Nikki's store has more affordable treasure to make every day a little bit movie star:
Soon the downstairs area at Bedlam will be the dedicated ladies' area while the cutting room will be housed in the basement next to the screen-printing room. For Bedlam is a veritable labyrinth don'tcha know?
Now back to my journey. The best in-flight entertainment was the epic continental movie projected beyond the window. On my way back and forth to Europe before I would almost always stop off in New York. This time, having read the paper, eaten a surprisingly agreeable Mac & Cheese meal, and had a little crook-neck sleep, I looked out at the terrain below and realized this was the first time I have flown directly into LA since I undertook the Big Drive - my Grand Solo Road-Trip around the US in February 2009. Down from Canada across the Great Lakes and snowy mountains we flew, then the Bad Lands and endless prairies of the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming. I glanced at the i-map thingie in the seat back to get my bearings but however much you zoomed in there were swathes and swathes of land with no towns, no settlements large enough to name, just vast tracts of emptiness. Then we cut a corner of Idaho before beneath us rolled out the Rocky Mountains. And as I gazed down I recalled the day my car approached the entrance to the pass and I saw a sign insisting "Between the dates of November 1st and March 1st snow chains MUST be worn!" And I remembered thinking, "Mmm, er, crap, don't have those and if I did I wouldn't know what to do with them but hell, it's only a week shy of that, surely I'll be fine!" and as the snow started to fall once more, I set off along the road. Within minutes I was driving in a blizzard. It was white out all around but still I answered my phone when it rang because it was my mother and that is what you do (yes, kids?).
|Clear road ahead, nice blue sky, small matter of Rocky Mountains in distance, nothing a girl can't handle|
|Double Doh. This is what it swiftly became: white out.|
But then I saw a black fence post sticking out of the snow. It gave me a sense of where things were, of scale, and structure. Then I turned a bend and ahead were the lights of an oil tanker. Not a vehicle I would normally be happy to tail gate, now I approached as close as I dared, so it could protect me from the wildly driving snow storm. At least, it occurred to me, if we went over the edge it would surely explode and the fire ball would alert people to our charred position.
|The oil tanker that led me out alive|
"Hello, I saw you in the lobby and watched what room you went to. Would you like to get a drink?"
Being an English girl of certain upbringing I thanked him for his kindness in considering me before categorically declining. Then I pushed my giant trunk against the door and called a pal.
"Change rooms!" he exhorted.
But I resolved not to be intimidated. That day, as with every day of that rewarding and challenging adventure, I accomplished what I had set out to do.
And now I am returning to LA with that same trunk empty but for another one within it, to collect (some of!) my stuff and confirm my commitment to Mark and Bedlam, one and the same, indistinguishable as they jolly well pretty much are.
Before leaving for the airport I was up until 3.30am doing our first VAT return, whose deadline falls while I am away. We do not have the turnover yet to make it obligatory to register but we chose to. Suppliers are more likely to grant you account facilities if you are grown up enough to have registered. But I cried like a girl doing it and found the process a torture until the tail lights appeared ahead of figures balancing and check columns agreeing. Then I started to take a satisfaction in the numbers that I have only ever found in words.
Much of the preparatory receipt logging, expenditure and income, I did while Mark was in France with Ocean over Fathers' Day. I thought it would be quiet and calm and I would be uninterrupted to concentrate on this awful chore. But I was alone trying to keep the shop open and functioning, while overseeing the structural repairs which were trying to cure the damp and the god awful stench that was invading us from above and below. Not to put too finer point on it, shit was coming at me from all sides. In addition to which, the workman were at war with each other (not Biggsie I hasten to add), and one held a blade to another's throat before they took their bellowing and shoving out on to the street to the gawping of the mini cab drivers next door and assorted passers-by. Then I'd go home, work more on the book-keeping, or the opening of accounts to ease our cash flow while trying to gather the money for our next big order of raw materials so we might have stock ready to fulfill orders when we hit the button on our e-commerce site, and also to replenish the shop. And every day it poured non-stop. Not just drizzle but pounding torrents and even hail fell from the dark sky. Mark would call and tell me they had been to the pool but it was really too hot to stay outside so they'd had a siesta. "Quel drag," I said with feeling.
What this leads me to reveal then, is this. That there have been moments, some running into episodes, where I have questioned the choice of all this risk, effort and responsibility. But in the same way that on my travels the road would turn a corner to provide reassurance or crest a height to display a beautiful vision of what lay ahead, there has always been a satisfaction forthcoming that convinces me to persevere. The photoshoot for Unfolded Magazine, our first editorial, took place the other week, at the shop with the padded wall as backdrop. What a great day it provided. Here is the link to the whole magazine and then the article on us from the Unfolded blogspot:
To order a bound copy:
It provided us with photographs the editor Nardip has kindly said we can use as a Look Book and it also delivered the Face of Bedlam to us, Ollie - barman from the Oval Lounge next door and drummer with the band Peggy Sue. I did my own "behind the scenes" photos and while you can see the whole lot on Facebook (no need to sign up, click on link beneath this selection and you will be able to see them) here are my faves:
|Nardip snaps. Actually he maintained an admirable calm all day|
|McKinley from Blissetts trusty hardware store on the Brixton Road and handsome chops actor|
|Nardip focusses while Ollie gazes and Tim B2B OAM adjusts|
|The Bedlam duffle, yours for £30.00|
|Ollie soldiers on|
|The Ollie-gator (in our pinstripe and another of Anne's scarves)|
|Tim B2B OAM found it necessary to make several further adjustments|
|Actor Joe Jackson joined us, lost here in a volume on the history of London while Ollie reads Edith Sitwell's "English Eccentrics"|
|Joe in the Poacher's Jacket with matching waistcoat and trousers from the linen suit. Mr Fox from Lassco's & Co|
|They'll run you through and eat your devilled kidneys for tea|
|Washed down with a nice cold shot of Chase vodka|
|The Royal Wedding Commemorative Tee, "One Day I Will be Queen"|
|Final Curtain call of the day - Mckinley, Joe and Ollie. Mckinley models our best seller "Ni Dieu Ni Maitre" -|
"Neither God Nor Master"
Other assorted reliefs and rewards have been the settlement of the rigmerole with our bank, regarding, surprise surprise, accounting software. We now have the right package and that should make life easier. The arrival of some extra workroom help in the form of Madeiran (so it gets Madder) miracle Marta was another recent boon. She is the size of my finger nail but has the strength of an ox. We live in Little Portugal - the largest community of Portuguese outside of their own country in Europe. As she walks into work from Stockwell she flyers the local businesses, talking to them in Portuguese and explaining why Ocean Colour Screen can meet all their screen-printing needs. She also brings me in custard tarts mmmm. It came about because a gentleman called Wesley (none other) passes the store each day on his way to work at the Stockwell Job Centre. So when he had a new client who wants to get into screen-printing and fashion he brought her along to do a placement with us. If I am Sybil, and Mark is Basil, we now have our Polly. André, who first mentioned this resemblance, is by default then, Manuel.
|Wesley, Mr Wesley and Marta|
As well as these great gals we now introduce Gugu, who wandered in one day as a customer who'd set out for some chips. She is now the face of Bedlam Belles and here she is in her bespoke Sherbet Dab jacket:
|Gugulicious cut it up one time|
We most certainly jolly well are!
And while my agent never got a bite for my book of traveller's tales around the US, now I get to write the story of Bedlam and some of you are kind enough to read it (are you still with me??).
Aside from staring down at lakes and mountain ranges; prairies, salt flats and deserts, geography that combined to challenge and inspire, and proved to myself that I had what it took to take them on - "work with them respectfully" perhaps I should better say, it was not hand-to-hand conflict - something else called forth this reflective post. I can't tell you the last time I read a book, there are so many other calls on my attention. Waiting to board at Heathrow's Terminal 3, the latest offering from a TV business guru caught my eye. "43 Mistakes Businesses Make... and how to avoid them" was its title. Feeling sensitive to this, to my surprise I stopped and flicked its pages, reading a few paragraphs before catching myself and hurrying off to buy "Vogue" and "Glamour" for a plane ride treat. I now needed to know what the book said next however and despite all my best frivolous efforts was dragged by some force greater than myself back to the shelf to read on. "Goddamit!" I cried, casting it down and went to get a bottle of water. I was not going to be caught up in some How-To-Motivational-Bombast by TV's Duncan Bannatyne: http://www.bannatyne.co.uk/contact-duncan
OK, I bought it, and have nearly read it all.
Here then is a quick summation of the points that reassured my conviction and acted like a safety car outrider through the blizzard of business. I read every word like it was a letter written to me. Thank you, Mr Bannatyne:
- Success in business comes from being tough, not ruthless. "Tough enough to do the dirty jobs and tough enough to make the difficult decisions";
- consider yourself responsible for everything (even when you expand to have staff);
- which leads to DIY: "New entrepreneurs are vulnerable to thinking their expertise... is worth less than [bank managers or accountants]... I urge you to do your own accounts, sort out your own VAT" - YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!!!!! "After all, how can you successfully employ an accountant or general manager if you don't know what their job involves? I don't think I'd be successful running a big business now if I hadn't once been responsible for every single aspect of a much smaller business";
- "Skills on their own don't make a business, and neither does opportunity. Where you get a fit between the skills & opp, then you ave a really good chance of building a successful business." And I believe we do;
- "Identifying our rivals - and your potential rivals - is absolutely key to success." We laugh now every time a new face enters the store only to ask "WHY have you opened HERE?!" Because every single person - with the exception of a strange chap who came in clutching a Lidl carrier bag that had seen better days - has done that. And I answer "Well, there's no competition!" and then the next thing they say, with tears in their eyes, is "Thank you for opening here" and I tell them they just answered their first question;
- the one place niche businesses flourish is the internet. And we are about to launch e-by-Bedlam;
- open in a sub-prime area... hand out flyers... advertise locally. I give you MARTA!;
- Twitter / Facebook cost nothing. Well I'm not interviewed on the utilisation of so'med' for nuttin;
- Google ranking - ditto, we got it covered;
- whatever is your bogey task (he cites VAT!) depending on your character either impose a penalty or invent a reward. I have the Protestant Work Ethic in my DNA and function on the former, Mark worships at the church of sybratic indulgence and only a carrot is his motivator;
- "transform complete strangers into customers" - and then into friends! Hello Gugu! "meet as many strangers as possible" we are both nothing if not gregarious. "Have a relationship with your customers" - we do, we do, just short of consummated;
- do local events where you can have a stall - Kennington Village Fete, July 10th, here we come;
- understand the difference between value:size when apportioning (don't use term "give away") equity. Have started to learn that, yes;
- "A very effective way of making sure that you have no choice but to make your business a success is by putting in your own money... money you simply can't afford to lose." ie DEBT IS GOOD FOR GETTING OUTTA BED! Yessir, I hear that;
- work on your dining room table - I do, I do, it drives Mark nutzoid when he's ready to serve dinner. "No business needs to waste money on luxury premises" - Mr Bannatyne, you shudda smelt our wall;
- your salary is the last thing you spend money on. Sadly we have subscribed most strictly to that;
- incentivize customers with discount vouchers and staggered payments. We sold the Seville Marmalade pants and waistcoat from the window by allowing the gentleman to pay in installments;
- be a brilliant faker, e.g. use different voices on the phone for each "department" - I always used to do that at Moving Shadow Records;
- "Good business isn't just about brilliant deals, it's about mutually beneficial relationships". Amen;
- This is the bit that had me fall to my knees and shout "Hallelujah!" / offer to commit a lewd act on Mr B in gratitude, depending on your church - "When you have been working 18 hours a day, seven days a week for months, and are completely exhausted, it doesn't take much to make you throw in the towel... you wonder why you are working so hard, especially if the material results are yet to materialize. Every week, for countless reasons, entrepreneurs walk away from potentially lucrative business opportunities. Make sure you don't become one of them." Well as God is my witness, I won't;
- "Look at everything you've managed to achieve so far. make a list. Congratulate yourself." Well I sort of have, above, of recent reasons to celebrate, but there are many more. We started this blog in October, by January we opened the business account with our first investment. In February we had a stockist in New York, by March the store was coming together. In May the shop was opened by the Mayor of Lambeth so putting an official stamp on our standing in the community and doubling as a bloody good party; in June we had our first editorial published; come July we still love each other;
- "Have a full range of skills" - "be an extrovert who can sell milk to cows but also be happy alone in a room with the accounts, but have one skill above all, the ability to sell. Everything else is secondary." The best way to sell is passion. "And the best - and easiest - way to feel passion for your business is by believing that your business makes the lives of others better." Which is when I cut'n'paste something I already wrote above: "We laugh now every time a new face enters the store only to ask "WHY have you opened HERE?!" Because every single person has done that. And I answer "Well, there's no competition!" and then the next thing they say, with tears in their eyes, is "Thank you for opening here" and I tell them they just answered their first question.
|And... blue skies - Bedlam does Beverly Hills|