Small businesses make the world a more interesting place!
There’s lots being said about the decline of the high street with the focus being on the big names that made town centres look much like duplicate copies of each other – and then in some cases moved to bland out of town retail parks – adding further to the problems.
But are things changing? Take a look around the corner and you’ll discover pop-up shops, farmers markets, makers markets, art and craft fairs all showcasing small business and local producers all of whom are passionate about their products.
The supermarkets and large chains have their place and certainly contribute to the economy – but nothing compares to a specialist designer, artist or retailer – someone who not only knows their stuff inside out and is passionate about it but who also has an exciting and unique array of products on offer. It’s far more interesting stepping into a lovely craft gallery, delicatessen or cheese shop or craft gallery and discovering things in there that you’ve never seen before! There’s also something very satisfying about finding something for a gift for someone – or yourself – that you know hasn’t been mass produced.
Design is now much more accessible than it was just a couple of decades ago with the rise of the TV makeover programme bringing aesthetics into everyone’s living room and there seems to be a real demand for ‘experiences’ as people look to fill their leisure time.
The internet has also enabled people to get creative and set up their own business – a hobby or interest can easily be capitalised on with a small beginning and little investment. Growing organically by first selling on line, then progressing to local fairs can allow designers and makers to establish themselves and their brand first whilst still being supported by regular full or part-time employment.
Where do you want to be?
You need to decide what’s right for your brand and how do you see it developing – with increased competition for every centimetre of shelf space the glory of seeing your products stocked by a high-street name can be short-lived.
There’s also the “all your eggs in one basket” syndrome – it may be great to have a mahoosive order from one of the big boys, but should anything go wrong (as in the case of BHS, House of Fraser etc) then where does that leave you?
Not everyone wants to be supplying products on that level – it may not fit with your business plan – and even though expanding the business is one of your goals, you may want to keep your distribution to a smaller scale. If you’re hand-making products, then that may be one of your main USP’s that you want to continue to capitalise upon.
There’s lots of support out there…
One of the biggest problems for small businesses – and it is stating the obvious – but they all need sales to survive and for many that’s an uphill struggle. That’s why awareness initiatives – be they days, weeks or year-round campaigns – are important to highlight the plight of the smaller business.
The Just a Card campaign is an initiative run by volunteers (including a little help from Howling Moon PR!) from the creative community that runs all year and encourages everyone to get involved – designers, artists, galleries, craft shops and independent retailers alike. Then there’s March Meet the Maker, started by Joanne Hawker, a campaign using Instagram to let your followers and the wider community know all about you and what you make.
Designed to get everyone shopping in their local independent stores, there’s also Independents Day – aptly named to coincide with the big American holiday on the 4th July!
There’s been a Small Business Saturday in the UK for a number of years and they are now more active at ‘making a noise’ throughout the year.
Experts in business, The Federation of Small Business offers members a wide range of vital business services including advice, financial expertise, support and a powerful voice in government. Their mission is to help smaller businesses achieve their ambitions.
There are also lots of ways to get involved on social media too – worth a look at are the regular chats on Twitter including #handmadehour, #justacard hour (every Thursday evening) and some really interesting Instagram challenges for designers and artists which encourage month-long participation and help to build a real sense of community and support.
It’s vital to support small businesses – they really do make the world go around!
Written by Roy Mouncey, from Howling Moon PR
With over 25 years of experience in PR, Roy has worked with a diverse range of brands and products; from a Royal Milliner to hiking socks, designer fragrance to haemorrhoid cream and everything in between!
Once described by a tutor at college as a “Renaissance man” (being able to turn his hand to most things!), Roy contributes constructively to each project. As well as PR campaigns he has been creatively involved in helping businesses to develop and grow – even going as far as to design and make tea pot and hotbox covers for one client to supply to a major London hotel.
Roy enjoys working with niche brands that have a great story to tell and that have been developed through a passion rather than because of a big budget.
“I wrote this post to share my experience of doing a trade show as a maker. This is not a ‘how to’ guide, it’s simply my particular experience of attending my first one. In April 2018 I exhibited at the British Craft Trade Fair in Harrogate, UK. BCTF is the biggest trade fair for handmade goods in the UK and has been going for over 40 years.”
“Humblewood started as a rather unfocussed ‘woody’ hobby. Then in 2015 I decided to try a few craft fairs to make some pocket money. Expecting huge demand for what I was making, I attended the first few fairs with the car loaded down with my woody wares and boundless hope in my heart! What I soon found was that craft fairs weren’t what they once had been, and certainly, few visitors were in the mood to buy my particular lovely things…
As an aside, it seems to me that the word ‘craft’ has been largely absorbed into the general hobby, home-craft, industry, so now I prefer to think of myself as a quality, small scale maker, for want of a snappier description! My problem, short of stalking, was finding where they shopped.
Anyway, fast forward to 2017 and the misty-eyed hopes of actually making a modest, pint-of-beer-sized profit from attending fairs had evaporated, and I was on the verge of returning my woodworking to hobby status. But I had had some successes, particularly in a couple of shops and at longer running events, where I did not have to be present (maybe there was a clue to my lack of success?!). These highlights suggested that some folks did like my stuff enough to part with their hard earned cash in exchange for a piece. I had however, come to recognise an obvious truth for anyone trying to sell anything; first, find your audience. My problem, short of stalking, was finding where they shopped.
There had been shops asking if I did wholesale and even an approach to attend a previous BCTF, but hey, this was just a hobby, that sort of grown-up stuff was a bit out of my league. I should say at this point that I have actually had my own design and print business for 35 years, so I knew in principle how to run a business. Looking back, it was this thinking like a hobbyist that was the barrier to me seeing it as a proper business with wider horizons.
I hadn’t done much with Humblewood in the early half of 2017, having decided to stop attending fairs, and the graphics business was busy anyway. But I did have a couple of long-term events booked for the autumn through to Christmas, so I had to get back in the workshop. While these events had previously been among my few successes, the sales in 2017 were amazing! So amazing that they rekindled my enthusiasm and I revisited the idea that maybe Humblewood had a future after all. In the space of a few hours (and I don’t recommend this approach), I had decided the answer was simply to get other people to sell my lovely things – easy! So on one day in November I made the switch from direct selling to wholesale and had booked a stand at BCTF 2018…”
“With the decision made and the stand booked, I set about preparing for the event with renewed boyish enthusiasm – no mean feat for someone of my advancing years! I had visited BCTF before on the pretext of considering a future booking, but really I’d felt a complete fraud, seeing all those seasoned makers with their trade catalogues, wholesale price lists and minimum orders strutting their stuff. Anyway, I’d booked now and got to work planning. Designing the promotional and display stuff was easy – it’s my day job – but to be taken seriously I knew I needed professional photography. That turned out to be the single most effective thing I could have done. Overnight, Humblewood went from hobby to serious small business. I will say now, that having the show organisers use several of my photographs in their publicity material was a big bonus, but the effect decent images had on the overall quality of my presentation has been invaluable. As one very perceptive woman said to me; ‘money spent on quality photos is more effective than the equivalent spent on advertising’.”
Here are some of the images Bob mentions, in and around the show hall.
“Another big talking point among newcomers was the theory that some buyers deliberately avoid newbies, preferring to buy only from more established businesses. Apparently, a few years ago there had been a number of newcomers who had taken orders at the show and had then, for whatever reason, disappeared without fulfilling them. Certainly the exhibitors around me weren’t playing at it, and many were past the first flush of youth, so (I would suggest) more likely to take a responsible approach. That said, there were also plenty of young ‘uns with their heads on straight. As I said, everyone brought their own expectations, and had their own experiences during the show. On the whole, I came away with little to complain about. I suppose it all comes down to how successful the show is for each individual.
Talking to potential buyers wasn’t as daunting as I imagined. Indeed, talking out loud to strangers, while still making sense, isn’t normally one of my strengths! But I found chatting to people who are actually interested in what you make, pretty easy. Especially as I was taking about something I’m passionate and knowledgeable about. Such a different experience from standing behind a 6ft table in a drafty church hall 🙂 Thankfully I had prepared my buyer pack – pricing, terms, catalogue etc. – and it wasn’t like I was making a formal presentation to the board of Harrods!
It was only a last minute decision to take order forms with me. And then it was more about having them to hand to go with my catalogues, than expecting to use them during the show. As it turned out, I’d have looked a right chump if I hadn’t had them! Another 11th hour choice was to display my trade prices clearly on the stand. I had read somewhere not to do it, but as the show loomed I began to wonder about the sense of that. It wasn’t like I didn’t want people to know, or that I might change them during the event. As it turned out several buyers commented how helpful it was to be able to see the prices and decide whether my items at those prices were a viable option for their particular shop or gallery. I only had one comment that my prices were too high, but I’m confident that was just a case of them being too much for their particular location. One thing I did do was to call my order form an ‘order planner’ which seemed to me to be less pushy and more helpful looking to the retailer.
In approaching wholesaling in general, I have tried to think of the process as much from the retailers point of view as from the makers. Hopefully that helped, but I still have a lot to learn!
Eating on the stand was tricky as I was doing the show on my own – hurriedly stuffing the last bite of pizza in your mouth as someone approaches isn’t a good look! There will be periods too during a show when it goes quiet, and it’s easy to lose concentration – those sneaky buyers can suddenly appear when you least expect it!
Some buyers were happy to leave a business card, others less so. Next time I will try harder to collect details to follow up with later (assuming they don’t order promptly). I didn’t do this enough and there were potential buyers who genuinely seemed interested and even said they would order, but I have no record of who they were! Maybe just asking for their details would have indicated more of a commitment on my part? I’ll never know. Waiting two to three weeks before following up was the general consensus. I do now realise that orders generated by attending a show may come before, during or afterwards, so hopefully the makers near me who didn’t get orders at the event will see some success over the coming weeks.”
So where to from here then?
“One thing I hadn’t bargained for, was getting orders before the show… I hadn’t really known what to expect from doing the show; maybe some retailers being nice about my stuff, and possibly a couple of orders after the event. But not during and certainly not before! In the end I had orders from five retailers before the show (some couldn’t attend and some it seems, just couldn’t wait!), another seven at the show, plus a bonus third order from the first of my pre-show buyers. You could have knocked me down with a feather (and still could).
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and especially the people I met and friends I made. And obviously the unexpected sales success gave me a nice glow. It took several days for me to come down from the post-show high I was on. Plans and new ideas poured forth in the days afterward. After the initial euphoria, I calmed down enough to realise how tired I was! The pre-show period, plus a set-up day and the three days of the show itself really took it out of me! But I’m so glad I made the leap, broadened my horizons and finally saw the light.
So it seems I have found my audience – not the general public as I had assumed, but other small business owners who, like me, are passionate about what they do. They just happen to be the ones, unlike me, who are experts at selling to the general public. Who knew?!
Would I do it again? Well, I’ve already booked for next year, AND (impulsive fool that I am) booked to do another trade fair later in the year! Roll on the Home & Gift Buyers’ Festival in July!”
Bob Bryant, Humblewood.
Bob actually printed all of my business stationery for me, featuring some very lovely paper stock. So if you’d like to avoid using one of the big print companies, we all know who they are! Then check him out at https://humbleprint.uk/.
There’ll be more from Bob in a later blog post about his experiences at Home and Gift 2018.
I was very happy to be asked by Margeret from the British Craft Trade Fair to produce some advertising images for featuring this years exhibitors. All the furniture used in the shoot is furniture I have in the prop store so can be used in any shoot. Margeret hand picked the work to send over to me, and gave me a brief to produce fresh, spring like imagery. As they was quite a lot of products to fit in the various shots, not many props were used.
Margeret says “Magazine editors regularly inform us that the single most important thing a company can do to gain editorial coverage is invest in photography. In such a visual industry – and especially in the age of Instagram – it make sense to put your best face forward and allow your beautiful products to truly shine in 2D as much as they do in their real life glory.
We love the work of Richard Jackson of Forever Creative Photography, who has produced some fantastic style shots for the show.” Margeret, BCTF
Last week I had the pleasure of shooting lots of beautifully designed handmade products, such as these throw and cushions. All shot in the studio to help maintain continuity between shots. All the products also had secondary white background shots which are always useful for any brand.
This is my second shoot for the lovely people at the Flower Studio in Marlow. For this, I painted up new backgrounds, to be a little more subtle and reminiscent of interiors backgrounds. I’ve been expanding my range of lighting modifiers, including stripboxes and different sized softboxes to provide different qualities of light which allowed me to play with the lighting more and to produce these shots.
“OMG! They are amazing! I’ve just shown them to my husband and he can’t believe they’re our products! Wonderful job and really appreciate your approach”. Trudy, Flower Studio Marlow.
Clients often request the use of fresh flowers in their shoots. I can of course source these locally, but there is quite a limited choice in the local florists. Alternatively Trudy from the Flower Studio is happy to offer any Forever Creative clients 15% off, and they can use the code BLOOM when ordering so that’s generally a better option. https://www.flowerstudioshop.co.uk/
Not having a great deal of time to get to the blog at the moment. But looking back over the past few months one of my favourite shoots to do has been these beautifully crafted ceramics from Graham Hudson Ceramics. Keeping it simple with ceramics can be best due to the nature of them. Lighting them can sometimes be challenging, but equally rewarding. By shading certain elements of them, and highlighting others surface textures can be revealed, and the shape can be accentuated. For more examples of Ceramics Photography, please check out the Ceramics Gallery.
An example of an image from an introductory shoot. I used diffusion material as well as softboxes in this shoot to further soften the light. The client brief mentioned that the products were to be pitched as a sophisticated choice in the greetings card market, which is why I kept it simple and elegant. As the designs themselves are quite contemporary in nature I chose to use two geometric vases that I have in, as well a very subtly textured backdrop. See more in the Greetings Card Gallery.
I’ve worked with Bob now a number of times producing various images, from white background photography to more lifestyle type imagery. The white background photography was ideal for him to use in various ways, he had a number of different sized products to shoot. This wasn’t a problem as I use the main studio lighting to do them so am only really limited by the room, not a photo-cube which alot of people use. This also means different angles can be achieved, although the most challenging part of the shoot was glassware, including small glass test tubes against white.
Bob’s lifestyle images were featured heavily in this years British Craft Trade Fair at Harrogate including the show invitations, and large banners at the show itself, to Bob’s delight as it was his first ever trade show. To see more of these type of images, please check out the gallery, Other Products.
I’ve been working with Helen Russell throughout 2017 and now into this year producing a whole range of product images for her website https://helenrussellcreations.com/.
Helen has a quirky sense of humour which is revealed through her work. She comes up with lots of different characters and worlds, and sells these designs over a variety of products. Helen has had many different settings to show off her different products, here are just a couple of those for her tableware and diary pads. Check out in the Other Products Gallery for more, I also offer bespoke stock images for surface pattern designers, see here page for details and examples.
These simple, natural towels are produced by Hammam Havlu. As Penny from the company says, they have a multitude of uses, from practical beach towels to picnic blankets, they’re shown here using the surroundings of the studio, to create a setting, alongside mid-century furniture and various contemporary and natural props and plants.
These are the type of shots I’ll be expanding upon as time goes on, I keep buying furniture and always have a good selection of smaller items in to go with them, particularly vintage industrial items as well as props evoking the coast and countryside. Here the shots shows what can be achieved using simple things like voils or curtains to suggest a window, particularly as in this case when lit through the voil.
Penny was pleased with her previous photographer, but didn’t like the inflexibility of having to order a full days shoot each time she had new products. Although its not generally advisable to shoot only one product at a time, I can do that, with a small surcharge. More usually I would photograph several products at a time, which is a better option than a full day shoot. This can fit-in more easily with clients needs and timescales.
To see the photographs in use, or to have a look at the range please check out https://hammamhavlu.com/
I’m not one for thinking about Christmas weeks or months ahead, but for work purposes it’s essential! Here is an image showing a few of the smaller props that I use to style Christmas themed products. I have an affinity for items made from wood and metal, so you’ll see a few of those there, and also things like candy canes (not real or I would quickly eat them!)
I was pleased to receive five different products from Hydestyle of London for use in their recent introductory shoot. I aimed to provide them with five images, all with different settings. The first image features one of the new backgrounds I’ve been working on in the studio, I’ll be updating the site with information on those soon as there’s quite a few to choose from! For more images of various products please check out this gallery.
Recently there’s been a lot of products coming into the studio where the client has requested white background shots. Here are some examples taken for Melanie of Harris and Hall, and Camilla from Camilla Thomas Textiles. These shots are generally used for press use, they can also be used as primary or secondary product shots on websites too. Primary shots can be for sites that are perhaps more fashion orientated, and the secondary shots are ideal if your website has a zoom function as the shots are in sharp focus throughout. For pricing and other examples of this type of photography, including other products such as ceramics, check out the white background gallery.
Is it Christmas time already? Well no, but as products are generally prepared for sale well before Christmas Ann from Dragonfly Dichroic contacted me to have her Christmas glass range shot. Luckily I have a large box of Christmas props available all year round!
Recently I acquired a 1940’s period fire surround, that’s now part of the furniture at the studio, which is going to be very useful for a number of shoots. To see more examples of Glassware Photography, please check out the Glassware Gallery.
For the following shot I used a ‘snoot’ to bounce light off the wall, thereby illuminating the glass from behind. This avoids distracting reflections, but more importantly in this case also brings out the colour of the dichroic glass.
This shoot, completed for Helen Russell Creations shows a couple of different ways how textiles can be shot in the studio. The studio itself provides a lifestyle interior, which can be used to provide a very simple, clean and elegant backdrop, adding in various items of furniture, and a minimal number of props. Helen delivered all her products personally, including a mannequin for shooting her aprons. I was informed later that the mannequin was actually called Doris! For more examples please see this Gallery.
The studio has an old fashioned book shop just over the road, the type that looks like its been there 100 years, with books piled from floor to ceiling. I picked up a few vintage books for this shoot, as Helen had mentioned books and storytelling were one of her work’s inspirations.