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Table 41.

There is a village in Anglesey called Llanfair pwllgwyngyll gogery chwyrn drobwll llan tysilio gogo goch. I know this because when I was in infant school, we had an assembly on Wales. Part of the assembly involved 58 students holding up one letter each whilst the rest of the school recited it in unison. I learnt two things that day: 1) Some people in Wales speak a different language and 2) this language was probably invented by a cat walking across a keyboard. Two things I didn't learn that day that might have proved more useful down the line: 1) Some people in Scotland speak a different language and 2) it's pretty much English but you will understand not a single word of it.   

Jack and I worked for a few years in a restaurant at the O2 arena. Being a concert and sports venue, it attracted visitors from around the world. Mostly they spoke enough English to get by, but among the staff we spoke a broad enough range of languages to help out whenever they didn't. Until one day. During a busy shift, a couple in their 50's were seated in my section. I gave them a few minutes to peruse the menu before going over to take a drinks order. Of what happened during the next 3 minutes, I have only the vaguest of ideas. They began talking, to me and to each other, in an unfamiliar tongue. I racked my brains trying to identify the language hoping that we had a native speaker somewhere around. It then occurred to me that they were speaking so confidently that they expected that I should understand them. They couldn't be speaking Javanese, it must be closer to home. Suddenly they both laughed. Finally an element of communication that I understood, I joined in and laughed along. "Aye," said the man nodding at his wife. Shit. Panic and embarrassment coursed through my veins as the realisation dawned on me. They were Scottish. 

I left the table with assurances of an order being on its way and I frantically searched for Jack. I have to point out that I do not normally struggle with understanding Scottish people, or people with accents in general. In fact, I'd consider it a particular skill of mine, but this was different. This was no normal Scottish accent, this was some next level Rabbie Burns banter and my school did not prepare me with an assembly. I found Jack and explained the situation: I couldn't understand the Scottish people on table 41 and he'd have to go and take their order. He looked at me mockingly before heading over. I watched from the till as he approached. It looked like it was going well, they were talking, Jack was laughing, they were laughing, Jack was pulling out his pad and pen, he was writing something, oh thank goodness he was taking an order and saving me from the dark depths of humiliation. My hero. Jack collected their menus and returned to the till. "You understood them then?" I asked eagerly. "Not a word," he replied before handing me the piece of paper from his pad, on which he had drawn a picture of a mouse, and then disappearing back to his own section. 

I returned sheepishly to table 41. I apologised profusely, acknowledged that it was my problem and not theirs and asked if we could try again with their order. Through a combination of pointing, miming and casual stereotyping, I came away with an order of 2 ribeye steaks cooked rare served with chips and peppercorn sauce and 2 bottles of Irn Bru. For the rest of our time together, they spoke their version of English, I spoke my version of English and although we may not have always been on the same page, we got along splendidly. I even learnt a few Scots phrases, including one for use on Jack: Am gaun ta skelp yer wee behind.

When you're selling something, it's very important to determine what the customer wants, but sometimes this can be difficult to ascertain. When we first started designing greeting cards, we had very little idea of what would work or what people would like. We simply created some designs that appealed to us and then we waited. Within a few months we had some data and we tried to identify patterns. We looked at the best-selling cards and attempted to decipher the key ingredients of those designs that led to their success. Sometimes we got it right and produced more best-sellers, other times we missed the mark entirely. The difficulty arises because there are so many factors at play: the economic climate, the time of year, even regional differences can play a part. Our cards with swearing on them, for example, do incredibly well in certain parts of the country (Scotland particularly, funnily enough) but they do less well in other areas. The only thing that has been a constant for us so far is that if we don't love the finished design that we have created, it's very unlikely to be a hit. After all, if we wouldn't send the card, how can we expect others to?

We still consult our best-selling cards each time we're creating new collections or adding to our existing collections and we're understanding more and more about what our customers want. We always listen to their feedback and pay attention to their reorders. But we've also learnt that we have to listen to ourselves. If we don't absolutely love a design, it's not going to make the cut. Ultimately, we've discovered that there's no sure-fire way to create best-selling cards, it's more about trial and error: a bit of experimentation, a bit of reflection and a bit of luck. Unless we're selling in Scotland, in which case a few swear words and a wee can i' Irn Bru will ne'er go amiss. 


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