The Battle of Birmingham
Updated: Jan 28, 2019
Everybody loves Christmas. Presents under the tree, stockings over the fireplace, turkey in the oven, Home Alone on the television, snowmen in the garden (unless you live in England in which case the only snow you'll see will be around the third week of April, right before the annual heatwave).
We love Christmas as much as the next person but in 2015 it was nothing more than an unwelcome distraction in our preparation for the biggest event in the greetings diary... Spring Fair. We took one day to shovel into our faces every single item of festive food and beverage that Sainsbury's had to offer. ('Christmas cheeseburgers you say? We'll take four!') We took the next day to recover (and regret) and then we got straight back to work.
If you think that preparations for an event named 'Spring Fair' might involve bunting and daffodils and adorable little cupcakes in the shape of bunnies, you would be wrong. Picture instead our walls covered in strategy diagrams, our dining table transformed into a scale model of the NEC complete with tiny plastic soldiers and Jack marching about in combat boots, gesturing wildly, delivering speeches and yelling commands. In short, we were preparing for battle.
Our previous trade show had been on the under side of whelming and we were determined that history would not repeat itself. In the four months that followed, we had undertaken a massive overhaul of the entire business. We had stripped it down to its bare bones and discarded every bone that wasn't pulling its weight. It was a painstaking and often heartbreaking process - scrutinising work that we'd put a lot of time and effort into and having to admit that it wasn't good enough. Nevertheless we buried our pride and persevered and when we emerged at the other side, Lanther Black was all but a brand new company. We had a new logo, a new brochure, new work and a whole new outlook. In fact, the only thing that remained of Lanther Black was its name and its founders, and even they had new outfits. We packed up and headed to Birmingham.
People often say that that there's nothing worse than coming away from a fight that you've lost knowing that you could have done more. But what happens if you lose even after giving everything that you have to give? How do you pick yourself up knowing that your very best wasn't good enough? These were the thoughts that we were trying to push to the back of our minds as we began setting up our stand. Two long days later we were ready to step back and take a look at what we'd done, and we had to give ourselves a little pat on the back. Everything had gone to plan; the stand looked good, the work stood out, we just had to hope that the buyers would agree. After all, what use is a flower if it can't attract any bees?
That night we lay awake in silence staring at the ceiling, neither of us wishing to speak the fears that were occupying the other's head. Never had the morning alarm been so welcome, we were finally on our way to face our fate.
Five minutes before the doors opened, Jack went to get us some much needed coffee. Five minutes after the doors opened our stand was swamped and I had no coffee, no Jack and no doubt in my mind that this show was about to exceed our wildest expectations. And it did. We received a fantastic reaction, we took orders from a whole heap of wonderful independent retailers (many of whom still stock our cards today), we took our first steps into the international distribution of our cards and we made some great new friends.
The show was a success and we were hit with waves of excitement and relief in equal measure. But as we headed back to our military headquarters with our heads held high, it occurred to us that the greatest success of Spring Fair wasn't the number of orders that we took. Our greatest success was that when we saw that things weren't working, we weren't afraid to burn it all down and start again.