The C Word

Yes people, Christmas is coming. Like Death & Taxes, it’s a certainty and it’s only 3 short months away.

And if you think we’re a bit early with the whole promoting the big C moment thing, then spare a thought for me – I’m typing this on the 20 August and Boy! Am I feeling Christmassy right now :).  Because the new products have been designed through the summer, they’ve been sent to print and I pressed ‘upload’ about 10 minutes ago on the catalogue that I’ve spent the past fortnight completing.  Thank heavens the heatwave came early this year; nothing quite like sweat dripping into your eyes when you’re looking at an image involving snowflakes.

Weird industry this one we call ‘gift’.  We’re not an entirely conventional studio.  I tend to launch to you people first rather than work with the retailers’ calendar, because it’s difficult to keep up.  Some chain stores work on an 18 month timeline, which means that the ‘trends’ they set become self-fulfilling prophesies, something I find vaguely depressing. Other chains work a year in advance which is slightly easier so if I’m working on Christmas in July, they are too; it’s just for different years.  Smaller chains tend to work two seasons in advance and then the lovely independents can have strategic plans in place or go from one stand to the next at a trade show with that wonderful look of ‘ooh shiny, go see’ expressions on their faces (they’re my favourite).

I don’t have the time nor money to produce two seasons a year.  Because it takes me around 9 months to birth a new range and we all know how painful it can be – I wouldn’t want to put myself through more than that.  9 months to produce, proceeded by an enormous amount of trepidation and pain at launch, followed quickly on to starting the whole process again only 3 short months later (a pattern I started with procreation – it’s exhausting!).

So, seeds of inspiration are sewn during November and December, usually when standing on our patch at the Christmas shows selling our new products to all of you wonderful people. We don’t get much spare time at those shows, but everything is so busy and frenetic that it’s impossible to be diverted to anything but customer service and there’s something quite white-noisy about it that clears the head of all else.  And that’s when the ideas start to percolate, because you can see what it is that everyone is going nuts over and which product lines are flying off the shelves.

Then Christmas happens and I don’t talk for the week in-between Christmas and New Year (I’m not kidding).  And so it is that I ponder on those November/December ideas in January, just before a few trade fairs and possibly an award ceremony (if we’re lucky). And then onto logistics in around March/April. This process usually involves the gathering of a few samples – I don’t know why, but I find some comfort in looking at interesting bags and boxes that I’d like to incorporate into the new product which I then have to abandon because the costs are too high.  I write detailed print specifications to have my printer quote the costs, then realise that I’ve underestimated how much printing in full colour on heavy card stock is, change my design to fit accordingly, have him re-quote to a more palatable figure and then, over the process of the design, slowly creep back to the original specification.

I then allow a further month for a crushing crisis of confidence.

So we get to summer and I have fun doing what I like doing best – writing, designing, drawing, messing about, colouring in, listening for a good month to the same album over and over and over.  We’ve had Oh Wonder! (killed it, can’t really listen to it ever again), We’ve had Elbow (ditto), We’ve had Royal Blood, Maroon 5 and the dulcet soothing tones of Simon & Garfunkel, all now relegated and logged as the Sounds of Summer 20–.

I then allow a couple of weeks to tidy the office, catch up on some admin, think about doing some PR, get frustrated with social media, hate everyone and everything before returning back to the matter in hand, having a read through, making a few tweaks here and there and then sending the designs off to print.

And then, and only then, do I realise that I’ve left the print run too late to get the products back to photograph and into a catalogue that has to go to print before September.  Kicking myself, I spend painstaking days ‘creating’ the products in Photoshop to, effectively, lie to you, the consumer, with an ‘artist’s representation’ of what the finished item will look like.

And we’re back to this morning, when I pressed upload to my Dropbox and watched the progress bar in a bit of a fug (it was 6am).  And then I decided to write a blog about it as a really long-assed way of saying “Hey, our Christmas Catalogue is out!”

…. if you want a proper copy, email us with your address.  In the meantime, you can just click on the front cover and you’ll be taken to those clever people at Issuu and an online version to peruse at your leisure.

Catalogue 2017-01
Christmas Catalogue 2017

…I’m off to my bed.  I will be fully awake and functioning by the time you read this in, ummm, let’s see, a couple of months time…

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Snap Cards Reduced to £3.50

Stock up for down time!

It was after six months of playing Snap using the most hideously designed cards that I finally cracked and created some new sets.  As with everything we sell at 2littleboys.co.uk our products ultimately stem from the need to entertain (or, at the least, amuse) my Irish triplets.

We have reduced the price of three sets of our Snap cards (French, Flowers and London) to £3.50 from £4.99 and hope that by enticing you to buy some, you will encourage your own children or grandchildren to enhance their memory skills whilst playing Snap or Pairs and for them to effortlessly learn landmark London words, names of flowers or even a smattering of french.  Because when they are playing, they don’t know they’re learning!

So go check them out. And then buy some!

Flower Snap cards 300dpi

Our flower snap – because children don’t actually know that most people couldn’t tell a plumbago from a scabious.

French Snap Cards 300dpi

For a little effortless learning of a smattering of french.

 

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and to our lovely shop customers – we have reduced the trade price :).

 

 

The Stationery Show and the C Word

I was reminded over the last couple of days that at least one person had read the blog I had written about embarrassing things I had done at the Stationery Show TWO years ago. (Thanks Simon).

I thought I’d follow up this year with another round up as I’d like to think two days at a stand in Islington is an excellent barometer of where the industry/world is right now.  In reality, I accept that it is actually a mediocre barometer of my mental state.  You tell me.

Firstly, I should like to address the C word head on.  It is a word that I have been known to judiciously use, sometimes converting it to an adverb (i.e. this is so C…… ingly shit).  Yes, I do think it works.  So it was, during conversations with various visitors over the two days, the C word and its veracity and position within our collective lexicons was discussed.  It seems that there is a seismic shift in opinion.  Not one person actually said the word, but most agreed that it does, indeed, play an important role in expressing extreme views/emotions/general feelings toward certain people in our lives/friends’ lives and life in general.  One of my particularly clever customers gave me his view on the entire issue which went something like this:

The C Word is to the F word what the F word was to the word Bloody a couple of decades ago.  Read it again, I think it makes sense.

I don’t think I’ll be putting the C word on any products in the coming decade or so, but never say never.  And I think the shift in the general feeling toward the four letters in a very particular order is interesting.

So what else happened at the Stationery Show this year?  It was busy.  The same people who always walk on by our stand did exactly just that.  I was rude to approximately the same percentage of potential customers as I usually am.  There were, this year, however,  a disproportionate number of people taking photographs without asking, some in such an obvious clandestine manner that I’m relieved that they spend their time taking undercover photos of notebooks as opposed to actually having to take actual clandestine photos. Please just ask to take a photo – I accept times are changing and the ‘no photography’ rules are a thing of the past.

There were some lovely bloggers.  In particular, three woman who were very complimentary and made me glow with pride and then they confused me with acronyms   of social media stuff.  I await enlightenment; a lightbulb moment of clarity that I’m hoping will make it all seem worthwhile.

Two very young ladies popped by and spent ages going through everything and taking photographs (without asking), loudly proclaiming their opinions on each title to each other (and although most of their views were favourable, they did offer up their considered and experienced opinions that some were simply shite).  So, having already ascertained that I must be deaf, being only a metre away, they scowled at me as I took a single step toward them, rictus smile on my face.  “What is it you do?” I ask and they tell me the name of the retail chain in which they work, or maybe their mums worked there, I don’t know.  I had obviously heard of the chain, but I genuinely didn’t know what they did.  So I asked and I can’t tell you what they said, because they looked down and mumbled.  Sam told me once they were out of earshot (you know, more than a metre away).  They weren’t the power tool manufacturers that I had always assumed, but they were just as unlikely to buy my stuff as a power tool manufacturer and I’m not entirely sure what they were doing at the STATIONERY show.  Still, they were good for a bit of righteous indignation.

Ummm, what else; one of my lovely customers brought me cake on my birthday and a thing of beauty that slice of strawberry sponge it was. I offered some up to my next door neighbour.  She promptly declined and then proceeded to extol the virtues of its aesthetics, taking photographs whilst breathing rapturous promises to herself to paint its delicately coloured layers.  All of which, and I’m only guessing here, is what makes her a great artist who deserved the TWO awards she had received the night before.

I, as someone who is currently overweight bemoaned the cake’s calorific content, saw no future potential for the beauty of said cake slice and ate it.  Which probably goes a little way to explaining why I didn’t win an award the night before.

I had a few wobbly moments when I hated everyone (is it just me? Please tell me it isn’t just me).  So a few extended breaks were taken.  I outraged Sam by taking my M&S salads upstairs, borrowing a plate, knife and fork from the cafe, decanted and ate like a civilised human being.  It was brazen and I don’t know their rules, but I revel in that whole middle-aged ‘what are they actually going to do about it’ state of mind.  I even sent Sam proof just to get that whole ‘I can’t believe you did that’ response from him – you know, from the man who’s survived proper muggings without a whiff of PTSD.

food

I had a lovely time talking to fellow exhibitors, some extremely experienced, others not so much, but all of us aware of the rule of mid-sentence stop and slight nod of head to denote potential new customer crossing the invisible line onto the stand.  I laughed a lot during catch-up-on-life sessions with old friends and I didn’t cry.  Not once.

So all in all, I’d say it was a successful and exhausting two days. Will I return next year?  You’re C….tingly right I will.

 

 

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My birthday and Emojis

Happy Monday!

It’s my birthday week and I suspect much cake will be eaten. I will be charming the pants off every buyer who stops by our stand at the London Stationery Show and I will probably be complaining about my back aching. I’ll be complaining a lot. But then it’s my birthday week, so it’s allowed.

And on my actual birthday, I’d like to think that a few birthday cards will pop through the letterbox and land on my doormat. I will, hopefully, receive quite a few texts from friends including the ubiquitous ‘Happy Focking Birthday’ from one particular individual who shall remain nameless.

And then, Facebook will tell a bunch of real-life friends that it is, indeed, the day to celebrate my birth. They will post on my wall with good wishes. Whether it’s a ‘Happy Birthday honey’ or a ‘Hope you have a lovely day’, I think it’s nice to know that people I haven’t seen for a few years have spent 30 seconds of their day thinking how much I’ve aged on my profile picture and writing me a birthday wish. An emoji heart at the end of one of those written actual words of well wishes will also be acceptable. Just to emote a feeling of warmth and sincere love for yours truly. Any other emojis, are, if I’m honest, banned. A bottle of champagne would be ridiculous (I don’t drink), a party hat – I’m not 6, and don’t get me started on a tick or a 100 – I’m not even sure what they mean.

So you’ve probably gathered at this point, I don’t like emojis. I don’t like them for quite a few reasons.

Firstly, I think they’re infantile. They’re the keyboard equivalent of a 2 year old with a crayon firmly held by a chubby hand drawing something that looks bloody awful and telling you “it’s mummy” or a “beautiful flower”.

Emojis are lazy and their overuse MUST be affecting the literacy and eloquence of us as a society.  Why would you need to know the word ‘perturbed’ or discombulated‘ when you can just select a confused emoji and have done with it.  If you don’t know the words exist, then you’re not making the most of a language that is rich with nuance and culture, that is in need of preservation.

Now at this point, I should come clean. Because 12 years ago, I saw the popularity of the original emojis – the smiley on a Nokia – using the colon symbol and an open bracket for a smile.  I ran with those first emojis, producing a range of postcards using existing grammatical symbols to create a range of 4 simple emotions.

I can remember showing it to someone who was working here for some holiday money – his response went something like this:

“That’s just great. You have the worst of both worlds. A hideous expression of modern pop culture combined with a ‘text’ that takes at least 24 hours to be received by the intended recipient. Good job.” Now imagine that being said in the monosyllabic tones of a 19 year old history student with a serious and untreatable case of sarcasm and you’ve kinda got the vibe.

“Perfect” I responded and sent to print.

And they did very well for us, those postcards. We were ahead of the curve by about a year so they made it into quite a few boutiques that do nonchalant cool with twists of irony so brilliantly.

And we also produced some matching ‘txt speak’ versions including LOL (which I think my lovely in-laws still think means Lots of Love). And I use text speak and the standard wink, smile and unhappy faces when I’m not really thinking about what I’m writing or when I think a more detailed response is unnecessary.  My own phone can not read emojis any more complicated than a few of the basics.  Consequently,  I often find myself looking at a text from a friend that is made up entirely of black squares.  I’m hoping that it’s a barrage of emoji abuse, but I can’t help but think it’s possibly an offer of a free meal – I just wouldn’t know.  But, all bad choice of ‘phone aside, I still can’t help but think that the world has gone mad with it, hasn’t it?

Orwell called it. I know that the comparison has been made by many many, far more eloquent people than I, his explanation of ‘Newspeak’ in 1984 sums it all up for me – Orwell explains that Newspeak “…. is a language characterised by a continually diminishing vocabulary; complete thoughts reduced to simple terms of simplistic meaning”

… and dumbing down our ways of communicating with others is really very scary. I’m perturbed. And I don’t think there’s an emoji for that.

So, on my birthday, if you simply post an emoji cake on my wall, I will judge you.

Thx for reading 😉

txt-3

 

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Small businesses and reviews

So, you order something online, you get it in perfect condition in a reasonable space of time and you unwrap, wrap it back up if it’s a gift or you use as you see fit – if it’s something from 2littleboys.co.uk, you’ll probably be writing in it, using it to write with or drinking from it. But who am I to guess or even judge for that matter.

And the world continues to turn (it’s frightening how quickly it turns; one of my kids told me the rate in which it was actually going, and I felt a sudden need to cling onto the pavement with the thought of it).

And then, if you’ve bought from a larger sales platform or company, you’ll probably get a really irritating email at some point asking you to ‘review your recent purchase from….’.  And every so often, when you’re waiting for the washing cycle to finish, or when Peppa Pig is giving you some respite, or you’re stuck on the train with nothing better to do (but with excellent signal and you’re not smelling the man’s armpit to your right), you’ll click through and leave a review.  And it’ll be an excellent review or a shitty review and there will rarely be an in-between, because if you had just thought ‘meh’ when you’d opened the parcel, you’re probably not going to spend some of your precious time trying to think up real words to describe the ‘meh’ you felt.

I get it.  I really do.  At 2littleboys HQ, we order our padded envelopes through a large marketplace and they turn up in a timely manner and they’re always in good condition. (but then I’m not sure how much damage could be sustained to a box of padded envelopes).  So when the marketplace sends me an email to ask me to leave feedback, I do wonder who would respond and what they would respond with. ‘They’re envelopes, they arrived, I use’.

And that attitude can proliferate throughout our shopping experiences. But here’s the thing.  More often than not, the seller on that large platform or the people behind the online boutique are there, often grappling comically with tissue paper, trying to get everything done by the day’s postal deadline and wondering how the fuck they got through so many padded envelopes so quickly.  At this point, can I also point out the idiosyncrasies of wrapping with tissue paper.  I defy anyone to wrap anything in the stuff and not have it look like a three year old and his pet gerbil has had a go first.

And I haven’t even got to the hair pulling decisions, design skill, writing and production of the actual product!  Another posting sometime maybe :0.

We, at the MotherShip store 2littleboys.co.uk don’t have an automated request system for reviews or feedback. And when we see the reviews that have been left for our products on other platforms through whom we sell, or when we receive emails, Facebook responses and reviews on our site, our hearts really do sing.  I mean REALLY.  NB: Not literally – that sounds medically dangerous.  I mean: A little flutter of pride and a big smile of ‘wow! Someone likes our stuff’.

Because we do need to know if one of our notebooks made a friend smile when they really needed to, or if an activity book turned horrified faces surrounding your 4 year old on a plane into smiles of a peaceful flight.  We want to hear that the paper was a joy to write upon (yeah, that’s right, we’ve had that said actually, because it’s really important to some people and I can’t help but agree with them…).  We want to hear that you didn’t expect to receive the purchase so quickly and aren’t we amazing for turning the order around so quickly.  We want to hear that the really silly question you asked was answered quickly.  And I am pretty sure that every independent shop would agree with me when I say, we’d just like some feedback on our good jobs done.

So don’t wait for the larger companies to remind you, next time you get something from an independent shop, take five minutes to write ‘great service’ or some such niceness.  Because we don’t have complicated algorithms to connect with you nor do we have banks of people ‘dealing’ with you.  We are just simple folk doing some interesting stuff.

Right. I’m off to write a review about padded envelopes.

Happy Easter all.

 

 

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