24 October 2016

When your supplier becomes your competitor...

What would you do, if you found out that one of your suppliers that you've been with for years and years was now supplying one of your customers and selling to them at the same wholesale prices that they sell to you?

I am writing this with a sinking feeling in my heart, as I try to untangle the threads of making a living, running an ethical business, dealing with ethical suppliers and having fun. Two of my friends have set up a buying group and my supplier is selling to them at the SAME wholesale prices as they are selling to me! It is an unusual situation where I am very good friends with the two people that they are supplying and they have been very open with me and as their friend, why would I want to sell them stuff at a higher price than they can get it for? So, they are only doing what they need to do in these hard times to get by and who can blame them. I wish that I could be the one that could be providing them the service that they need, buying food at affordable prices.

I called the supplier today and it seemed to me the obvious solution would be for them to give me a bigger discount on the things that I am buying from them, so that I can offer my friends a more competitive price and then it is a sustainable solution for everyone. Everyone knows that to get wholesale prices you need to be a business and prove that you're a business and that some wholesalers sell directly to the public but they sell at the Recommended Retail Price, so that you are competing on a level playing field and the final decision is up to the customer. 

The supplier told me that they were not competing against me, or undercutting me....but I explained that if I buy a packet of tea at £2 and then sell it for £2.50 to the public and then if they sell directly to the public, for £2, a wholesale price they are most definitely undercutting me. They asked me what I wanted them to do and I suggested that they changed their pricing tiers so that their direct to the general public prices are Recommended Retail Price, their prices to buying groups are a bit lower than that and then the wholesale price is to businesses only.

Sometimes, when you phone up as an individual to offer feedback and suggestions, they can see you as just an individual with a one-off problem but this to my mind is a massive problem that could effect small, independent retails businesses across the UK, as if we are not already having a hard enough time of it already. You see, if the supplier shifted their prices ever so slightly, to protect their business customers, the supplier wouldn't lose out, the buying groups would still get a good price, if they wanted to put the work in and the retailer would still have a sustainable business. If the retailer is not supported by the supplier's pricing structure, then the supplier will lose their retail network and have to deal with individual buying groups and members of the public, which is fine, if that is their business model for the future but the business model that this supplier is using at the moment is not sustainable for all parties involved, which leaves me with the following questions as a retailer:

1/ Do I want to keep using this supplier?

At the moment, there is no motivation for me to keep using this supplier. In fact, for my business model to survive, I will have to track down a supplier that has cheaper prices for wholesale, lower minimum orders and does not supply to buying groups, or the general public at wholesale prices.

2/ Is it financially viable to keep using this supplier?

It is not financially viable to use this supplier, as they are more concerned about getting their income from anyone, no matter what, rather than having strict trading boundaries and price tiers for different buying groups.

3/ How can I make it more attractive for my friends to buy from me, rather than having a buying group? 

The only way that I can make it more attractive for my friends to start buying from me again is to either encourage suppliers to put up their prices for buying groups, or to bring down their wholesale prices even further for retailers. This doesn't seem to me to be a very imaginative answer but maybe there is another solution that I haven't thought of.

This situation, to me, is just a sign of the times, people are trying to live as good a life as they possibly can on the low income that they have and the internet has made finding information easier. Also, I am very open in business and get my catalogues out for people to choose things they want to order, Then when they see the name on the catalogue they go straight to the supplier themselves, who wouldn't. Then because times are tough, the suppliers are welcoming any business be it from traders, or individuals on equal terms.

When I called my supplier they told me that small, independent businesses are very important to them, I just hope they back that up by setting up a sustainable situation, that is beneficial to all the parties involved.

What do you think the solution is, what would you do if you were faced with this challenge, has this happened to you before, what solution did you find? Please let me know by commenting on this blog.

I have to say my suppliers got back to me really quicly and have offered to shift my pricing structure so that it is a fairer and more sustainable situation. I am now in a position where I can offer bulk items to my friend's buying group at the same wholesale prices that they were paying. This is great for me, as I don't lose trade, this is great for my friends as it should make it easier for them to budget and not have to accumulate such big orders, just to meet the minimum order level and it's great for the supplier too as they are protecting their independent retail customers and have made me feel the warm glow of loyalty towards them.

This is why I love dealing with ethical companies, made up of people who really do look at the bigger picture and the long term implications, rather than the short term gain. 

28 September 2016

Copy Cat Businesses and how to Cope!

Picture by Anne-Marie Sanderson

I am feeling so annoyed having read one of my friend's posts on Facebook where she tells us that whole chunks of her website copy and ideas have been stolen and placed on someone else's website and business literature.
It's made me think about all the times that Gunter and I have suffered from this same copycat syndrome. It doesn't stop there, they will go after your client base too. We even had a business that tried to steal our name and our logo, let alone the ideas!
The gratifying factor is that they copy the things they see but they will never know the true secret to your success that they try to emulate, that's not to say that copying doesn't undermine your business and take the bread out of your mouths but it does mean their days are numbered, their longevity is questionable and their ethical sensibilities are none, even if they insist their business is ethical.
When someone copies you, the usual response from well-meaning friends is that you can choose to see it as flattering, however if someone steals your car, no one says that is flattering. I prefer to look at it this way, the threat to your business is a challenge for you, a challenge for you to focus on the positive and not the negative. Choose to concentrate on your business and all the good things you do and choose to ignore the other business, do not support it, or help to promote it. The one thing that I have noticed is that people that copy are intrinsically negative thinkers and struggle to realise their own brilliance, when they realise their own brilliance, they won't have to rely on yours and in that lies their weakness, if they take on you and try to compete against you, with your own ideas, not their ideas, then how will they ever win that battle? They can't! Their days are numbered because once you cut them from your circle and you are not so generous with your time and your ideas, they will have to stop copying you.
It is a long, slow and painful lesson for them to learn but copying just does NOT WORK. It is a simple equation a business that copies = FAILURE. That business will not last long because copying someone else means that faced with their own challenges in business, they will not have the resources, the though processes, or the experience of how to deal with challenges, they only know how to copy.
So, to anyone, especially my friend, who feels copied in business and stolen from, please take comfort in this, as long as you focus on your business and your positives, you will succeed no matter what, unfortunately I cannot say the same for business owners that copy. They say jealousy is the sincerest form of flattery, that's what they say about copying too......but copying only cheats everyone involved, the business owners and the public.
The one that copies will almost always be a friend, a friend who asks your advice and then takes your secrets for themselves, they'll treat you kindly and then take from you, rather like a conman....'He always seemed so nice', people say after their life savings have been taken, think about it, he wouldn't have been able to take your life savings if he seemed nasty, would he! Yes, it will feel painful cutting them out at first because you're a human with a conscience.
Having been in this situation many times over the past 7 years in Enfield and in Shepton Mallet. I know the way forward for you is to know your positives and concentrate on them.
It is hard to focus on the positive but keep going and blank that business out from your radar. Focus on your goals and your aims and what you are doing.

6 September 2016

Schmeese Vegan and Gluten Free Pizza

Right now, cooking in my oven is a Schmeese Vegan and Gluten Free Pizza!

I've got to blog this recipe quickly, as it only takes 15 to 20 minutes to cook and I want to finish this, so that I can eat it! Yum, yum!

So, this is how I made my Vegan and Gluten Free Pizza:

First of all prepare the Schmeese!

1/ Put one tablespoon of coconut oil into a saucepan and heat.

2/ Then add one tablespoon of buckwheat flour.

3/ After about half a minute add 1/2 a cup of almond milk slowly to the pan, whilst stirring.

4/ Then add two tablespoons of Engevita Flakes and stir them in well.

5/ Put this on the side, whilst you prepare the base.

Now, prepare the base.

1/ Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celcius.

2/ Prepare a baking tray or pizza tray by putting grease proof paper on it and oiling the paper really well.

3/ Put the following into a jug or bowl;

1/2 a cup of Buckwheat Flour

2 tablespoons of arrowroot

2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed

1/2 a teaspoon of baking powder (Gluten Free)

1/4 a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

a pinch of salt

4/ Mix well.

5/ Add 1/2 a cup of water to the mix. You may need to add more buckwheat flour as you go to make it combine into dough that can be rolled into a ball without being too sticky to handle.

6/ Put the ball of the dough in the centre of the baking tray/pizza tray and flatten then spread out by pushing towards the edges with your fingertips. Keep going until it is a nice round or rectangle shape.

7/ Then spread the following on top of the pizza base:

1 tablespoon of tomato puree

Freshly crushed garlic, or powdered garlic.

Chilli Flakes

Mixed Herbs.

A touch of Tamari Gluten Free Soya Sauce

8/ Then sprinkle a grated carrot over the top and lay out some spinach leaves.

9/ Then drizzle the Vegan Schmeese Sauce over the top!

10/ Put the pizza into the pre-heated oven and cook for 15-20 minutes.

Well, my pizza finished cooking, about halfway through writing this, I presented it on a bed of salad leaves from our local Shepton Mallet Friday Market and it was delicious. The salad leaves come from Tasty Leaves and most of the ingredients to make the pizza are available from our online shop, or come and visit us in Shepton Mallet. My Coffee Stop, 34, High Street, Shepton Mallet, Somerset, BA4 5AS!

29 August 2016

To Burkini or Not to Burkini

Wow! As a woman, I cannot stand the idea that if I want to spend time at the beach wearing modest clothes to go swimming and to deflect unwanted attention and leering eyes, it is now a subject of controvosy and newspaper articles.

The burkini is a fabulous invention and gives some protection from the sun's rays too. Is it really true, in this world I am living in, that women can be told by the law what to wear? Especially something so modest!

I've seen newspaper headlines screaming 'Burkini Banned in France' but how is that enforced? Where is the line between a burkini and a very modest leotard? This is just such mixed up thinking, to my mind. Now I read a headline mentioning a police officer in Britain challenging a burkini wearer! How does that work? 'Excuse me love, could you please wear less clothes as we find burkini wearing offensive, come on now, I'll just help you take this off, that's right step out of it immediately, with your hands above your head.'

What is wrong with us? What is wrong with our attitude? Have we decided to target burkini wearing women because they are easy to victimise? Easier than say, someone wearing a suicide vest? Talk about misdirected focus.

Leave burkini wearers alone and concentrate on the real threat to lives and peace. A burkini ban solves nothing and messes about with our freedom.

19 August 2016

Chocolate Beetroot Cake with Frosting

I had such a lot of fun on Facebook this week asking for cake flavour suggestions and then I promised that the one I picked as the winning flavour to bake, would have a free slice sent to them through the post! The overall flavour winner was a Lavender and Vanilla cake suggestion, which sounded wonderfully summery and unusual too, so the lucky lady that suggested it, actually did receive a slice of her bespoke, specially created flavour cake through the post, just a few days later and she was delighted. That recipe however, is for another day!

There were so many excellent suggestions that I have decided that I will indeed bake every single one that I feel could be attractive and appealing and made my way. Cakes made my way are wholesome, vegan and glutenfree.

I would make myself bankrupt sending off a free slice of cake to everyone who had made a suggestion, so I have decided to give back in another way, by baking the cake and tweaking it and then sharing my recipe so that anyone can make it!

An important point for me to make is that I don't like faffing around in the kitchen, making things complicated and fussy, I want quick and tasty results. When I work with a recipe, I want it to be easy to read and not have to weight out lots of ingredients first, into lots of bowls and create lots of washing up! No way. I do not like washing up and cleaning up, so space used is minimal and ingredients are measured out with cups, rather than weighed out on scales, a lot easier. This is why my recipes don't have an ingredient list at the beginning. The way to use my recipes is to read through them once to check you have everything you need, or suitable substitutions. Then follow the step by step instructions.

Chocolate Beetroot Cake with frosting.

The Cake

1/ Preheat the oven to 180°
2/ Line a 9" x 9" brownie tin with greaseproof paper and then grease it with vegetable oil.
3/ Put the following ingredients into a large jug and stir well:
1 cup of Essential Buckwheat Flour
1/2 a cup of Doves Farm Gluten Free Plain Flour
1/2 a cup of sugar
1/2 a cup of Divine Cocoa Powder
1/2 a teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of Bicarbonate of Soda
1/2 a smashed up bar, 100g of Divine Dark Baking Chocolate
4/ Put the following ingredients into a blender and blend well:
1/2 a cup of cooked beetroot
1 cup of water
1/3 cup of vegetable oil
1 teaspoon of Vanilla Extract
2 tablespoons of Biona Apple Cider Vinegar with Mother
5/ Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir well.
6/ Pour the batter out into the greased and lined baking tray and pop into the preheated oven for 20 minutes.
7/ Take the cake out of the oven and cover with foil, then bake for another 10 minutes, or until a knife stuck into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
8/ Leave the cake to cool, with the foil taken off.

The Frosting

1/ Combine the following ingredients finely in your blender:
Just ripe peeled and stoned avocados x 2
10 x tablespoons of Agave Nectar 
1/2 a cup of Divine Cocoa Powder.
2/ When the cake is cool smooth the frosting over the top. If you are lucky, there might be some mixture left in the blender which you will have to eat, to make cleaning easier!
3/ Slice this cake into 8 equal slices, or even 16 little cubes and store in the fridge until you are ready to serve.

This cake didn't last for one day, as everybody loved it!
If you have any questions about this recipe, please let me know in the comments.
Thanks for reading and I'd love to know how you get on when you make yours.

13 August 2016

Could Online Shopping Help to Regenerate Our High Streets?

Karen Mercer, My Coffee Stop. Photo by Anne-Marie Sanderson.

Save time by not reading this article and just buy something straight away from my website, to see if my theory is correct!  

Ok, if you must, here is the article, enjoy! 

Where does my money go to, who do I buy from?

I specifically ensure that my money is mostly spent on independent local businesses! So, when you buy from us, no matter whether it's from our shop in Shepton Mallet, or online, you know that we filter that money back into the local, independent and small business, circular economy. Buy from us and we make a concerted and conscientious effort to spend it in our local high street. We go to Peppers, The Hive, Denela's, Dredge and Male, Steve's Fish Restaurant, The Swan, The Bell, The Club Lounge, Hidden Treasures, The Dusthole, Anna's Attic, I-do Vintage, The Furniture Workshop, Minsky's Barbers, C.H. Penn the Jewellers and Starlight Studios and support numerous home businesses and charities in the local area, doing what we can. I've probably missed a very big one out there! We even support Haskins by choosing to shop at Aldi and other shops in their building! So, when you buy from us, you are absolutely supporting your whole high street because we make damn sure you do!

I'd really like to do more and for that, I need your help, please!

What I am asking for you to do is to please help my family and myself to contribute even more to our town. 

Since closing our shop in Enfield, we are totally reliant on you making a conscious effort to buy from us. I know it's hard to come into town when you've been working all the hours that you can, that's why I have created a website, so that you can still support our family and our business ethos, by ordering online from us. We deliver FREE to you if you live in the BA4 postcode area, we also have click and collect as an option. If there is one thing that you can buy from us instead of a supermarket, then please do just that.

What if you can't find the healthy, or vegan, or gluten-free thing that you want on our website? Then please just comment on this blog post and tell us the product name and size that you are looking for and we will update our website, to sell you the things that you are looking for.

We don't lead an extravagant lifestyle, we don't have massive needs but we would like to provide you with a business that you want to use and sells the things that you want and need at a fair, reasonable price. We want to create a business that is successful here in Shepton Mallet. 

When we closed our shop in Enfield, I thought that our customers/friends would love to buy from our online shop, I imagined people buying our Yogi Tea Bags, or Protein Powders, or our Coffee but this hasn't really happened but I still feel sure that it could, maybe I just need to say, please buy from us, we need you to help us and we would like to be give the opportunity to sell you the things that you need.

Since closing our Enfield shop, we have had to claim Housing Benefit, to help us be able to pay our rent. I don't want to have to claim housing benefit, I want us to be able to sell our friends and our family the things they want, at the price they feel able to pay.

In writing this blog, I might earn a few pennies from advertising revenue and I really mean, a few pennies! In creating my website that takes many hours, I have sold a few things but it could do a lot better. I need my friends and my family and my children's friends, to make a concerted effort to use it and if there is something that you want to buy that is health food or whole food orientated, then please let me know. 

I understand that you can't always get to visit my shop in person, or even get to it EVER, BUT please support my family and I in our venture to continue our Coffee and Health Food shop on the high street of Shepton Mallet.

Anna Perra's shop on the high street is closing this month, I haven't been able to visit for ages to buy at least a little something because I just haven't had the money. I've seen Penny's Sweets go, I've seen No 21 go, I've seen Nostalgia go, Tina's Pet Pantry, Fred's Shop, Twice as Nice, Mendip Fireplaces and Just Jo all these shops added character, personality and enjoyment to our high street and now Anna Perra is going, there'll be another empty unit. Anna is keeping her business going as an online shop and doing events too, so she's cutting one massive overhead from her business and concentrating on creating an income from decreasing her overheads. Seeing another shop close is always a shock to residents and especially, I feel, to other shopkeepers. It is a reminder of our own vulnerabilities and how needy we are for your continued support. Yes, I look at Anna Perra's shop closing and feel scared, very scared for the future of my shop too.

I want to support the high street, I want people to know about the shabby chic charm of Shepton Mallet but I cannot do it on my own, I need you to help. This is a two way process, I will help you get the things you want and you can help me to stay where I am on the high street, adding a big dollop of personality and charisma to our wonderful town!

People used to say that online shopping caused the demise of the high street, I see online shopping as a tool to help regenerate the high street and keep supporting those little independent shops that you love, even if you're working so hard that you don't even get a chance to visit them!

I look forward to receiving your order today!

24 July 2016

Listen to your inner voice!

So, last week, I went to my youngest son's sports day. To my surprise there was a race at the end for the ladies, the MUMS, in other words. I was just going to sit back and watch the others run in the sunshine and heat, then one of the teachers cajoled me and said, 'Come on, come on, you can do it!', well it didn't take much, after a few verbal nudges like that, I was 9 years old again, good at running 100 meters and ready to RUN! Just let me point out here, that if I do anything to keep fit these days, my choice is not running but anything that involves dancing and music to lift me up and along into the realms of exercise, that ethos was quickly shoved out of my mind as I imagined the glory of winning, especially after Elijah had just used Sports Day to display so beautifully the fact that he hasn't picked up how to skip whilst running yet, the slow painful embarrassment that I had felt watching him would soon be turned into a success for the Mercer-Hollenstein clan and our family would climb up to grace once again! I stood on the white line, waiting to begin and as I did so, I looked down at the boots I was wearing and thought, loud and clear, if that is possible, 'No, I shouldn't be doing this!', the thought was so very loud and clear that I almost stepped away from the line to go and sit down again but the logical part of my brain saw no logical reason why I should not take part in a fun little race, so there I stood, poised for action. Whilst my mind was off in another realm, 'Go' had been shouted out and as I saw the other Mums set off in slow motion, it seemed to me and stretch out far in front of me, I knew I had to close that space and catch up, overtake and win! There was NO WAY I was going to lose, I urged myself forward, pushed my toes into the ground with extra might and found myself flying, NOT towards the finishing line but towards the ground that was now rapidly coming up to meet my face and body. I lay on the ground, completely shocked, then for some reason, decided it was important to get up and finish the race. I don't know what lesson that taught the children watching at that young impressional age, at this stage of life, maybe keep going even if you're a loser, or don't let your Mum embarrass you at sports day ever again, (That one probably a personal one for my son Elijah).
After going over what happened in my head, I realised that it is very important to listen to your inner voice, in particular for me, my inner voice. I took this as a message from the universe, as a warning, a little hand life tip to heed for my future and to help me make important decisions and to tune into my instinct. I told Elijah the story about how, even though I had managed to fly in the race, I had missed the opportunity to listen to my inner voice.
Today, I had the perfect opportunity to listen to my inner voice. We went with some friends, our children and their child, to Glastonbury Abbey and Joshua my 13 year old, was doing commando rolls all over the place and running and jumping, just yesterday we were watching some Parkour videos on YouTube and having studied gymnastics when I was a girl, I noticed Handsprings, Somersaults and  Arabsprings (Are they still calles that?) buried in the sequences. Of course when Joshua started doing all this, I revert to my 13 year old self and try to copy what he's doing, not very successfully, so I decide to show I am quite good at some things still and do a nice little controlled headstand. Having built up my confidence, I do a quick little cartwheel, then decide I show Joshua how to do an Arabspring, 'Er, should you be doing this, ' my inner voice said, 'You don't want to hurt yourself!'. Then my logical brain responded with the logical and end conclusion that there was no reason that I would hurt myself, can you recognise a pattern here?
'This is how you do an Arabspring Joshua', I eaxplained, as I took a run up and did the preperatory hop on my left leg, before going into the spring which would be where I would go upside down on my hands.....I didn't get to the upside down on my hands bit, my sequence was completed with the hop and a tightening in my left leg and a cramp like searing pain, as I crumpled to the grass, screaming out a very long ow!
Just as with the running experience, I lay still at first, this time, on my back and Joshua thought it might be a joke but it wasn't. I have bloody hurt my left leg so much, after having not listened to my inner voice that I am now in bed, worried about going to the toilet and getting there in time, down our very long corridor with two sets of steps. I can't walk properly, only with a limp and if I do a wrong move, it makes me yelp with pain. I need a walking stick, tomorrow is Monday, I do not know how I will cope in our shop and on Tuesday, a TV crew is coming to film us, with Heather Bryson-Banks, Columnist from The Shepton Mallet Journal and her family, in our shop and I am lying here and hoping that it will all be sitting down stuff. At this moment in time, my inner voice, rather than stomping off in a mood, has decided to look at my situation and laugh at me, jumping up and down with glee whilst shouting out, 'I told you so, I told you so!'. What kind of childish attitude is that for an inner voice to have? I can hear my inner voice saying back to me, 'Yup, the same kind of childish attitude that I have to put up with from you, when you choose not to listen to me!'.
'Yeah but what about feel the fear and do it anyway?' I question, stubbornly.
'Not at Forty Six Years old, just ACT YOUR AGE.' Inner voice replies in frustration.
It's taken me years to even get to this level of maturity, I do NOT accept the age 46, in which case, I feel there are a few more injuries to be had. I am still wondering to myself how I can make sure I do my Arabspring correctly, with no injuries next time, in the meantime, when you see me hobbling around Shepton Mallet, let it be a reminder to listen to your innervoice, your instinct and take heed.