Thursday 24 October 2013

Exhibitions - Time to Ring the Changes?

I have lost count of how many shows I have done since I launched huddle & Bliss at a consumer show at Excel in 2008. What I do know is that as a small family business the commitment is not only financial but logistical, emotional and damned hard work before and after. Following ExCel in February 2014 I have decided that huddle & bliss will take a break from doing our usual exhibitions and explore new avenues. It seems I am not alone! For over a year now I have been having second thoughts and misgivings about shows and exhibitions. It was one of my nagging ‘gut feel’ things which seems to have been reinforced during the course of 2013. This time last year I had already planned not to rebook Earls Court /Olympia – this decision was reinforced when we and many others had a dismal show at Earls Court! We tried a few alternatives throughout the course of the year. I have always treated exhibitions as a marketing cost, never under the illusion that I will necessarily walk away with an immediate profit on the day. From the beginning I saw the bigger picture – publicity, exposure , networking and meeting your trade and consumer market directly. Essentials, particularly the latter for solely online businesses like mine. But 6 years in I really can now say that with a couple of exceptions they have always left me feeling a little disappointed, even taking the follow up business into consideration. The most recent exception was our presence at the Conservative Party Conference. It was a late booking and was an amazing experience all round. A great opportunity to showcase our wares, ethos and British-manufacturing to a completely different audience. It has paid dividends. At our usual exhibitions the number of new exhibitors who have approached me at shows to ask ‘is this normal’ ‘how is it going for you?’ and expressing general disappointment has increased considerably in the last year or two. Many of these people have invested their life-savings, their redundancy money, or borrowed funds from family to pay for their stand. This is in contrast to the larger brands for who this type of expenditure is just small change. Small business cannot simply compete with them on any number of fronts. This leads me onto one of my qualms about these events: big brands. None, if any of these events offer a special small business package to cater to the needs and budgets of new start-ups and truly small business. Yes they may negotiate a little on optional extras like lighting and power, or reduce stand costs at the last minute rather than have empty space. But on the whole the little guys pay the same per square metre as the big guys. You will be enticed into rebooking a year in advance at a preferential rate when you haven’t even really seen the full outcome. My advice, don’t do it! Wait analyse the event as a whole, including the 3 month follow up and make an informed decision. Visitors to our stand have mentioned numerous times in recent shows, how disappointed they are that there are so many big brands present. As a consumer I too would be very unhappy to have paid a considerable ticket price to enter one of these events to be confronted with Mammas & Pappas, Marks & Spencer or Babies R Us or sometimes all three and more! When we chat to clients they tell us they go to this type of event to find niche brands and something different from the average generic high street that we all have access to on a daily basis. I do not deny that the events management companies have a very difficult balancing act to achieve. They need to fill the venue, they need to attract the right balance of exhibitors and need to attract a large and eager consumer audience. But I really am not sure that this is the way forward, certainly for huddle & bliss. I cannot escape the feeling that the independent exhibitors are being somewhat short-changed. For what I have spent on shows & exhibitions in a year I could have rented a local high street shop. And although I know they say the high street is dead, I am confident the overall takings would have been far greater. In fact the cost of a mid-sized stand at Earls Court for 3 days is slightly less than a years local shop rental. Add in your hotel, travel, subsistence and marketing costs and they are fairly balanced. In my experience, advance-purchase ticketed shows are better rather than free or pay on the door kind. Note, you will be told how many thousands of visitors to expect. As event managers struggle to achieve the necessary balance we appear to have seen a plethora of free tickets being distributed to this type of consumer show. This is certainly not the only reason why this type of show may be in decline, but it does seem to be a contributory factor that hits the exhibitor’s pocket too. Perhaps increasing the number of browsers and bargain-hunters rather than indie-seeking shoppers looking to buy on the day? Do not underestimate the amount of hard work that you will need to put into such an event. The preparation is far greater than loading your van or car if you are to make the most of it. As a small business or independent trader think also about the disruption to your family life – for me in the past it has been a logistical nightmare arranging childcare etc. In the first 2 weeks of October alone I was away from home 9 nights. Had I been doing Olympia (thankfully I am not!) I would be off again in a week or so for further 3. Many of you I know have set up yourself in hope of achieving a better work/life balance, so this is a big consideration. What do you think? Do they work for you? I would love to hear your comments via @sherryhornagold on twitter. I am not saying not to do them, but do give each and every exhibition a lot of thought and consideration. Don’t rebook a year in advance, analyse your post show sales first. Check out the ratio of exhibitors to visitors – a very important factor. The best show I have ever done had a low number of exhibitors but high visitor rate (simple maths). Check out the competition, particularly in relation to your own best sellers and the big brands– they will be able to offer prices you cannot match. Ask about advance ticket sales numbers as opposed to overall visitors. Finally remember there is only one thing worse than having a grim show – an event where everyone denies the fact, which in my experience is often the case…… Please feel free to comment and let me know about your experiences, ideas and thoughts! Sherry Small Business Owner huddle & bliss @sherryhornagold @huddleandbliss #exhibitions4smallbusiness

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Life as a Military Wife

As some of you know it is Armed Forces Day on Saturday (30th June). The purpose of this day is to raise awareness of the amazing contribution our current and former Armed Forces members make to our country. Also it is an opportunity for the nation to show support for all our troops and the wider military community, such as families, veterans and cadets.

I am a military wifeI was very kindly asked by More Than A Mum to write a guest post about my views and experiences on being married to a member of the British Armed Forces. You can read about the highs and lows of my Military Wife Life by clicking HERE.

If you would like to find out about Armed Forces Day events near you then please click HERE.

Thanks for taking the time to read my post and guest article.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Fantastic Break at Le Meridien Al Aqah in Fujairah

Had a great break with hubby and my boys at the beginning of the Easter break. Like most people who have their own businesses for me a holiday is a balance of time out and chilling by the pool but still keeping my hand in when I need to! Le Meridient Al Aqah Beach Resort delivered 100% Having been to Dubai several times but wanting the weather, we have in recent years started to work our way around the other Emirates. This year it was Fujairah. The hotel is in a stunning setting overlooking the Gulf of Oman with the backdrop of the Hajar Mountains. We booked a Royal Club room, which being on the 18th floor gave us amazing views over the resort and the coastline. I popped down to the Club Lounge each morning and each evening to make use of the wifi and check my emails. Apart from a bit of tweeting, reading and making notes I chilled by the pool with hubby watching my boys have fun. The mojitos were fantastic! Two things about this hotel stand out of for me. Firstly the staff. Not only is the service exemplary but the friendliness and willingness of every member of staff is outstanding. I was amazed at how long most of them had worked there. Attentive, happy and an eye for detail, as a team they stand out from anywhere else I have stayed. And I have been fortunate enough to stay in a good selection of quality resorts. Once I met Patrick Antaki, the hotel manager, I knew why. A warm and approachable person who obviously values his staff highly, and lets them know. Secondly the facilities. The pool is one of the largest in the UAE and includes a swim up bar, zero entry point (great for the kids). The team of life guards gave me confidence to give my children freedom and let myself relax. A great range of restaurants, my favourite being ‘Taste’ the Thai Restauant. Gonu by the beach also hit the spot! The best thing about the restaurants is the availability of a children’s menu throughout the resort. The standard child menu is the usual selection of predictable child meals but of extremely high quality. But it doesn’t end there… when we visit Saad the Indian restaurant my boys chose from a ‘child-friendly’ Indian menu, my eldest having his first curry. Same in the Thai Restaurant ‘Taste’ the boys had a selection of delicious but appropriate Asian food to choose from. It was fantastic to have such choices and flexibility for family dining. The hotel also offer a 50% price on adult meals for a child portion off the main adult menus. In terms of family eating Le Meridien Al Aqah really does mean the world’s your oyster. We will definitely be heading back there, along with the many other families who have been returning year upon year! Check it out: Le Meridien Al Aqah Resort, Fujairah, UAE Sherryx

Friday 2 March 2012

What The Marie Curie Charity Means To Me...

It was a dark and very dismal night at the end of October 2009. David was finally succumbing to the ravage of the cancer that he had fought so bravely for 18 months. There is always hope, but sometimes you do have to accept the inevitable. We had done that a matter of weeks before. Extremely difficult but all ‘part of the process’ as he used to say. The process of bereavement. David was diagnosed with terminal oesophageal cancer in May 2008. Initially he fought hard and long against the disease, amazing us all at how well he coped with not only the illness but the treatments too. It took well over a year and numerous procedures, treatments and operations for his mental and physical stamina to finally begin to wane. David only became immobile during his final week. I was fortunate enough to have reached a stage with my business where I could let go of the reins and take the time out to nurse my husband around the clock. It was something that we very important to me. A need that I had to ensure that I personally tended to his every requirement. Being a carer, under any circumstances is tough. But however hard and tiring it is, when it is for someone you care for and love you somehow manage to find that miniscule amount of energy left to do what you need to do. We had an amazing team of family and friends around us. But groups of people such as this that are stricken with emotion are not really capable of offering the support you need. This is when Marie Curie Nurses came into my life. It was all arranged via our local surgery that we would be allocated a nurse whenever possible during David’s final nights. By this time I was far too tired and disengaged to refuse any form of help or support. I knew accepting the help of this wonderful organisation was the right thing to do for David for me and for my family as a whole. ‘Mary Poppins’ arrived on my doorstep. Oozing serenity and peacefulness. Her warm smile, kind eyes and tactile nature immediately brought comfort to me. It may seem a strange thing to comment upon, but she had the most perfect make up. She looked so very neat in her uniform. She was so very collected in her actions, so tranquil in her mood, she simply gave me confidence to face each dark hour that loomed ahead. I was so at ease with her I was able to drag out the questions I needed and wanted to ask. ‘Can David hear me?’ ‘Can he feel my touch?’ . I was even able to ask my most-dreaded question… ‘How do I know when he is actually dying?’ ‘What are the signs that death is imminent?’. She answered me candidly but with great consideration and in her choice of words. She told me exactly what I needed to know, no more, no less. Her judgment of me as an individual, of the nature of my family and the mood of the household was impeccable. Her experience shone through, lighting the way for us during this desperate time. The first night she came David was still conscious and she was able to see a glimmer of his very self-deprecating sense of humour and his gregarious and fun nature. That meant so much to me. She returned a day or so later when David had slipped into a coma and was in his very final day or so. She helped me care for him physically, with great respect for him and for my need to do things. She ensured I eat a little, have a cup of tea and took time out for some rest even if I was unable to sleep. She gave me strength. I thank ‘Mary Poppins’ and Marie Curie from the bottom of my heart for being there and doing the job they do, so wonderfully. I thank them for aiding me in making David’s final days and hours comfortable and dignified. I thank them for helping me to cope and remain focused on the things that mattered to me most at that point in time. David passed peacefully in my arms surrounded by love, calm and hope for the future. ‘Mary Poppin’s’ gave me an understanding of life and death that I had never had before. I had indeed had time to prepare for this, but how does one prepare for something so dreadful? She was a very big piece in the jigsaw. Our many conversations helped me to have hope for the future. To know that happiness could once again be a part of the lives of me and my two little boys. And she was right. Somehow when I was ready, I was able to leap into the future and do what David wanted and asked me to do. He wanted me to live a happy life and to have a partner and he wanted his boys to have a dad present….these are all his very generous and selfless words. He Well I did it. I am remarried to the most wonderful man, Jonny. He and my boys adore one another and we are an amazing family unit. My little boys and I carry our fond memories of David forward into our future. He will always be a part of our lives, even though he is not here in person. I support Marie Curie whenever I can. I want other people to be the recipients of this utterly amazing service this charity provides. When Jonny and I married we asked for donations to the charity. I now donate on a monthly basis directly funding the nurses. I am wearing with my daffodil with pride as I write this, as I truly understand and endlessly value the Marie Curie Charity. Without them, and specifically my ‘Mary Poppin’s’ I really don’t think I would have come through this so well.

Sunday 19 February 2012

Time Out

It seems as parents we can do little right these days. The pressures of working to provide for your family, cooking a wholesome meal, helping with homework, doing all the other household chores and admin. Taking children to clubs, lessons and giving them social time with friends. And then of course quality time together as a family. That thing that we all feel so dreadfully guilty about because we feel we simply don not do enough of it. I do not condone taking children out of school without good reason, but like many parents I do take my children out at carefully selected times in order for us to spend some quality time together on holiday within a reasonable cost. For instance this coming Easter holiday I am taking my boys out (with authorisation) for two extra days. This knocked a huge £1000 off the price of our holiday and made it affordable. My children attend the most wonderful village school and with permission of the headmaster are permitted 10 days additional leave for family holidays and occasions etc. There are guidelines as to when this can be taken and it is certainly not taken for granted by any of the parents, but very much appreciated. Any decent parent never takes their child out of school for anything other than illness or the occasional holiday to spend some time together as a family away from the everyday pressures of life. There are indeed parents who do not ensure their children attend school and pay no attention to truancy. But I think this is an entirely separate and far more important issue to the odd family holiday. That is my general view of the situation. My personal circumstances are somewhat different to most, in that the father of my children passed away in 2009 after 2 years battling cancer; my boys were just 7 and 5 years old. We are very lucky in that we were left very well emotionally equipped and had time to prepare and we have coped well. We have rebuilt our lives with fond memories and since 2010 have had a wonderful new man in our lives. I am extremely happy to be remarried to the wonderful Jonny and my two little boys have the most amazing step-father whom they adore. We are so fortunate to have rebuilt a stable and strong family environment. However…..we are now a military family. My husband is currently posted overseas. The ability to take my children out of school on a small number of days a year allows us a family to spend much valued weekends together that we would otherwise be apart. With my business commitments, my husband’s work commitments finding dates for holidays are challenging to say the least. Due to our experiences of loss, experiencing what can be the harsh reality of life and being a single parent for the most part, hose times when we are together as a family are so cherished. A few days out of school in exchange for time with my husband and my two little boys ….. Seeing joy on their faces and watching them do boy-stuff with their step-dad after the sadness they have been through, well Mr Gove…for me it’s a no-brainer and I think as a government you have far more serious issues to tackle.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Full Steam Ahead....Baby Show!!!

That time of year again...Earls Court Baby Show looms large! Hard work but lots of fun, and creates a great team environment for us to share ideas. It is fantastic meeting our customers face to face and seeing all these tiny little bundles and rather large bumps! I wonder if anyone has ever gone into labour at a baby show? Must have surely? We are running a competition for free tickets worth £40....if you or anyone would like to enter then all you need to do is be a fan of our facebook page and follow instructions from there. Click to enter for Free Baby Show Tickets!

Sunday 11 September 2011

Every generation has a JFK moment...9/11 is ours

You don’t even have to ask anyone of my age where they were and what they were doing on 9/11….everyone simply offers up their actions and whereabouts in seconds. In my case I was 6 pregnant climbing up and down a ladder as we had no staircase. We were finishing off some home renovations in preparation for the arrival of our first child a few months later. My father was with me and getting very anxious about my ladder antics and firmly told me I was to stay either upstairs or downstairs. It was then that I went into the kitchen to put the kettle on and switched Sky News on. The rest of the day was spent watching the horrific events of the day unfold before my eyes live.

At the time of JFK the coverage available to the public was utterly incomparable as to what we are able to experience today. Our generation experienced the breath by breath unfolding of a man-made and premeditated catastrophe. It is the man-made element that strikes us in the heart so much. The fact that such an atrocious plot could be conceived and seen through. The fact that we can watch such calamitous events by the moment in our own homes shocks everyone and allows us to experience the event as opposed to simply reading about it and visualising the scene.

I read something earlier in the week that questioned our reaction to 9/11 and made comparisons to the Boxing Day Tsunami….the article (I don’t remember where) was rather critical of our overwhelming reaction to 9/11 when the tsunami killed far more people. But frankly the numbers killed are not the point of focus. It is how and why. I think the key element here is the cause. We are programmed to expect and accept ‘acts of god’ or ‘acts of nature’ as we call them. They are not things that we can control or prevent, but simply perhaps prepare and limit the consequences of. 9/11 was purely man-made. And it is that fact that is so awesomely frightening to us and so abhorrent hat a group of men can sit and patiently plan the massacre of thousands of innocent lives…and to achieve what? Yes they have terrorised the world and scarred the lives of many, but our resolve and strength remains. What did they actually achieve for their cause?

The main achievement in my eyes is the worldwide union of people and nations against these forces of evil. Our defiance to be brought down and to surrender our freedom. Our resilience and willingness to ensure our liberty and democracies live on, stronger than ever.

The wounds of untimely loss never truly go away. You simply learn to accept and cope, carrying the scars forevermore. I personally understand this.

The pools ‘Reflecting Absence’ at Ground Zero are a beautiful and fitting tribute to these losses. A subtle and touching way to embody the gaping holes left both physically and emotionally by the twin towers.

It is important to remember that 9/11 is also the beginning of the chain of decisions and events that have led to our troops being in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are still experiencing losses ultimately due to 9/11 in the here and now.

I travel reasonably frequently and have to say that when queued at airport security with two young boys having to remove half my clothing, my footwear, and get out my laptop and various other electrical items, I do often get rather harassed and tetchy…..9/11 is the reason why and I will do my very best to remember this on future occasions and use the time queuing to reflect on the loss of all those innocent lives.