Friday, 26 February 2010

Ernest and Humphrey - day one

At first Humphrey was a little shy and tried to hide behind Ernest...

But it wasn't long before they were the best of friends....

A few rounds of Moulin Roty's Memory Game together...

...and Humphrey even offered Ernest a nibble of his corn on the cob. Now THAT'S bunny friendship.

They're supposed to have settled down for the night now but I'm sure I can hear shenanigans upstairs.

Not sure yet what we'll be up to tomorrow. I'm off to the hairdressers in the morning and am tempted to take Ernest with me, but I've not been there before and there's the outside possibility that they might think I'm a bit mad if I turn up with a rooster...?

(And for anyone reading this who doesn't have a clue what I am on about, Ernest is a little soft toy rooster traveling around on his 'gap year' staying with various host families... He set off from his home at The Hen House about a month ago and Cottontails is is fourth port of call. If you would like him to come to you next, just leave a comment on this blog post - or any other Ernest blog post - saying that you'd like him to visit, and I will draw names out of a hat at the end of his stay with me.)

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Guess who has arrived at Cottontails!

He came in a special delivery box....

...packed in a lovely cream traveling case....

...He peeped out his beak....

It's Ernest! He's here!

Well it didn't take him long to make himself at home and ask for a cup of tea (in MY chicken mug, I might add)

Meanwhile, in a bedroom not too far away, Humphrey and his little friend Sylvain have no idea who has just entered the building.

I'll let you know what happens when they meet in the morning....

(And for anyone reading this who doesn't have a clue what I am on about, Ernest is a little soft toy rooster traveling around on his 'gap year' staying with various host families... He set off from his home at The Hen House about a month ago and Cottontails is is fourth port. If you would like him to come to you next, just leave a comment on this blog post - or any other Ernest blog post - and I will draw names out of a hat at the end of his stay with me.)

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Spring Fair and buying stock

I've been meaning to write a post for a couple of weeks about buying stock... Customers quite often ask me where I get my stock from and probably about half of it is sourced through trade fairs.

A trade fair is kind of like shopping on a giant scale. Manufacturers and wholesalers display samples of their goods for retailers to look at and order from - but it's not quite as simple as that as there are usually certain 'rules'. For example, most manufacturers are quite choosy about who they will and won't supply, and certainly won't supply more than one shop in the same town, a lot won't supply Internet-only businesses plus there are often hefty minimum orders so you have to be prepared to spend several hundred pounds. Moreover a lot of what is on display won't actually be available for several months so you have to try and plan ahead. I find the whole thing quite daunting to be honest, and it is so easy to get carried away!

Perhaps the biggest trade fair in the UK is Spring Fair at the NEC in February. It is spread over numerous halls and lasts for five days - I think you could probably go every day and still not see everything.

I used to go for a couple of days and spend ages wandering around looking for inspiration, but now I am much more focused and just pop up for an afternoon to visit the suppliers I particularly want to see. I save inspiration-hunting for less overwhelming situations.

When I went this year - just a couple of weeks ago - I had my afternoon all planned out and kept it to just three suppliers (plus a couple of pit-stops for coffees and muffins). Two of these were companies which I've been 'eyeing up' for quite a while but which are brand new to Cottontails (more about them soon) and the third was Moulin Roty, who had such a lovely stand - just like a gorgeous Moulin Roty shop really!

I took some photos on my phone so the quality isn't great, but it's nice to get an idea...

Here is the stand - you can tell how big it is from how tiny the rocking horses look, standing on the top shelves:

This is one of their wooden baby toys - it's really nice to be able to wheel things around and try them out:

This is a new range of soft toy bunnies which come in their own gift boxes - and they really are soft toys, very floppy and tactile. I think Humphrey might want one.

And this is me brandishing a Moulin Roty garden rake! We have a LOT of gardening goodies due any day now....

Oooh, before I go... I wrote a couple of weeks ago about Ernest, the soft toy rooster who is currently making his way around 'Blogland', and am delighted to announce that he is coming to stay at Cottontails for the week! His last 'host' emailed me last night to say he is on his way so I am half expecting him to arrive tomorrow. As soon as I hear a pecking at the door I'll let you know!

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Humphrey's film debut...

This is a bit of an experiment - I made a tiny film of Humphrey in the garden today and am hoping I can upload it here.

Goodness knows if it will work....

Well, I think it works... Any comments telling me one way or the other would be most appreciated...

Am now off to write a screenplay.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Moulin Roty toys / things to do

Just a quickie - thought some mums out there might find this funny, it is one mother's letter to her children regarding school holiday etiquette:

It's very funny!

On the subject of school holidays, here are few 'things to do' kits we have for sale at Cottontails:

This is a lovely paper cut-out-and-dress up doll and bunny kit (£7.00):

This one is a kit to make your own doll's clothes (£21):

And this is a complete kit to make your own working wooden windmill (£31.50) - other toys are available too...

Friday, 12 February 2010

Humphrey and Mole

Mole: Say Humphrey, that was an awfully serious post Charlotte wrote last night, about customer service and things
Humphrey: Hmmm, she's been in a serious mood all week
Charlotte: Oi, you two, I am a serious business woman you know
Humphrey: (snorts)
Mole: (giggles)
Humphrey: Anyway Mole, get your snout out of my hay...

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Saying sorry, making amends..

I'm not sure how many of you have been watching the Hidden Eloise / Paperchase debacle unfold on Twitter and various other social media today, but I think it's it's been fascinating.. In essence, an independent artist, Hidden Eloise, claims that Paperchase have a) plagiarised some of her work, and b) all but ignored her when she brought it to their attention. She has twittered about her experience, the story has gained a following and traveled around the world like wildfire today, as readers are stirred by the injustice of the matter.

The reason it has caught my eye - apart from stirring my own sense of injustice and the incredible power of social networking - is the articles and speculation around how Paperchase should and could handle this 'PR disaster'. I read a really interesting article suggesting that the best way forward would be a heartfelt apology and a 'what can we do to make up for this' approach. Judging by their statement issued earlier today that's not really the route they are taking - this sounds more like worry over losing customers than any genuine sense of concern or regret regarding the artist:

"Above all, we would like to apologise to any customers upset or angered by this allegation against us."

Anyway, why am I writing about this you might be thinking, and there is a reason. You see, within the last few days I have decided to try taking a genuinely concerned, helpful and apologetic tone to any customers who aren't totally happy with any aspect of anything at Cottontails. And to really mean it you know? Not just to grit my teeth and bear it when people want to send things back for example, but to be as helpful and friendly and concerned as I can possibly be - to see it as an opportunity to help someone rather than an inconvenience to myself.

It was kind of sparked off when my first phone call of the week, on Monday morning, was from a lady who wanted to return a couple of toys because there were a few problems with them. Not a great start to the the week and I'll be honest, my heart sank. So whilst I was polite and efficient in telling her how to return them and so on, I perhaps didn't hide my disappointment / frustration very well. (It's hard for a small business, having to absorb things like this). Afterwards I felt rotten. I even tried to call her back and say I'm sorry if I didn't sound happier - imagine that, probably not the sort of service you'd get from many retailers! Because the thing is, she was 100% right - the things I sell are expensive and of course she should expect perfection - of course she should, and anything less than that is up to me to sort out.

As it is I have done everything I can and will be sending her a little extra with her replacements to make up for the problems... And I feel good about it now. I hope she will be happy and will remember the experience and that, ultimately we'll both feel good.

So that's my little change in approach this week - to try and truly, meaningfully do everything I can for any customer who is not 100% happy. It's very free-ing and satisfying to say a genuine 'sorry' and to be absolutely as helpful as you can be, even at a cost to yourself.

I'll let you know how I get on (and hope this won't turn Cottontails into some kind of Marks and Spencer where everyone sends everything back all the time!!) As it is I get very, very few returns as the things we sell are of such great quality - which is why I'm not in the habit of handling problems I suppose?

Gosh, this is a serious post. Something more fun tomorrow I promise, with a few toys thrown in...


Since I wrote this post last week I have done all I can to resolve things with the lady I mentioned (the one who had some problems with her toys), and yesterday I received this lovely email from her:

Dear Charlotte,

Many thanks for all your help, received everything today including the lovely little mouse!

The Prncess and the Pea was for my daughter but I love it just as much!

Thank you again for being so thoughful, I will use your company again.

I am just so pleased she is happy, and that 'doing the right thing' has had such positive results. Hooray!

Humphrey here...

Hello, it's Humphrey here.

I've decided to write as mummy is a bit busy. She is flapping and sighing and muttering a lot this week. I think she is a bit stressed. As you can see I am even having to man (rabbit) the phones.

She promises to write in the next couple of days with details and photos of her trip to the Spring Fair, and with details of a lovely lavender giveaway she has received from Sue over at Our New Life In the Country.

Love Humphrey

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Have you met Ernest?

I just have to tell you about a lovely little rooster who is making his way around 'blogland' at the moment.
Penny over at The Hen House has a little soft toy chicken who she has sent off to travel the country on his 'gap year'. First she ran a little competition to name him - Ernest - then he was packed off on his travels a couple of weeks ago. This week he is staying with the people over at Mutterings on the Moor where he has been meeting some real chickens, learning to sew and having a tea party with some soft toy chums (can you spot the Moulin Roty toys?)

If you would like Ernest to come and stay with you, all you have to do is put in a request to his latest host family, names are usually pulled out of the hat at the end of the week I think. I am desperate for him to come and stay with me - I want to introduce him to Moulin Roty's Felicie hen, I think we might have a romance on our hands when they meet!

Humphrey is a bit suspicious of all this excitement over a chicken, and has asked me to finish the post on with a rabbit picture. So, especially for Humphrey, here Felicie's bunny friend, Sylvain.

Okay now Humphrey?