A typical story of how self employed folk shift and change to make things work.
Recently I’ve been standing in a freezing cold shed for hours on end talking to total strangers on a daily basis. It doesn’t sound like a pleasing pastime but I’ve come to rather like it. We didn’t set out to be market traders, it happened by accident, just like the old lady who swallowed a fly, we got to where we are in stages…
All the year through we live our lives; Martin as a garden designer/landscaper/builder and I as a mother/interior designer, then all of a sudden we drop everything once a year and take on the guise of market traders.
8 years ago Martin had a great plan, an idea for building a business where he could be creative and garden based but not be out in all weathers as he began to feel his age set in. The plan was to make and sell raised vegetable beds and beehive compost bins to schools as at that time there was a fledgling drive for growing in schools. So we set up a business, built a website, bought in a stack of timber and began making.
With stock in hand we set off to gauge customer response, and hopefully make some sales, at a selection of garden shows and country fairs. What we came back with was a large pile of stock and no sales, a smattering of interest but nothing very promising.
We didn’t have much of a clue about how to set up a stall we just tried to make it look attractive. In so doing we added a few items that were there just for decoration including a small bird box that Martin had made. We had more enquiries about this bird box than anything else on the stand!
So next time we went to a garden show we took a pile of bird and bug habitats with us. We sold out and had to drive to the supplier to collect more for the next day. Each time we wheeled our hefty raised beds to a market we also took ever more small items which customers were happy to take away with them on the spot.
In the search for more saleable products we slowly shifted our focus away from products aimed at children in gardens and began to source more attractive classic garden items, vintage tools that we could recondition, baskets and trugs, string, scissors, plant markers. We took on more of an old potting shed vibe and we soon forgot we even ought to be contacting schools.
Each time we went to a market we took with us our own home made flatpack shed as our stall and laid out raised beds with stock and plants. Martin’s background as a Chelsea award winning garden designer lead to us going to great lengths to make fabulous displays. We thought if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it well. We’ll only sell stuff we love and we’ll make it look as good as we’d want our garden to look.
Eventually the last of the raised beds trickled out, the beehive composers went quite well but they were bulky so we stopped making them too. We extended our garden range to include picnic blankets and the next phase had begun…
Our picnic blankets ticked all the boxes (recycled, UK made, very affordable and practical – they’re machine washable) and appealed across the board. They began to take up a greater proportion of our range and the metamorphosis of the business into a largely interior accessories business had begun.
Whether interiors or garden stuff we’ve always focussed on products that are timeless classics, things that are practical aswell as beautiful and made from natural materials. We also maintain that our stall, wherever we may find ourselves, has to look great. These are the threads that run throughout every change we have made and though the business is not what we set out for it to be it has changed to suit us and our lifestyles.
With more work coming in through the year we made the big decision to drop the website and all markets between January and September. This means we only get stock in for a short period of the year and don’t need to store it all year around. Our market season is short and incredibly intense now, only trading over the pre-Christmas season. As flexible self employed people we make our lives work around this and thankfully our families rally around to help where they can as we’ve kept it as a very personal small enterprise.
We rebranded the business as Ridge & Furrow having spent the first few years trading as Grow 4 It – a brand specifically targeted to children that was pretty cringeworthy to trade under in our new guise. The brand and the look we’ve put together now is something we’re exceedingly proud of and somewhere we enjoy spending all our time over the pre-Christmas period (if you’re going to spend everyday in a wooden hut you may aswell make it a splendid one).
These days we’ve tried to make the products really tactile, there’s nothing so alluring as that feeling of wanting to touch. Our sheepskins and blankets make the place so cosy and we always add a bit of sparkle for the festive season.
We may not have set out to be market traders but we like where we’ve found ourselves.