30 May 2012

Dragged into the 21st Century (and it’s not that bad)

Isn’t it amazing how a little bit of knowledge goes a long way?  And how people with that little bit of knowledge try to persuade the rest of us that what they do is a Black Art that only they can do, and you should pay them lots of money to do it for you?

And yes I did buy into that and believed that creating a website was dang hard and I would have to pay an IT professional a whole lot of money to create one for me.  Wrong!  In keeping with the recent development of Techno-savvy women helping me, the fabulous Kim from Catwalk Bengals (from whom we obtained Calypso), told me that she had developed her website herself.  Have a look – it’s a lovely site – www.catwalkbengals.com. 

So with Kim’s assistance I am now in the building and development stage of our own website.  And what do you know – it’s not so hard after all.  Once you’ve been pointed in the right direction with some handy tips it’s pretty easy and actually a bit of fun.  I’ve been taking yet more photos – not helped when I sell the stuff I’ve just photographed, but lucky we have plenty more on the way.  And I’m going to have to just get the site online with a selection of stock and keep adding to it every week.  If I wait until I have lots and lots of things photographed for the site then I could wait for a long time before having the website go live, so I’ll start off small and then grow it every week.  How excitement!  It will be happening in the next week or two.  You’ll hear it first here, naturally.

Meanwhile, things are really variable in the shop right now.  When we average out the month since we’ve been back from our buying trip it turns out every week has been excellent.  But that’s because some weeks were really excellent and some were just good.  The accountant says you’re supposed to judge how your business is going by looking at quarterly figures, or at least monthly, but I can’t help looking at them on a day to day basis, or at least week to week.  But such are the vagaries of retail that this approach will do your head in, so I decided to listen to the accountant – I know she’ll be amazed to hear this – and have looked at the Big Picture instead of practically monitoring things minute-by-minute.  And wow, that approach makes you feel much better because the Big Picture is actually pretty good.  So I shall stop sweating the minutia and look more broadly from now on – much better for my state of mind.

On the moggie front, I have now updated everyone except Mischka’s mug shots for the Blog and you can see what a lovely lot they have grown to be.  Mischka will be done later this week, once I can get her to stop being so schmoozy every time I go near her, and have her sit still for her portrait.  Her theory is that if you’re within paw reach you must be wanting a cuddle or to rub her belly or be sat on, so she obliges whenever you come near.  And that makes it quite a challenge to take her photograph with her sitting still and posing nicely.  But we’ll get there.  We continue to have heaps of fun with the Gang and are very glad to have these little creatures in our lives.  Calypso turned nine months old this week, and this appears to be the teenage stage for cats, so she’s going through an I’m a Big Girl Now and You’re Not the Boss of Me phase.  To which the answer is No You’re Not and Yes I Am.  Her attitude seems to be infectious, though, with all of them except Artemis getting a bit bolshie lately.  Even good boy Klaatu has had a rat in his head, with naughty behaviour in the shop and fluffing up and doing that archy-back sideways running thing that idiot cats sometimes do.  Still, it is funny to watch.  Artemis hasn’t been naughty, but has taken to chasing her tail in amazingly fast circles until she falls down.  Maybe it’s the change of seasons, or maybe they’ve all just got Full Moon Jitters.

OMG I can’t believe how long it takes to properly photograph and catalogue things for the website.  I’ve photographed quite a lot of jewellery today – or so I thought until I saw how much it actually came to on the site.  But as I said, I’ll put a selection on the website and just keep updating it.  This is the start of a new era for us, and we’re looking forward to it. 

And oh no!  Today I sold a giant French linen sheet that I had been using as a privacy screen in the shop.  I have walls of glass along two sides of the shop, and my desk is situated such that on Market Days the cafĂ© next door has tables and chairs right next to me.  If I didn’t have my privacy screen I could practically join in the conversations of whoever is sitting immediately on the other side of the glass from me.  But some of these French sheets are big enough to turn into curtains, and that’s just what I did.  So then I sold my privacy screen sheet, but ha! I have another giant French linen sheet.  But oh no, I sold that today as well!  I’ve sold no sheets for ages (not helped by the fact that I didn’t actually display them for sale), but nonetheless sharp-eyed customers will not be thwarted so I sold two in one day.  So now I have to go ratting through my French linen box – first find the French linen box and then go ratting through it – to find a new privacy screen.  How inconvenient it is when customers buy your stock!

25 May 2012

As Seen on Downton Abbey

I’m feeling particularly triumphant and pleased with myself this week.  I watched the first episode of Series 2 of Downton Abbey and saw a whole bunch of the same type of things that I bought on our April buying trip featured in various scenes.  I always tape this show so I can watch it with my remote’s Pause button at the ready, the better to examine the jewellery, crockery, kitchenware and props in general. 

This time I had the added pleasure, having visited Highclere Castle during our October buying trip last year, in being able to identify the various rooms and know how they look in real life – not as good as they do in the show, I must say.  That hideous avocado green bath in the one bathroom in the entire place that I mentioned in one of my October trip’s Blogs still hasn’t been featured on the show, which is hardly a surprise because it must rate up there among The World’s Most Ugliest Baths.  I’m giving you the inside goss in letting you know that the nice white enamel claw-foot bath they occasionally show Her Ladyship bathing in is nothing like the real deal in Highclere Castle, which should have been ditched for something more elegant many years ago.

Edwardian jewellery is dang hard to come by, but I bought a couple of lovely pieces in April (that are already sold) that would have held their own with the pieces worn by the gels on the show.  It’s a pity I couldn’t get any more on this trip, but it’s beautiful and was massively popular and sought-after even before people started to see it on the series and want it.  A bit of television exposure always hikes up the prices, so my challenge is to think about possible trends before they happen and get in on the ground floor.  I’ll certainly be hunting for more during our September trip.

The excellent news from watching the series was the amount of Victorian and Edwardian stoneware items used in the kitchen scenes.  I bought up big on the stoneware front this trip, and it was an experiment and a risk because I’ve not bought these types of items before and therefore have no real idea of how they’ll be received.  So I was glad to see that such things are considered good enough to be used as props on Downton Abbey.  These pieces are going to make a great window display when they arrive, and I’ll team them with some French copper and colourful French enamelware I think.  With any luck it’s only about three weeks until the shipment arrives in the shop, and I’m already planning some spiffy looking window displays.

Meanwhile, this week in the shop window we’ve gone all green and orange.  Sounds an odd colour combination, but in fact the tones are muted and the materials range from kimono silk cushions, to Victorian green glass tumblers to French metalware and also a very nice old copper ship’s lamp.  The overall effect is quite striking, I reckon, and lots of people are already stopping to look at the display, which is always a good sign.  Or maybe it’s a sign that they think I’m horribly colour-blind.  But I prefer to think they are totally admiring, so we’re going with that.

I’ve started photographing a selection of stock for inclusion in the eShop, and boy what a job that is!  Makes you realise how much stock you have once you have to photograph every last thing – not that I’m doing that, but even a selection of stock is turning out to be a big job.  And I’m on a steep learning curve about the benefits of different background colours, how flash can help or hinder a shot and lighting in general, the right angle to best display an item, etc, etc.  It’s heaps of work already, as I anticipated and therefore resisted until now, but the time is fast approaching when we shall make our foray into cyberspace.

Calypso has been my totally-in-the-way photographer’s assistant today, and of course I couldn’t help but photograph her as well, so now I have to update her Blog photo.  She’s grown so much lately and is looking more beautiful all the time.  Tomorrow Klaatu is Shop Manager, and I think I’ll update his Mug Shot as well.  He’s always stealing the manager’s chair when I’m not looking, and he looks lovely with his glossy black coat and big amber eyes against the forest green of the chair, so I’m sure I can produce a handsome portrait of him as well.  Watch this space.

And when the new shipment arrives (and you shall be the first to hear of it) come and look at my Downton Abbey window, if you have the chance.

17 May 2012

What To Do When The Cosmos Comes Kicking

You know when stuff suddenly happens out of the blue, and you know it’s stuff that you should have paid attention to earlier but didn’t and now the Cosmos is giving you a kick up the bum to get your act together?  This week the Cosmos has been kicking hard. 

Someone I haven’t seen for two years walked into the shop - the fabulous Julie, who is an IT professional and who assures me that she can help me put together an eShop attached to this Blog site.  And the very next day someone else who I haven’t seen for two years but who can help me turn my ideas for the branding of the eShop into a reality - the fabulous Julz, also walked into the shop.  And I had my ideas ready and waiting, so she’s gone off with my amateur-hour drawings to see if she can turn them into the spiffy end-product that’s in my mind’s eye.  And a few days later someone I see all the time - the fabulous Kim, also walked into the shop.  Not such a dramatic entrance as Wow I haven’t seen you for two years!, but still a welcomed sight, and Kim told me she could help me get a Facebook business page launched. 

So hurrah for technically literate women turning up en masse and shirt-fronting me about getting my electronic act together and okay Cosmos, I’m listening and shall work towards an eShop sooner than later.  A website will come in due course, but in the meantime whenever I have spare cash it goes towards the next buying trip, and Blog shops and Facebook shops are significantly cheaper than full-on websites.

On the downside, trying to get a business page up and running on Facebook sucks!  Whoever said this was easy?  I know I am a techno-numpty, but really it’s not very easy to get a business page operational and looking nice, so the ever patient Kim has gone away to think about how we can best get it done, in a way that someone like me (techno-numpty) can maintain without becoming bald through repeated hair-tearing.

And while I’m bitching about websites like Facebook presuming a certain level of technical knowledge that I in no way possess, who knew you could do so much with a Blog shop?  Not me, and I gained zero insight via Blogspot’s tutorial pages, so thank goodness someone who knows what she’s talking about came back into my life.

In defence of my slackness on the eShop issue, I had created this Blog and so have something for Julie to work with.  And I had drawn up my ideas for branding and so have something for Julz to work with.  And I’ve got plenty of nice things to photograph in the shop and so have way too much for Kim to work with.  So I haven't been entirely inert, just mostly.  I have been in danger of being left behind on the techno-literacy front, and in fact I suspect I have been well and truly left behind, so now I have a whole lot of catching up to do.  Or I could just hire someone, I suppose.  It might come to that, but for now we shall proceed with caution and see what us gels can come up with.  As soon as I have a Facebook and/or Blog shop it will be announced here first, naturally.

11 May 2012

Sunshine on Australia's Sunshine Coast

How nice is it when the sun is shining, the sky is cornflower blue, the breezes are cool and light, and the beach is almost empty except for you?  Even the water is a pleasant temperature right now, and walking along the beach in lovely weather at 9.00am on a week day is good for your soul.  I don’t mind it when it’s cold and windy and raining either, but it’s so pleasant to have a morning stroll and get a bit of sand between your toes.  And then in the evenings it’s turning cold and we’ve lit fires every night for the last week, so the house is snug and cosy.  Autumn and winter are the best times of year on the Sunshine Coast, I reckon.

And then into the shop, where we’ve been amazingly busy since we’ve been back.  We’ve sold masses of jewellery, French pictures, French copper, Deco glass, antiquities, most of the wooden textile spools are now gone, heaps of the Ming pottery shards have been snapped up, books and cutlery.  I’ve taken the opportunity of turning some of the Roman carnelian beads into a few necklaces, and the benefit of valuing adding like this means that customers can wear them straight away, without having to source the materials to make them into necklaces and then go to the effort themselves.  So far in two weeks I’ve sold a bit over half of the carnelian beads I managed to source, so now we’ll see how turning them into necklaces goes.

All the big French keys are now buffed and in the shop, plus two of the French tailors’ scissors.  We’ve started to frame the latest batch of French advertisements and boy they look good.  You’ve got to wonder why companies don’t advertise using such stylish images these days, because people liking them enough to hang on their walls is surely great advertising. 

All the moggies have settled back in to their Shop Manager roles, and their various fan clubs have been calling by to say hello.  There is usually a strong reaction to Calypso with first-time visitors, but a few people in the last week have said Is that a cat? when they’ve seen her.  I didn’t know how to reply at first – what the hell did they think she is? – but now I say No, it’s a special sort of fish.  Let the dumb-arses think about that.  Calypso has decided she doesn’t like small children bodging her in the face – and why should she? – so she’s taken to hissing at them if they go beyond their welcome and bodge for too long.  Why do parents just stand their and watch their children be rough with animals?  The other moggies turn their backs or walk off if they tire of people, but Calypso seems to feel that the ones who move away should be the ones annoying her, not her.  She’s such a cuddly, schmoozy girl in all other situations, but I must say her hiss is very effective even on whole groups, with everyone taking a step back when she decides enough is enough.  Go girl!  She never bites or scratches, never ever, but she does give fair warning that she’s capable of doing it if you’re too rough and don’t back off.

On the home front we’re still working our way through the myriad television shows that our house sitters taped for us.  Up-to-date now with StarTrek Next Generation, and just have Voyager to go (yes, I’m a StarTrek geek and my insidious influence is finally getting Doug interested as well), I’m up-to-the-minute with Revenge, and now I’m working through Stargate Universe.  Not so many shows to look at, but when you’re away for five weeks it’s amazing how often they seem to be on.  At least I haven’t missed the second series of Downton Abbey – it was on in England while we were there last October but I didn’t watch it because I knew I couldn’t see the whole series – and it appears it will be shown in Australia soon.  Having toured Highclere Castle during our October trip it will be fun to watch the show again, to see if we recognize the different rooms.

I’ve also finished the latest Joe Abercrombie book – he’s turning into one of my favourite authors, plus the first book by Daniel Abraham, who I think I will be following as long as he’s writing.  I’m waiting for the final Wheel of Time book, which I think will be published next January, and goodness knows when the next George R.R. Martin book will be out.  In theory I would like to be a professional writer, but I have no imagination I’m afraid, so I’m consigned to waiting impatiently for others to get their acts together and produce books I want to read.

This weekend in Eumundi is the Body Art Festival, which will be interesting but won’t do anything for our sales.  We’ve been through three Body Art Festivals during our time in the shop, so we can say with some surety that mostly naked gels covered in paint and middle-aged men with cameras aren’t our demographic.  Some of the body art is very splendid, and there are some talented artists out there.  But this Festival just doesn’t draw people interested in doing much beyond gawking at mostly naked gels covered in paint so I expect sales will be down for the fourth year in a row this weekend.  Oh well, lucky last week was seriously good.  Roll on Woofstock (the Dog Festival later in the year), which draws crowds from a wide cross-section of the community and is great for our sales.

04 May 2012

When Good Ambushes Go Bad

It’s good to be home, back into the heart of Moggie Mayhem.  Everyone lost weight while we were away, except for Calypso who is growing into a solid little miss.  She’s just turned 8 months old, and is coming into her own in terms of power and confidence.  The rest of the gang turn into idiot kittens around her, and there is a great deal of galumphing about the house, crashing and bashing into things.  So much for Feline Grace – unheard of at our house.  Calypso is still perfecting her ambushing skills, though, and has varying degrees of success.  A notable attempt this week involved an excellent start, in that she was able to leap out unexpectedly behind all three of the others and scare the bejesus out of them.  However, everyone fluffing up and madly running off in turn scared the bejesus out of her, so she fluffed up and ran in the opposite direction.  So it was a short-lived triumph, but she’ll get there.

Meanwhile, we’ve been back in the shop for a week and a half now, and things are going really well.  We’ve sold lots of the new jewellery (lucky there is plenty more where that came from), many of the Ming Dynasty pendants, about a third of the Roman bronze medical instruments, an Egyptian 30th Dynasty necklace, a few of the car mascots, plus a variety of the Deco glass and ceramics that were already on the shelves.  Now begins the impatient wait for the new shipment to arrive – six weeks to go until we can restock the shelves.

There is still framing to be done of the vintage French magazine covers and advertisements, plus buffing to be done of the big French keys, the enormous tailors’ shears, and the French Art Nouveau carving knives we’ve brought back.  We’ve got lots of French stuff – and in fact did our best buying ever at the Porte de Vanves markets.  And seeing how we brought back all that lovely French ticking, we really need to get our act together and get that French child’s sleigh bed sorted and into the shop.  So there are lots of things to do, in addition to all the preparation that goes into description and price tags for the new stock.  We’ll be busy, but it’s hardly overwhelming stuff, which is good because there is plenty of landcare that needs to be done at our place.

In keeping with our rule that something new must come into the shop every day, today we have two French magazine advertisements, and a copper ship’s lamp.  The lamp is from a trawler, and somewhat smaller (also somewhat cheaper) than the ones we’ve had in the past, and we’ve had it electrified for modern use so it will look lovely in the window.  The advertisements are really striking and one of them – advertising the 1924 Paris Airshow – has taken almost four years to hunt down.  It’s very satisfying to know that something exists and hunt and hunt and finally find it. 

Meanwhile, at LAST I have got my hands on the DVDs of Series 1 of The Game of Thrones, which is the television adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s series The Song of Ice & Fire (one of my favourite book series).  The Game of Thrones is Book 1.  The series was shown in America last year and it’s taken a year for the DVDs to become available.  Amazingly, they were significantly cheaper to buy locally than off the HBO website, so we settled in for a GoT-a-thon at our house this week. 

I was very happy with what they had done to adapt the book to television – though I knew a bit of what was coming by looking at the website – but I was surprised at the amount of sex.  Sex and violence feature throughout these books, but boy there’s a lot in the TV series.  I did wonder how they would transfer a character’s internal narrative – or just plain writer’s narrative – that of course features in books as characters rationalise their own behaviour to themselves.  And there’s a lot of narrative – internal and otherwise – in these books in particular.  In the TV series they seem have to decided that characters will instead speak out loud (rather than to themselves in their heads) when rationalising their actions, and how best to do that than via a sex scene?  Naturally.  There was one scene of lesbian antics that most definitely isn’t in the book, and the gels are having fun in the background as one of the characters explains his behaviour.  And when the scene finished I said to Doug, So now you know where’s he’s coming from, and Doug said What?  He didn’t hear a single thing being said.  So much for effective narrative.

So this is the shortest Blog I’ve ever done, I think.  But there’s not much to report this week except that we’re back, we’re through the jetlag phase, and we’re selling heaps of things.  The friends who help style the window are back in action with me, and this week we’ve gone all Bling for Mother’s Day.  Vintage French jewellery is pretty hard to walk by (and I should know), but this time I also have a number of excellent American pieces by Trifari and Sphinx in particular, so the vintage jewellery collectors should be happy with my haul this time.