Pitching Up for Not On The High Street

noths-logoLast week I drove the 80 miles to Leicester to pitch to Not On The High Street. It was an interesting although sadly unsuccessful experience. The event was held at St Martin’s House, a converted grammar school in the heart of the city.

Attendees were each given a 10-minute slot to pitch their product or idea to a team of experienced Not On The High Street staff and the crowded waiting area was mainly full of bright young things each hoping that their creation was going to wow the buyers and secure them a space in this highly successful marketplace.

Although I love what I do and believe in my product 100%, I wasn’t overly confident that it is right for Not On The High Street and so went along with few expectations under the premise that it would be good experience and useful to get some professional feedback on my upcycling business. The experts liked my product too but advised that I needed to be able to offer the same item in a range of colours and perhaps with an option for customers to provide their own fabric for upholstery.

benchbrochureOccasionally I will have a limited edition of the same item such as my upholstered benches or lime-washed crates, but on the whole each item is unique and upcycled to make the most of its features.

That is the beauty of a piece from Chalky Chic – it is a world away from mass produced, catalogue or flat-packed furniture.

The Upcycled Hour

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© Miskosvk

I recently joined a professional upcycling association The Upcycled Hour and one of the membership conditions is to take part in the weekly twitter forum #upcyclehour. I am a twitter newbie so I took the bull by the horns, set myself up with an account @chalkychic and at the allotted time, dived in. My first tweet announced that I was a first timer and didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Within seconds several helpful members instructed me to make sure I was on the live link and then just go with the flow…

What a stressful 60 minutes – I can only liken it to arriving in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and don’t understand the culture!

The conversation was in full flow but I didn’t understand it – tweets flew across my bow at a fast and furious pace, often responding to streams that I didn’t see the beginning of and couldn’t grasp the meaning. It was clear that many of the members were old hands at this lark and had already formed a virtual relationship with each other. I found myself wondering whether this was what the early stages of dementia was like – not being able to keep up with the conversation or recognising the participants? Blink and you missed something, leave the screen to make a cuppa and you were a goner.

Eventually a couple of other newbies made contact and we all confessed our mutual bewilderment. Eventually as the clock ticked on, I summoned up the confidence to contribute and tweeted about my experience of using Annie Sloan’s white wax for the first time. People responded, even asked me about it and whether the product was easy to use? Finally the hour was up and with a huge sigh of relief I bid my farewell and left the platform.

I guess that taking part will get easier with the passing weeks and now realise that I need to be prepared and take something to the forum each week if I want to make the most of the experience. Only time will tell whether Twitter becomes my friend, but like every relationship you only get back what you put in!

Going To Market

My first flea market was a cautious success – I sold one item of painted furniture, a vintage board game, some fabric off-cuts and a bunch of old 78 rpm records – but then I have nothing to gauge this against.

I guess I should be pleased that I even broke even on my first trip to market, let alone made a healthy profit!

I shared the stall with fellow furniture painter Indigo Flip who was a first-timer too. There was a steady footfall throughout the day although regular traders commented on how quiet it was. Another furniture painter there said that she normally cleans up at these monthly markets so it would seem that perseverance is the key here. Next time I will be better prepared and now that I know the stall’s limitations of can plan my staging in advance.

The most promising encounter of the day happened before I’d even finished setting out my stall when a fellow trader asked me the price for my entire stock…

As it happens he felt my price was too high for him to make a profit selling on, but I’m glad I stuck to my guns as it proved that there is a market for my work.

Thinking About Branding…

With my first Flea Market approaching I have been looking at my branding and am not particularly happy with what I see. I wanted to convey a cohesive, contemporary, upmarket image but it just doesn’t gel…

I love what I do and I want that to come across. I aim for striking, simple pieces of furniture that make a statement and my branding has to reinforce this.

My website (which I designed wearing my other hat – Pip Art) uses a restricted colour palette – basically charcoal on white – and relies on the furniture itself to provide colour. Although two separate businesses, there is a synergy between them as both this site and my Pip Art website use a whitewashed brick background and both embody my love of colour.

12711077_933853340043162_2787982555447600389_oI also used this background for my promotional flyers and wish I’d done the same for my business cards which I designed long before I began even thinking about flyers. Luckily, I only ordered a small quantity of these so will be changing to white brick background for the next print run.

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75mm-2I wanted to stamp my maker’s mark on a discreet part of each piece I paint so I purchased an ink stamp of the Chalky Chic logo from the fantastic English Stamp Company. As I don’t need to mass produce labels I decided to use this on my point of sale materials too and bought a lettering set in my favourite typeface, American Typewriter so that I can hand-stamp pricing information on the labels. 

labelI have always loved the simplicity of items made from Kraft card and so decided to use this for my labelling. Painted furniture should always come with after care instructions and for each piece of furniture on my stall I produced a little folded [Kraft] card with the Chalky Chic logo on the front, the price stamped inside and separate care instructions folded  inside the matching envelope. I attached both of these to the piece using narrow black ribbon although as I’m mad about gingham, I think I might change to black & white gingham for my next sale.

Lessons learnt? Well, launching Chalky Chic has certainly been a steep learning curve…

Perhaps I dived in too quickly and should have taken time to think about the branding beyond a website and business cards and if I was to do it again I would take more time to develop a clearer brand identity. I’ve also learnt to avoid using a particular material (for example Kraft card) just because it is a personal favourite.

However, it is not too late to get it right. I am happy with the basic concept so with some minor tweaks – such as paper stock – to ensure a cohesive look and feel, and I think I’m almost there.

Putting It Out There…

Show-Your-Work-By-Austin-KleonI’ve just read the excellent Show Your Work by Austin Kleon, which advises that in order to build a customer base and ‘brand’ recognition, creative people need to come out of the studio and start sharing: their work in progress, the projects that went wrong, the inspiration – the whole creative process.

In short, he suggests that we need to just put it out there – so I’m going to give it a go!

I’m out of my comfort zone – as a professional, I am used to presenting a finished piece. I’m not sure I want the world to see the hideous end table that turned out less 1940s mint and more a putrid shade of hospital green and will anyone care that my Charleston Cabinet was inspired by the work of Bloomsbury artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant or that I spend hours late at night trawling through Pinterest looking for ways to improve my technique?

Still I have nothing to lose, and possibly everything to gain so here goes…