could never find just by looking in the shops. What we seem to be achieving is a balance between the two worlds. The opportunity to share inspiration both physically in our workshops and virtually in the social media world.

This weekend we have had our regular Projects Half Done (PHD) workshop. It was a full session with 8 lovely crafters bringing in projects that are not finished for one reason or another. Some of these people are regular attenders at what is a crafty version of a ‘Knit & Knatter’, some of them were new. At the time the ‘regulars’ were the new people there were similar statements made about the projects – “I must get this finished”,  “I started this when my child was small – now an adult” and even “No idea where to start to get this finished”. You don’t always find the answers to these statements on social media.

phd 1

This week of our new attendees we had a retired lady that had just had a go at knitting a jumper for the first time in quite a number of years and a lady that had mentioned she had a tapestry that she had found that was around 25 years old and that she decided she should really complete. As the afternoon developed I loved listening to the chat and the stories that the group work their way through – whilst sipping tea and munching delicious cake. One of the most ‘profound’ comments came from our retired lady – ” I cannot remember the last time that I talked as much as this!” …and there we have it! The art of conversation, the ability to communicate and the desire to share… both the new visitors decided that they were now ‘inspired’ to carry on with their projects and that they would be finding another PHD ready for next month!

Inspiration is a wonderful thing….

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