Supporting Independent Businesses is for Life, not just for Small Business Saturday.

Today was Small Business Saturday and, despite us being a small business, we did nothing to promote this new High Street ‘tradition’.

The concept of Small Business Saturday was introduced to the UK from the USA, with the first event taking place in December 2013.  This was the year that I started the Chorlton Art Market and so I was involved with helping to promote the concept of encouraging people to shop at independent business for this one day.  This slightly patronising idea about shopping at ‘small businesses’ for one day out of 365 is my first issue with the idea of Small Business Saturday.

My second problem with SBS is the fact that it is actually a PR exercise by American Express, cleverly disguised as a social enterprise movement.  Since the age of 13 I have worked in various roles within independent business and I can’t recall any of those places accepting American Express payments due to higher processing fees than other cards.  We do not accept American Express at CAM for this reason.

I am not entirely convinced that Small Business Saturday does actually make people any more likely to shop at independent businesses than they would do usually.  I may well be wrong, but I quite simply haven’t had the time or the inclination to do any kind of promotion for it this year.

Promotion that does work well for a business like ours is, of course, consistent and regular social media updates and information.  Unfortunately at the minute our social media presence is pretty much dormant.  Due to a few unexpected events over the last couple of months, we have been preoccupied with other issues which has left the social media stuff being side-lined at a time of year when we should really be pumping up the volume.

BUT!…Even if we haven’t posted a slightly filtered photo on Instagram, or shared a tweet for a couple of weeks this doesn’t mean that the CAMhub isn’t as completely awesome as always – it simply means that we are crazy busy and trying to prioritise!  Making the shop work economically and ensuring that our artists are making good money, serving our customers 6 days a week and simply doing all the paperwork is not an easy task (as well as maintaining the basic requirements of 2 small humans) so please be understanding if it seems that our social media-ness is a bit quiet.

Right now the shop is absolutely jam-packed with an eclectic hoard of carefully selected giftware for all ages, along with the work of our amazing artists.  And if this wasn’t enough for you, Autumn’s Vintage Boutique is looking better than it ever has done, thanks to the hard work of our wonderful vintage ladies.  As a special treat for our customers, the vintage traders have come together to organise a special shopping day, taking place on Sunday 4th December – more info here:  https://www.facebook.com/events/365475820457367/

So come down, get yourself styled to vintage perfection and get all your Christmas shopping done under one roof with a glass of Jay’s famous mulled wine in your hand.  You can always support a small business, even if it isn’t Small Business Saturday!

 

 

 

OPEN LETTER TO GMPF #1

This is an open letter to GMPF, our business landlord.  It is highly probable that it will be the first of many such letters over the next 18 months.

Dear GMPF,

Ten years ago this month I moved to Chorlton as a bit of a stop gap whilst I figured out what to do with my life.  And, as life has panned out in the unexpected way that it does, I never left and I am now happily settled, raising two children and running a successful business in this strange but loveable suburb.

A heatwave was just kicking in on the day I came here back in 2006 which made the whole exciting move even more full of promise.  We were in a whole new world of beer gardens, open mic nights and roof top BBQs!  I remember going off to explore my new surroundings and stumbling upon the precinct and wondering if I had stepped into a 70’s verion of the Twilight Zone.  And I don’t mean that as a negative – for me it felt special and was somewhere full of untapped potential.  I always knew that it would inevitably be updated at some point, but I could very clearly picture a way to do it and still retain some of its nostalgic charm.

In the time I have lived here, Chorlton precinct has had at least 3 owners to my knowledge.  And over the years, rumours of redevelopment have been ever present.  I remember public consultations and architectural plans aplenty, but then the recession hit and all these plans were, I guess, put on the back burner. 

For me, the timing was perfect.  In 2011 I had my first child which gave me the opportunity to see those shop units in the precinct sitting empty and I began to formulate a long term plan – I knew by then that I wanted a business in Chorlton precinct and I was going to find a way to make it happen, no matter what.

Fast forward to the present day and that goal has been achieved…for now.  I understood when I signed my lease that it expired in 2018 but I didn’t worry because I don’t think I fully appreciated the potential that my business had back then.  I guess I thought I’d be just content to have a shop for a few years and I didn’t really consider too far ahead.  But time is ticking fast and battle mode is setting in.

I now have 3 children – a girl one, a boy one and a shop one.  I unashamedly admit to loving the non-human one just as much as the human ones.  The roots of all 3 are connected to the precinct to some degree and I can’t accept that in less than 2 years it could all be over if all the spaces are allocated to large corporations.  We have all worked hard to create something special in a part of Chorlton which we truly love.  The Chorlton Art Market belongs in the precinct.

My fear is that the redevelopment will see the precinct turned into a soulless identikit plastic mall when I know that it has the potential to be something truly special and something which could be a real gem for Chorlton.  As anyone who has ever lived here will tell you, Chorlton is a beautifully weird place, filled with people with a great sense of social pride and I believe that you, the landlords, have an amazing opportunity to create something that will sit pride of place in your property portfolio.

When the time comes, please consider the fate of my family business – a business which supports over 60 other local people and a business which is loved by an ever-growing customer base.  In a place like Chorlton, with a bit of imagination something ‘different’ has the potential to thrive…but only if the opportunities are there. Please don’t forget about us when you make your plans.

All together now: ‘Sometimes its hard to be a (business) woman…’

Don’t get me wrong – I love having a shop.  It is a dream come true.  Like most people, I played ‘shops’ as a child and now I get to do it for real every day.  So essentially my life is just one long play time.

Except sometimes, it isn’t quite like that.  Because the playtime never ends.  And in reality, constant ‘playtime’ is actually really hard work.  In some ways I can draw parallels with the Twilight Zone episode, A Nice Place to Visit, but I’m not repeatedly winning in a casino and I’m in Chorlton, not hell so it’s not quite the same (the CAMhub really is A Nice Place to Visit though).

As some will know, our shop is not like most shops.  The majority of our space is filled with the work and wares of over 60 local people and therefore provides income for individuals and families and helps to support the local economy in a very direct way.  It took a long time to become a reality – in some ways it has been brewing ever since I began organising charity events and cake sales when I was still a kid. All through my teens and twenties I slogged away in draughty village halls and fields doing craft fairs and summer fetes, and whilst I was at university in Preston I would sell my cards to a gift shop for a quid each (which was enough for 2 pints of Snakebite & Black on a Monday night in Squires so life was good).  This was before the days of social media so life really was a lot sweeter.  After a few years of pop up shops and markets and living a lifestyle way below the breadline, my shop dream somehow came true.

Anyway, my point is that the CAMhub did not spring up overnight.  It was not a drunken idea dreamt up in the pub with my mates and it is not a vanity project funded by rich husbands.  One of my main goals from the very beginning was to provide a platform for artists, craftspeople and small businesses to showcase their wares and build up their high street presence.  The ultimate goal was always for people to do well enough in our shop to go on to open their own shops, thus rejuvenating and improving the high street further.  I have always wanted the shop to help to improve the lives of like-minded people who have worked hard to build up their businesses, but I would have always expected honesty and openness from people who we work hard for.

We treat our traders very fairly and we know that our business plan focusses on ensuring that people who sell their wares with us make a good profit.  Our business model might be different from the norm, but it works well; being different is always better.  And it’s only going to continue to get better and better all the time.

Sometimes in business, as in everyday life, people do things which shock you.  Sometimes in life we all get treated in a manner which surprises us and makes you question the whole do-as-you-would-be-done-by philosophy.  Sometimes in life you just come across very selfish people and that’s just the way it is.  I have wanted to write this post for over a month now but I couldn’t find the words which weren’t swear ones.  Then I simply remembered the wise words from a dear old friend – he had a theory that when you want to be a better person when dealing with arseholes, you should think of John Cusack’s character in Stand by Me (the flashback scene where he gives his brother the baseball cap).  So, when I’m feeling pissed off about a situation, and when I would quite like to speak my mind, I tell myself: “Be more like dead Cusack”…and it always helps.

As ever we will continue to work hard to make the CAMhub the very best shop it can possibly be.  After a lot of hard work over the last few days, our Baby & Child section is better than it ever has been, with a much wider range of giftware and affordable high quality clothing than we have ever had.  We have listened to and acted on customer feedback from over the last 18 months and we are very proud to be bringing you our carefully selected collections of 100% cotton dresses and babygrows, as well as fairtrade wooden toys from Lanka Kade.  All this as well as our ever-evolving mixture of artwork, handmade crafts and vintage clothing.

So come and visit us tomorrow and see our beautiful shop for yourselves.  And I promise to continue to be more like dead Cusack.

“And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)”

Well, 2016 is already turning out to be a pretty action packed year, full of surprises and with some rather exciting things in store for the CAMhub.  Although we’ve not been able to see much of it, I think the beautiful sunshine we’ve finally had this week has reinvigorated us.

March was a tough month to get through for me – after limping along for a while, I had a day when I realised that I hadn’t cuddled my 3-month old baby all day and it suddenly hit me that my work/life balance was totally wrong.  I genuinely spent more time thinking about the shop than I thought about my children and this realisation made me really sad.  So I spent all of March in bed with my baby watching all 8 seasons of Dexter (I did still do plenty of work stuff – but just the sort of things you can do on the laptop in bed).  For a while I feared I was suffering from post-natal depression, but in hindsight, as I hadn’t really taken a breath since Sidney was born, I think it was just plain old exhaustion.

So, I gave myself a one month time limit to get back on track and it worked – once I’d got to the end of season 8, I was able to get out of bed and feel positive and excited about the shop again.  To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, un-slumping yourself is not easily done, but I got through it with the help of my baby and a loveable serial killer.

The funny thing about life is that just as you think things are on a level and you’ve got everything sorted, something else is thrown into your path to create further obstacles, which equals more work.  More work requires more time which is something that even the greatest artists and craftspeople can’t create.  Sometimes I wonder if there will ever be a time when we can properly relax and have a bit more time to enjoy life rather than just working all the time.

Over the past 18 months we have dedicated our time to promoting the shop and its individual traders and we have kept true to our original ethos – to provide a platform for artists and craftspeople to sell their work and to make good money.  Since I used my experience from selling my own work in other shops and at markets, my goal has always been to work out a better way for everyone involved to make money.  Being a self-employed artist is not an easy life, but I always knew that a shop like ours had the potential to work well for the people who understood our vision…and it’s a nice feeling to be right about things.

June will see some very exciting changes to the CAMhub, which will include a massive revamp of our Baby & Child section.  Along with our wonderful handmade baby clothes sellers, Clothlogy and Belle Amelie, we’ll be expanding our current ranges to bring you a world of gorgeous delights for little people.  And we’ll continue to dedicate our time to sourcing a great range of giftware and everyday items for all ages. The CAMhub will always be a one-stop shop for all your vintage, art, giftware and baby needs and we’d just like to thank each and every one of our loyal customers – if you thought the shop was good before, it’s about to get a whole lot better.

We got through it!

These last few months have been wonderfully manic.  It is only now that I am able to reflect on all that has happened and take stock of the present.IMG_20160202_175835360

Running a shop is a lot of work.  Running a shop that involves over 60 other people requires a lot of time and effort.  Running any shop at Christmas is hard work.  Having a baby at the end of November made being able to cope with all this seem virtually impossible.  I admit to having one 5 minute breakdown the day after I had my baby, sobbing uncontrollably in my hospital bed as I wondered how on earth I was going to cope with a new baby right at the beginning of the busiest 4 weeks of the year.  I knew I had traders takings to pay a few days after and I knew how much some people relied on that money.  I couldn’t let my standards slip, despite the agony I was in during that first week.  I am not proud of the fact, but I had to actually shout at a doctor to discharge me.

We got through it, Jay and I, with a lot of help from some of our fantastic traders.  We managed to keep the shop pretty much open as normal and I was able to start working in the shop a bit after a couple of weeks.  I’m proud that we got through it, despite how hard it felt at times.  It seems we are lucky enough to have a chilled baby who just likes to drink and sleep so we’ve been able to get on with things as normal, just with a small and very cute companion.

I felt utterly shite the entire time I was pregnant.  I made this very clear to anyone I came across during those 9 months.  As with my first child, I felt awful every single day.  What made it so much worse this time was the fact that, no matter how rough I felt, I had so much I always had to do and it did, at times, feel utterly insurmountable.  This was when it was truly hard running the shop.  But despite all this, I still believed completely in my vision and I knew that no matter how hard things were, we would always find a way to work through it.  I have never believed in anything as much as I believe in the CAMhub.

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Like I said, running a shop is a lot of hard graft.  In no way did I ever expect it to be easy, but it is certainly harder than I really imagined.  There are certainly a lot more costs and factors that I didn’t take into account initially, and many new things have cropped up along the way.  It is a never ending job – I know this is the case for all self employed people, certainly in the first couple of years at least.  The business is on my mind 24/7 and I feel that horrible guilt when I’m playing with my kids because a nagging part of me is telling me I should be working, but then when I’m working I feel guilty that I’m not with the kids.

Despite all this, I understand that this is what it takes.  I have always believed that nothing good ever comes easy so I am prepared for the pitfalls and we will always march on.   2016 will be a very exciting time for the CAMhub as I will be able to dedicate more time to working, rather than being sick and crying.  The shop is going to get better and better all the time.

So, after all that ramble, all I really should of said is ‘come and check out our amazing shop’ – we have loads of awesome new traders joining us next month, including a stained glass artist and new vintage clothes traders.  We’re also going to have a bit of a play around with the layout of the shop to create a fresh new look for the spring.  And I can’t wait to give that floor a proper good clean cos I’m a weirdo like that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the words of Tenacious D: ‘thats f***ing teamwork’

I considered beginning this post with a grandiose/pretentious quote, maybe something about overcoming obstacles and rising above the madness that life throws at us all. But I won’t, because that is not really what I want to write about.

Trying to do what I am doing has made me learn many things. Above all else I have finally accepted that, in my experience, I should always trust my gut instinct in every decision I ever make – when I look back upon my life, I realise that my gut instinct has always been right. Difficult times of late have made this very clear to me.

One of the other main things I have come to properly realise is the absolute crucial importance of operating as part of a team. Obviously this is something I already understand since everything in life is teamwork to some degree, and I have of course written the immortal: ‘I can work well on my own,as well as part of a team’ on many a job application. But in terms of setting up the Chorlton Art Market as my business, I was, until recently, under the impression that I could do it all on my own. Other than sleeping and sewing, doing things on your own is hard.

As I have alluded to, I took a bit of a knock in recent weeks with my dreams for the market. Against my better judgement, I put my trust in someone I shouldn’t of. And it made me sad. It also made me very cross. But it also led onto much greater things and reminded me how strongly I feel about my goals and plans.

The old cliche ‘everything happens for a reason’ is so true. This I have always known but sometimes it’s easy to forget. Without the rough times I’ve had with the Chorlton Art Market lately, I may not of taken up a great opportunity which lead to a truly awesome event on Sunday. Along with some other folks, (the Uprising Bakehouse Co-operative and Miss Daisy’s Tea Den) I helped to create a Harvest Fayre in our local park – pictures of the wonderful day can be viewed here: https://www.facebook.com/chorltonartmarket/photos_stream and at: https://twitter.com/ChorltonMarkets/media. The success of the event was down to lots of hard work all round, but it was so worth it and it was so lovely seeing some of the CAM artists again, as well as some new folks. I have never enjoyed an event that I was involved in so much – I didn’t want the day to end. Massive respect to the Uprising team for masterminding such an ace day for our town and I’m so glad we could be a part of it.

So, in summary, I’m glad that things have happened the way they have. Every knock I take makes me more determined to reach my goals. As Babe Ruth said: ‘no one can beat you if you never give up’.

We are now busily and excitedly working on plans for future CAM events so watch this space!</

Project Overview

I began recognising the issues facing the high street over the last few years, and started making plans to make changes in my local community.  As an experienced trader at hundreds of craft fair events, my dream was always to have my own shop, but I soon realised that in today’s climate it would be very hard to make this financially viable.

Instead, I identified an empty, neglected area of Chorlton and liaised with the estate managers to find out if there was any chance that I could use the area to create something good for the whole community. My goal is to turn this grey, dead space into something colourful and which will actually be used.

As I began formulating my plan of action, I started to seek out people who shared my vision and who had the skills to help get the project off the ground. Out of this, we have formed Chorlton Revival – our constitution aims being “to regenerate neglected areas in the Chorlton environs, using design, artistry and other creative innovations, to make useable, enjoyable and accessible spaces for all local residents and to facilitate independent trading”.

I also recognised that alongside with the regeneration plans, the space also had the potential to be used for something else. This lead to plans to create a new monthly market, specifically selling locally produced art and high quality design (from my own experiences, I have realised that the quality of the work on offer has to be paramount in order for the market to be a success).  In addition to this, the long term goal would be to attract local creative businesses and organisations to use the market as an opportunity to promote themselves and their work.

Having been involved in various Chorlton Arts Festival projects, I recognised the amount of talented local artists and creative people who live and work here.  Many are self-employed (such as myself) and work hard to make a living selling their work online and at fairs and markets all over the country.

It is my belief that due to the location of the market, it will benefit not only the market traders, but also the surrounding businesses.  It will also turn a large unused space into a community hub and become a place that people will make a special effort to visit.  The market will become an opportunity for local people to build up a face for their business and raise their profile, and at the same time, build up connections and contacts with each other.  This will then in turn help their businesses to grow and build a stronger sense of local identity.