Imagine you are a rockstar and you play sell-out gigs all over the world to millions of adoring fans. And then one day you come back and perform in your home town. That would be a massive buzz, right? Now, replace ‘rockstar’ with ‘brand new greeting card publisher’, replace ‘sell-out gigs’ with ‘sell some greeting cards’ and replace ‘millions of adoring fans’ with ‘a handful of independent retailers in the U.K’, it’s still just as exciting, right? Hey, fuck you, it totally is.
One sunny morning in August (I don’t think it was actually sunny, but I like to remember it as sunny because it makes the story more glorious) I woke up feeling like a lion (as in ‘brave’, not ‘hungry for zebra’) and I thought to myself, ‘Today’s the day I sell in my hometown.’ So I had breakfast (ironically enough it was Lion Cereal), grabbed Jack and a brochure and marched towards my local independent gift shop. When I got within ten paces, however, my courage scattered and fled in all directions across the high street so I did a hasty about turn and started to head home. But then Jack blocked my path, gave me a pep talk and shoved me in the direction of the shop. Actually it wasn’t so much a pep ‘talk’. There weren’t any words. He just sort of stared into my eyes, shook me by the shoulders and made a noise that sounded like sneezing with your mouth shut. I’m not sure how effective it would have been if the shove hadn’t forced me into the direct line of vision of the shop owner and as I stood there like a rabbit caught in the headlights, swaying like a moron in her doorway, it became very clear that my only option was to continue into the shop or she would probably call the police. So in I went.
Ten minutes later I emerged from the shop. Passers-by stopped in their tracks and their eyes followed me as I strutted towards Jack in slow motion, the wind gently caressing my hair, the sunlight shimmering on my face, my clenched fist raised upwards towards the sky clutching a completed order form. I was triumphant. I was magnificent! I approached Jack and we embraced and he lifted me into his arms and swung me around and around and the on-lookers began to applaud and then we crashed into a bin and tumbled to the floor and our audience backed away slowly but we didn’t care because we had sold our cards in our hometown and we were thrilled.
A couple of weeks on, we went to deliver to our shop but, to our dismay, the shutters were down and there was a sign on the window which read, ‘Closed due to economic reasons.’ Devastating. We trudged back home, dragging our feet behind us, stopping only to notice that the chain gift shop a few doors down had a rather large queue emanating from the checkout. I hasten to point out that I’m not about to embark upon an anti-capitalist declamation. Most economic systems have their virtues as well as their imperfections. I believe that, if managed correctly, there is a place in our society for larger chain stores and smaller independents to each do what they do best and thrive simultaneously. Chains aren’t necessarily the villains they were thought to be in the 1920’s. They can exert a huge amount of influence to keep prices low, which benefits the least affluent in society. They can also provide a vast amount of choice and variety under one roof, which is great for those who don’t have the time or resources to travel further afield. Independents, on the other hand, can provide quirk and charm. They can protect our high streets from monotony. They can provide a personal feeling customer service that is often unfettered from rules and regulations. I didn’t blame the chain gift shop for the closure of our local independent, I just felt really, really sad.
I don’t know the ins and outs of why that shop closed, there are a million reasons why a business might struggle in today’s hugely competitive world. But what I do know is that that shop owner took a huge personal and financial risk when she decided to start her own business. And what I believe is that she poured her heart and soul into it. She served in the shop, she arranged it with care, she attended trade shows around the country, she did her very best to source products that she thought her customers would love, she had little bursts of joy with every sale, she had sleepless nights after quiet weeks. When she finally made that decision to close the doors, she must have been heart-broken.
We’ve made it through our first year here at Lanther Black and it’s been one of the most exciting adventures of our lives to date. Our first year has been decorated with a hundred moments of triumph but just as many of fear; huge cause for celebration but enough cause for panic. We have learnt that a business is a hungry, all-consuming monster and it has to sustain itself before it can sustain us. We’ve had monumental days where we’ve conquered the month’s sales target in a matter of hours, closely followed by days where we wonder if we’ll be able to pay next month’s bills. These are the ups and downs of running your own business. This is the price you pay for the rewards of being your own boss, of creating something that other people want to buy, of earning a living from something that you love. This is the price of walking your own path in life… and it’s absolutely worth it. I want to gather everybody that’s ever started a business into one room and I want to applaud them. Because starting a business is really fucking hard and you have to be really fucking brave. When a baby bird learns to fly for the first time, it’s not her ability to fly that fills me with awe, it’s the fact that she even jumped off the branch.