Thursday, 26 February 2009

Falling behind!

Well so much for my ambitious 'plan for the week' in Monday's post. It is now a little after midnight Wednesday night and I still have most of Tuesday and Wednesday's tasks to complete. Good job I allocated Thursday as a 'mop up' day in case I fell behind! So the big tasks for tomorrow are to place a new order with Moulin Roty and start the marketing push. I think the web design bits and bobs will have to wait until next week.. I'd love to spend time working on a new design but it's simply not going to be possible this week. Ho hum...

Oh, one other thing - I am really happy that Cottontails has received a certificate to say thank you for our role in helping Pershore to attain status as a Fairtrade Town. Last year - when I seemed to have a little more free time - I used to attend meetings of the Fairtrade committee, and even had a little stall at an open day where I sold some lovely bits and bobs made from fairly traded cotton and provided a few cakes made from fairly traded ingredients. I am so pleased that all the hard work has paid off and that Pershore has now been given fairtrade status. (Well, I say 'hard work' - the truth of it is I spent most of the open day taking part in a 'can you tell the difference?' fair trade chocolate taste test! And yes I could tell the difference - if you have yet to buy and try the Divine brand of chocolate, do so as soon as possible - it is gorgeous!).

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

New photography

Just a little post today, it's been a long day and I'm off to bed soon... Had fun doing a bit of photography this morning before opening up the shop. I wanted some new photos to use for all the different Moulin Roty ranges, as such I took home a selection of toys last night and my spare bedroom became a makeshift photography studio. Here are a couple of the finished photos, and also a shot of the 'models' relaxing on my spare room bed!

Monday, 23 February 2009

A plan for the week...

Thought it might be a nice idea to write down a plan for the week ahead at Cottontails...

Monday: catch up on last week's figures, pay bills and send out orders from the weekend. Nothing too strenuous there, although I do hate doing finances! Also add all my new Moulin Roty products to the website... look out for these later on but for now here's a picture of little Leo teddy bear, one of the new guys!

Tuesday: make a start on a Big Website Marketing Push for Cottontails Baby; last week I spoke to two lovely friends who gave me lots advice on improving my natural position on Google and now all I need to do is put it all into action. Thank you to Sam and Amanda for all your advice! (By the way, Amanda runs a FABULOUS shop selling shoes for little feet - if you have tiny feet and fancy treating yourself, do have a look at the lovely Small Shoes and Things).

Wednesday: keep going with the marketing and get in touch with my website designer about a few 'tweaks'. (I rather fancy brightening up the website with a bit of red gingham, and want to change the navigation a little bit). Also place a new order with Moulin Roty and send out some press releases to magazines about forthcoming toys...

Thursday: early closing in the shop means I won't get quite as much done... think I'll just plough ahead with the web marketing stuff and leave the day unscheduled to deal with enquiries and so on.

Friday: sort out the clothes offering on the website which is seriously neglected and out of date. Start a clothes sale and add some new bits. Also tidying the shop ready for the weekend and just more of the above really. I'm sure that by the time we reach Friday lots more stuff will have cropped up anyway...

Saturday: need to check whether or not mum wants the day off... she normally works Saturdays for me (bless her) so I can have some time off, but I have a feeling she is due a weekend off!

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Sunday thoughts and making things..

This isn't strictly Cottontails related, but - inspired by a few friends on here - I have decided to have a go at making something! Who knows, maybe I will turn out to be a master toy maker and the Cottontails brand of soft toys will be born (!) but for now I simply want to have a play around with some of the faulty toys and imperfect bits and bobs of baby clothing I always seem to have lying around (see the pile of fabrics and the bunny with the poorly arm in the photo) and find out if I am capable of creating anything at all!

Also, using up leftover bits and bobs in this way seems to fit quite nicely with the current trend towards 'vintage materials', recycling and general thrifty thinking.

I have bought a sewing machine on eBay and a friend of my parents has shown me how to thread it up and so on (gosh, it's complicated!) so now all I have to do is sit down and make a start....

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

A Small Wardrobe

As I mentioned in my previous post I have spent a good part of today sorting through my new Moulin Roty order, and it has been a really lovely thing to do. There have been lots of new products and I think my overall favourite is 'La Petite Armoire', a sturdy cardboard wardrobe containing soft toy mouse and bunny and a whole array of lovely clothes for them to wear. It is delightful.

At £50 it is without doubt an expensive and special toy, but to my mind it is worth considering, and - as my previous posts reveal - I am writing as a woman living on a very tight budget indeed!

I am going to be writing more about this in the coming days and weeks - on here as well as letters all over the place - but I believe passionately in the concept of buying one or two special, enduring toys over a whole array of plastic, disposable stuff, and to my mind this lovely Moulin Roty play box is an ideal candidate..

For £50 you get two well made soft toy animals from one of the best contemporary toy makers in the world (a lovely little mouse and a bunny), a very solid and durable 'wardrobe' complete with lovely interior, coat hangers and little wooden hanging rail, and a fab selection of clothes for the little toys to wear. There is so much to do and play with and it is, undisputably, a toy to treasure. In this one package there is so much potential for creative play - and what a lovely item to keep, and to remember your little one playing with.

There is no doubt about it, we are knee deep in a recession and we all have to tighten our belts, but I honestly believe (and this is something I feel SO passionately about) that we are better off spending what little money we do have on one or two really special items, rather than buying a selection of stuff we might chuck in the bin next week.

As I say, I am going to write more about this because it is something I really believe in. But for now this lovely Moulin Roty toy is a super example of the kind of thing I am thinking about!

Lovely new products

Having emerged from the dark tunnel of financial matters I am having my first proper week back in the shop and I am so happy to be here! I have just been unpacking two enormous boxes of goodies from Moulin Roty and am absolutely thrilled with all the new products they are launching this year. Pictured is a gorgeous bird rattle from their new Balthazar & Valentine range - isn't he gorgeous? To my mind he is absolutely 'of the moment' in terms of his colour and fabrics, and that lovely mixture of classic and quirky. I am going to be sending a picture over to Country Living in the next few minutes, I am determined to get something into their Emporium over the summer!

There are a couple of other wonderful new product ranges to mention but I'll save them until later today and create a bit of anticipation..!

Monday, 16 February 2009

Missing in Action

Oh dear. It's been weeks. Weeks. A very serious case of Blog Neglect. I am sorry.

(Hanging head in shame)

There have been several reasons for the abandonment:

1. Christmas (well, a few days off in December is fair enough)
2. I was on holiday - my lovely boyfriend took me away for a week in the sun over the New Year
3. An extended period of financial worry

And it is of course number three that has been the main culprit.

Back to early January...

I returned from holiday vaguely aware that my finances were a bit of a shambles and that the whole tax return thing was looming, but I honestly had no idea how bad things were. Having had a few 'terse words' with Mike on holiday about the state of my finances, I arrived home determined to Sort Things Out, and, having landed late on the Friday night, by the Saturday lunchtime I was immersed in sales reports, till receipts and invoices. But the more I looked, the worse it became.

I won't go into the details here - more through embarrassment than matters of financial confidentiality - but the weeks which followed were among the most frightening of my life, the essence of things being that a) I am broke and b) I owe an awful lot of money.

It's very frightening to be a small business owner during such times. Okay, I have my lovely mother to help me in the shop (and she is absolutely wonderful!) but, when it comes to the serious stuff like paying bills and tax returns, I am, essentially, on my own. And it is this sense of isolation and not knowing where to turn for help that has really floored me over the past few weeks. In fact, every time I did consult a 'professional' for advice, I came away feeling more confused and alarmed than I did before I spoke to them!

However, there is a (sort of) happy ending to this story... After weeks of trying hard not to face my (very scary) financial responsibilities, I finally concluded that the only way forward was to a) spend hours and hours (and hours and hours) catching up on all the paperwork and figures that I really should have been doing for the past two years, and then b) declare everything to the relevant authorities.

And do you know, it has been strangely liberating to do so. For over a month now I have been diligently working away at figures while my mother has handled the shop. And whilst at times I could have cried with frustration (and indeed have done - just ask my boyfriend and parents!) it has, on the whole, been quite a cathartic experience.

As things stand - as of today - I am completely up to date in financial matters - so much so that I feel 'free enough' to write this entry tonight. Don't misunderstand me, I have a long way to go to dig myself out of The Hole (and, let's face it, it's not exactly a very hospitable climate in which to be facing financial difficulties) but I feel absolutely certain that everything is going to be okay. I love Cottontails, I love my job, and I am going to do absolutely everything I can to manage and develop a successful business throughout the rest of 2009.

So that is my update. I am really sorry again that it has been so long coming, but believe me, you wouldn't have wanted to be party to what has been going though my head over the past six weeks!

ps Thank you to all the people who sent lovely messages when I disappeared, and I promise - promise! - I won't do it again.

pps Hope you like the photo - it is a Maileg bunny holding my VAT paperwork (note the late payment penalty!)