the fam

the fam

Friday, 22 July 2011

Little fish in a big pond (part 2)

After being made redundant for the 4th time (yes 4th!), Steve and I decided it was now or never to start a business of our own. Neither of us had a penny to our name but was that going to stop us? Nope, not one bit. Looking back I wonder if I had seriously lost the plot at this point....not many businesses begin with 17pence in the kitty! To be honest, we didn't have much choice but to give it a go so we tried out some 'craft markets'. Now, I say 'craft market' but it was actually more like a few bric-a-brac stands with us in the middle. We had to get up at 5am every Wednesday and Thursday to travel and set up our pitch, then try our best not to get hypothermia and sell something...anything! One miserably cold day when we took it in turns to warm our hands under the driers in the public loos, we spent £12 on a pitch and took £5.
Looking startled in a photo from a local paper fo Belvoir Craft Fair!
 One good thing to come out of these trips was meeting our good friend Twiggy (he sold decorative twigs amongst his beautiful wooden creations) who pointed us in the direction of some 'real' craft events. We started fairly locally but then we discovered a wonderful company in Norfolk called Eastern Events who held fairs in East Anglia and beyond. We moved out of the garden shed and into a unit out in the countryside behind a pub (not as great as it sounds!), then we found a lovely unit in an old malthouse much closer to home (we're still there). It looked like things were really looking up for us...unfortunately, Lady Luck really didn't seem to like us very much at all! We began to wonder if we would ever make this business a success...

Our stand at various craft fairs
 Vehicles for one, were a major headache. As we were travelling bigger distances, we decided to buy a transit van. That way, we cut out the cost of hiring and could easily fit all of our stand and stock in the back. Sorted! Van number one (we called her Rosie) got squashed by a lorry in a country lane. Van number two had it's engine stolen on the morning of a fair. Van number three's engine fell in half and had to be replaced with a new engine before we could travel home...we ended up staying a week in a hotel while it was being fixed. By now we were a little fed up so we went back to hiring...the van got broken into and our tools were stolen.

Next, the shows themselves didn't always go to plan. Several shows cancelled due to foot and mouth disease, another one flooded, the next had no customers due to the petrol crisis. One show during a heatwave and no one wanted to enter the marquee, another so cold and wet, the electrics failed. Some shows simply failed because the customers weren't interested..arrived on a bus, bought an ice cream and went home again or they just didn't seem to 'get' what we did...
Customer: "What is it?"
Me: "It's a cupboard"
Customer: "What does it do?"
Me: " put things in it..." (what do you expect it to do?? Put on a funny hat and do a little dance?!)
But there were some good bits...we met some brilliant talented designer/makers along the way and we started to pick up loyal customers and trade contacts. I was also featured as 'Creative Person' in the now defunct Inspirations gave us a real boost.

'Creative Person' feature in Inspirations magazine
However, things were still a struggle at times. We knew deep down that if we could just show our work to right type of customer, it would sell. Rather than give up, we were more determined than never to make a success of our business. So in 2004, we took the plunge...spent a huge amount of money on a stand at Country Living Spring Fair and re-launched as Giddy Kipper
It turned out to be a brilliant decision! People flocked to the stand, were interested in what we were making and talked to us enthusiastically...we sold heaps of products! We also took plenty of orders, trade orders and spoke to magazines...finally, we were heading in the right direction - Giddy Kipper had made a big splash at last!! We continued to show at Country Living Spring and Christmas fairs for the next 4 years with similar success. (unfortunately, I can't find our CL fair photos but will keep looking and post at a later date)

Feature in local magazine The Journal
In 2006, we received a phonecall that was also to have a big impact on our business. Holly Tucker had seen our work at Country Living Fairs and wondered if we would be interested in signing up to hers and fellow founder member Sophie Cornish's new venture called
Several phonecalls later and we were on board and we saw our sales continue to grow. So much so that by 2008, we had to give up all fairs and concentrate on the online sales and trade alone!

We are extremely proud of what we've achieved and although it has been a long, slow process, we now have a successful business through lots of hard work and sheer determination. Our turnover has quadrupled in the last few years and we now have two members of staff and are looking for a third this Christmas. We were nominated for a Wedding Ideas award 2011 in the Best Special Touches category, making it to the final 5 amd only losing out to the huge wedding specialist company, Confetti and were also in the final 6 for Best Customer Service and shortlisted for Creative Business of the Year in the Make Awards 2011. Our press coverage has been impressive too - even though it has mostly been through my ham-fisted attempts at PR, it seems to have paid off!
Country Living magazine, Ideal Home, Coast & Junior - a small selection of our press coverage
 Giddy Kipper is continuing to thrive and we love what we do despite the stress of running a small business and the challenges we continually face...that big pond now looks a whole lot smaller.


  1. Lovely post Giddy, good to hear I'm not the only one done some dodgy fairs.

  2. Fantastic post Heidi, lovely to see the background to the lovely kippers!!
    Just amazing, I think you're fab and you know I'm a massive fan of your products... especially as they are all over both my house, my parents and parents in law!!

  3. Great post. I love hearing how other businesses get underway x

  4. Thanks! It's been a bit of a slog but we're getting somewhere now!! Just hope it gives another small business some guts to carry on.

  5. This is a brilliant post and really inspiring! Thanks so much for sharing your story :)

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