Monday, June 29, 2009

Because we all need...

Launching on 30th July, Little Luxuries pamper evenings will be a sanctuary of indulgence! From manicures and massages to beautiful jewellery and treats, take a few hours for yourself. Bring some friends and make a night of it! We start at 6pm, so you can come after work and then go out for the evening.

Entry is free, you just pay for your treatments. The first event is in the function room at the Three Horseshoes in Norton, Letchworth, where there is plenty of parking and easy access from the A1. Little Luxuries will take place there on the last Thursday of each month.

If you are a therapist, or have gorgeous things to sell, get in touch at to arrange a stall. We plan to run events across North Hertfordshire, but there'll only be one of each therapy at each event, so don't miss your chance!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

10 reasons to advertise in Fun Under Five

1. Fun Under Five is the only publication across Hertfordshire listing just activities for under 5's. This means that families can be confident that everything in it is available to their child, unlike other publications where the majority of ads are for old children.

2. Fun Under Five has a unique listing format which is designed to give families the maximum amount of information about your activity in a neat format. This means that they don't need to phone you to find out they aren't available on the day your class runs - when they call you they are more than likely going to book.

3. Fun Under Five lists activities geographically. Families are able to look at just the listings in their area, meaning you are more likely to be found.

4. Fun Under Five lists activities by category, such as Dance, Creative etc. Families can easily identify what you do, whether they are searching for a specific activity type, or looking for inspiration.

5. Fun Under Five is not a franchise. I created Fun Under Five, I decide how things look and how things work! Not only is that good for my ego, it means I can discuss with you your specific marketing needs and adapt your listing to suit you. I can create new listing categories as required.

6. Every listing in the printed directory gives you 12 months on our website free. You can update the website as often as you like during the year, keeping your details accurate and up to date.

7. You don't need to create artwork. Fun Under Five's listing format means we take your raw information and put it to work! You save money and time because you aren't paying a designer or trying to put something together yourself.

8. Fun Under Five has a small format, so parents can pin it to a noticeboard or carry it in a handbag. It isn't a "read-once & recycle" publication.

9. Fun Under Five is cost-effective. A single listing costs just £50, with discounts for multiple bookings. For many of my advertisers, the listing is paid for if they get just one new customer - and if that customer stays for more than one term, then you are in profit!

10. Most advertisers stay with me for 4 issues or even more - they wouldn't do that if it didn't work!

The next issue comes out in a couple of weeks - there's just enough time to book a listing! Contact me before Friday and get your summer holiday & autumn term activities fully booked!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

An Insider Look at the Queen of Charity Shops

As a charity shop part time employee, I have been watching Mary Portas on BBC2 with great interest. The series finished last week, and the results have been very interesting.

Dastardly Donations
Firstly, the donation problem. Anyone who has worked or volunteered in a charity shop can tell you hair-raising stories of the vile things they have found while sorting donations. I don't even want to go there, but let me just tell you - you always wear gloves. What possesses people to donate their unwashed underwear or their mud covered trainers is beyond me, but it happens day in day out. It isn't even restricted to the anonymous bags donated via door to door collections - people make a special trip to the shop to give their rubbish.

Ebay has had a big impact on donations over the years. It has provided a way for people to make a bit of money out of their cast-offs, and why not? But as discontent about Ebay's fees and policies grows, and as people find it more and more of a faff to list their items, charity shops have seen a small recovery in donations. The challenge is always getting quality stuff.

Mary's idea of D Day - donation days at businesses - is clever, but fails to recognise the staffing challenge faced by most shops. Honestly, most days it is a struggle to do the basics of sorting, steaming, pricing, displaying, selling & cashing up! Volunteers are unlikely to want to take on the project and transport for the collected items is not readily available.

So here's my challenge to you all - next time you sort out a load of things to sell on Ebay, give 10% to your local charity shop. If it is good enough to sell online, it is good enough to make some money for a good cause.

Capital Punishment

The next thing that struck me was Mary's redesign of the shop. Now in her terms, it was done on a shoestring budget of just £15k, and whilst opinion on the result seems to be split, I do think it gave the shop a funky and flexible look. But the reality of charity shop refurbishments? Buy some cheap paint & get some volunteers to do it on a Sunday! Charities are very unlikely to invest money in interior design, especially as they do not own their own premises. The arguments about increased takings are fine, but capital investment is a difficult one to justify.

The Troops
The big thing that struck me about the programme though, were the volunteers. Now, I have worked with volunteers in many contexts, and they are a fantastic breed of people. At out shop we have people who give up several days a week - for no pay, remember - and they make the shop run. Without them, we would be nothing.

However, volunteers have great power. Unlike paid staff, they can withdraw their labour with no notice period - upset them and they are gone! And unlike paid staff, their motivations for being there are as varied as their shoe sizes - some do it purely to support the work of the charity, while others do it for kudos in the community. Many do it for company and for stimulation. To keep them all onside you need to recognise what makes them tick and give them what they are looking for.

By making so many changes so quickly, Mary struggled to keep all the volunteers with her on the journey. It is a cliche to say that volunteers are all elderly ladies, but like most cliches, there is truth in it. Where someone has volunteered for many years, they are bound to feel personally criticised when everything is changed around them. "What was wrong with what I was doing before?" they ask themselves. It is a big challenge.

Don't cheat yourself
Finally, the customers. Some people shop in charity shops because they can't afford new. For them the 50p T shirts and and £5 winter coats are vital. But there truly is a second market - label lovers who want the names and the looks but don't have the bank balances. There is no reason why a designer label T shirt should sell at the same price as a supermarket one. Mary was right - pay a fair price and everybody wins. I believe in karma - cheat a charity shop and you cheat your own soul.

Takings in the charity retail sector have been up about 23% since Mary's programme. Let's just hope that the increase is here to stay.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The gingerbread man - a business parable

Reading to my 3 year old daughter last night, it struck me that the story of the Gingerbread Man has a big lesson to teach business people.

Remember the story? He jumps out of the oven and runs off with everyone chasing him. He's really proud of himself, singing

Run, run as fast as you can,
You can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread Man!

He is ahead of all those chasing him, until the fox outwits him and gobbles him up.

Isn't the Gingerbread Man like the clever businessperson who launches an idea and has a roaring success on their hands? Life is great, all the competitors are trying to catch up and it feels like nobody else is as clever or talented as they are.

The Gingerbread Man doesn't foresee that anyone could be cleverer than he is. All he can see is the gap between him and the chasing pack. When the fox flatters him and offers to help him, he cannot even imagine that the fox could be his undoing.

Like a business that has led the market, the Gingerbread Man forgets that if he is clever, so can somebody else can be too. The fox is the new kid on the block - or maybe even an old hand who has bided their time and now is ready to move in. And because the Gingerbread Man is intoxicated with his success, he is entirely blind to the threat. It's as if he can't even imagine the possibility that he won't always be the leader.


The Gingerbread Man is gone. Don't let your business be swallowed by the clever fox. Be proud of your success - but don't let it blind you to the threats that may be around you!

Friday, June 12, 2009

The wow factor

The lovely Kate from Esme Grace sent me some earrings to try out last week. This is them:

When you look at Kate's website, you are struck by 2 things - firstly the gorgeous jewellery that is stylish without being outlandish, and secondly by the incredible prices. These earrings are just £3.50, and frankly, even with delivery of £2.95, the total price is less than you would pay in many high street shops. I'm not sure how she does it!

Anyway, the earrings are gorgeous. You can't easily see in the picture, but they have a little jewel in the centre of each flower, catching the light and making them more than just ordinary. They have a nice long hook so they hang nicely, and the addition of tiny rubber "plugs" on the wires helps prevent idiots like me from losing them!

I wore them for a full day to check whether they would irritate my ear. They didn't! My ears react to even quite expensive costime jewllery, so this is quite a recommendation!

Payment is nice and simple through PayPal (did you know that you can still use it even when you don't have a PayPal account? It's just like paying by credit or debit card) and if items aren't suitable you can return them within 7 days (except for earrings, because of hygiene, but that's fair enough).

I think I'll be making use of Esme Grace quite a bit, and not just for myself! The range would make gorgeous presents, and there are so many pretty things to choose from I think all my female friends will be over the moon.

Monday, June 8, 2009

So far in June...

Just a week into the month and there are 2 clear favourites amongst my customers. I think the heat at the start of the month has influenced buying patterns, as they are the 2 most open and airy styles I have.

The first is very casual and comfortable, but with a twist of Shoes Galore style. The cushioned footbed soothes heatsore feet and the embellishments add some fun and colour, even to the chocolate brown version. At £25 plus postage, they make a more delicate choice than Birkenstocks.

The second is slightly more formal, but still very comfortable. The low heel, wealth of colour options and dainty buttons are making this stand out for women who want pretty without being twee. These are £30 plus postage.

With another 3 weeks to go, I wonder what the final winners will be? If you want to see my full range, just get in touch at

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Colour Clash - think shoes and bags!

Clashing colours are a big trend this summer, but lots of women find the whole idea daunting. After years of carefully co-ordinating your outfits and accessories, how do you find the confidence to break the rules? When you get it wrong, this look can appear as though you are just wearing random items of clothing. Get it right and you'll look bang on trend and very "high end". So ease yourself into it - don't aim for a total clash-up all in one go.

This is where colourful shoes and bags can take you to fashion heaven! You no longer have to think "navy shoes need a navy bag", and discreet is no longer "street"! With Shoes Galore's ranges you can add funky colour without being overwhelmed. When you have more confidence, you can branch out and really live the look!

How about a pair of these? It doesn't matter which colour you go for, they're all bright and breezy. Wear them with skinny jeans, or with a more tailored look, and they'll work a treat. Colour is easy to wear on your feet, as it isn't a big scary block of brightness! Don't forget, you're not trying to match them to your T shirt - just put them on your feet and feel like a fashionista!

Then you need a bag. Big bold bags are still the thing, so once again, pick a colour and you're ready to go! These are stunning, whichever option you choose. I was talking about colourful handbags with women at a shoe party this week, and we all agreed that it is great to be able to find your purse and phone inside them - with a black bag they just tend to be camouflaged!

Try the trend for yourself. It's a fun look that doesn't need to be scary!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Business Entertainment Challenge

When you are looking to plan a business social event, or client entertainment, what comes to mind? My guess is that it depends on whether you are a man or a woman.

The classic event is a golf day. Throughout my corporate life I have seen these events take place with little thought for the messages they send out. Let's look at the facts:

1. Golf remains an elitist activity. To become any good, you have to invest a lot of time and money. If you aren't any good, most of the courses where these events are held won't let you play, so you are excluded from the event.

2. Golf is, historically, a man's game. I'm not denying that many women do play, but they remain in the minority.

If you run a golf day, who are you excluding? Your key client or contact who doesn't play for whatever reason. And how do you make them feel? Like an outsider, like someone who isn't part of the establishment and whose business and personal advancement is at a disadvantage? And how does that promote your business relationship?

The trouble is, what else is there? Many events aimed at women will be pamper or spa days, but this is also stereotyping. There is an urgent need for inclusive events that engage men and women equally, that do not exclude people based on their background or experience.

So, let's generate some ideas!