I knew there was something familiar about today’s date.
Other than my being a science fiction fan, May the fourth last year was significant because it was the day we announced that we could restart the supply of our non-essential goods to customers (see the Covid-19 info on the Belts site).
So today marks a year since we began a new normal; one that has continued to evolve, and will continue to do so. We are still sanitising hands and surfaces, wearing face coverings and keeping our distance…
We are delighted to be able to welcome customers into our new-look shop, with the belt maker’s workbench right in the window, and a spacious shopping area inside.
Those exciting plans I mentioned a year ago became a shop called ‘The Belt Makers and Friends‘ and inside you can now find a good range of gifts and accessories that compliment our belts, and that you might find around a person who belongs – for a part of their day at least – in an office, study or studio. Things like suitable leather bags and briefcases for the trip to work. Other items that brighten your day, such as a smart shirt and cufflinks to team up with a more casual trouser; comfy and bright, British made woollen socks; and leather pens that have been expertly hand crafted from our very own leather trimmings.
The range is expanding all the time and ‘desk decor’ is an area we are aiming at for the near future. Where will we be this time next year? To quote Dave Lister, of the JMC mining ship, Red Dwarf: “It’s going to be fun finding out!”
At the end of August The Belt Makers will be making belts in the menswear department of Exeter’s John Lewis & Partners.
John Lewis & Partners, Exeter
John Lewis & Partners are keen to work together with other Exeter city businesses, both large and small alike.
They share our philosophy that Exeter is for life, not just for holidays… and that it’s a great idea to pool resources and share ideas. By doing so, we can keep things fresh for all our customers all year round, and prove that Exeter is a fantastic place in which to find almost anything you could possibly need.
On Sunday 30th and Monday 31st August, Mark, Horace (the stitching pony) and I will be appearing in the menswear department of the John Lewis Exeter branch.
You can watch us working on belts, live in store, and you will be able to reserve items. We will be on hand for discussions and Q&A throughout the two days.
Join us on August Bank Holiday weekend!
Have a browse
Our incredible belts are now accompanied in store and online by a wide range of accessories that will suit the office, studio and working from home environment.
The shop is open for business 10am-5pm, Tuesday to Saturday and of course the website is open 24 hours.
We’re really seeing the benefit, goodwill and warmth that a campaign like Exeter’s Summer of Kindness can bring to a community. It’s following on from the buddy style plans that were due to happen shortly after lockdown began, but… well… lockdown.
Lockdown prevented the previous campaign launch
The original idea had been to team up with a business or businesses in a different sector or area from us, and come up with a plan to promote each other over a particular weekend in March.
We were going to put simple belt displays in Eat the Bird on Sidwell Street and in Recycled Candle Company on Gandy Street. In return we would display Eat the Bird menus in our shop and have a plate of their delicious wares in store during the Saturday morning. Obviously we would ensure that these were given out to our customers! A display of Recycled Candle Company’s products would reside in our shop too, and I had purchased a number of delightful cacti from them for our own product photography, for good measure.
Suddenly, city-wide, all plans changed; some were shelved, some were axed.
Summer of Kindness is Exeter’s latest city-wide advertising campaign
In a change to that previous billing, our local BID (Business Improvement District, known here as InExeter) have come up with the start of a team rescue plan. They have provided us with delightful paper daisies, that look fresh and inviting, to hang in our windows, giving a clear sign to customers that the campaign continues inside those stores. Participating businesses have been encouraged to team up amongst themselves, coming up with their own appropriate deals or offers that would invite their customers to visit the other businesses too.
We have mannequins in our shop! Frocks in Swing Time have loaned us a gorgeous, lacy, royal blue dress with a matching sparkling necklace, which we have teamed up with a contrasting bright red, narrow belt. This compliments the nautical theme in their current window display.
The Black Pearl, whose mannequin is called Manny, is cool as a cucumber in a flowing, silky turquoise number, teamed up with a yellow necklace and silver shoulder mini bag. We have cinched in the dress at the waist with a turquoise belt.
Zebel Bespoke have sent us a blue suit jacket and matching waistcoat with a white woven shirt and a tie which picks out tones in the jacket lining.
Finally, we have a lovely pair of leather shoes with brogue patterning from Loake Exeter, in a delicious chocolate brown which works beautifully with the blue suit.
Those other terrific members of our #SummerofKindness team are also carrying items from our stock in their shops, such as belts, cufflinks and braces. They may choose to sell these on our behalf, as well as explaining to their customers where we are and inviting them to visit us.
Now let me tell you a heartwarming little story…
This week we had a visit from a lovely couple from two different continents, trying to get married. They, like so many other couples in the same situation around the world, have been struggling to organise their special day within the confines and uncertainty of COVID-19.
Having had to reorganise our own wedding due to Foot and Mouth disease (back at the turn of the century) we really felt for them.
They had bought wedding shoes from Loake Exeter and they needed to match a belt to the colour. The manager Kelvin sent them to us for a bespoke belt. We made up a couple of different samples for them, in different leather colours with different edge colours, and they picked their favourite.
During the conversation we chatted about cufflinks, and matching them to belt thread colours and to suit linings, and we were able to recommend Zebel Bespoke for the wedding suit. They headed back up the hill to make those arrangements and we will make the belt especially for them.
We were unable to help with a recommendation for the bridesmaids’ dresses as they are all in New Zealand (we did try!)
We felt all warm and fuzzy that we are all recommending each other and especially that we’d helped out some customers in need, in this time of such confusion and delay. I wholeheartedly hope that they manage to have a wonderful wedding in New Zealand, and that the organisation and travel for all the different family members and friends goes as smoothly as possible! 🥰
The other boss and I happened to be watching Channel 4 on Friday or Saturday evening. Working with American Express, Lloyds Bank and several notable other sponsors, they played a short marketing piece for a competition to promote independent businesses. The call to action was: make a video.
Got to be honest, as much as I’m happy to stand in front of people (I’ve called bingo in the past to a hall of 800) and speak about the things that are important to me, the act of filming myself was a gigantic step into a perceptively complicated, and slightly scary unknown. I’ve recorded a few less-than-brilliant Instagram pieces for my charity marathon training but that’s it. No editing; didn’t have a clue where to begin with that.
The prize was for five independent businesses to get a 30 second advert made for them, and be shown on various Channel 4 channels, including during Cats Does Countdown at the end of the month.
8th July 2020
It was thanks to Mark that we took up the challenge; I thought it would be too complicated to consider in the short lead time… we had until midnight last night to apply.
A mission of four parts
The task was split into four parts: 30 seconds about the business, 60 seconds about our comeback from Covid-19 and how we keep our customers safe, a 60 second video tour of the premises (had to leave some out to squeeze that in) and they asked for a party trick, also in 60 seconds.
My biggest challenge was going to be the editing. The last time I was anywhere near an editing suite (which was very exciting) I was at college and they used tape. You know, the linear, magnetic kind! You physically cut it up and use special sticky tape to splice it back together in the right place. There was a little guillotine and everything. I was only watching, as that fun stuff wasn’t part of my own coursework.
Naturally, I headed to YouTube school to take a crash course in random-access video editing.
After some searching, a few false starts, and downloading three or four different editing apps on to my phone, I found one that was recommended by a YouTuber and partner, who demonstrated (badly) how they had used it to edit a video on their own channel; shot, edited and uploaded entirely from their phone. It seemed to be a good app that would do all the things I needed but there were gaps in the presentation and I was missing valuable info.
No more time to dwell on that! Next we needed to have an idea of what to say and also where to say it. I didn’t want the first two sections to just be a head shot of one of us doing a ‘piece to camera’ as that didn’t seem to me to be very exciting. I’m not sure that ‘exciting’ actually describes the finished result… but it’s certainly not all headshot interview style.
One thing I was sure of was that I wanted to have both of us in it. There are personalities behind independent businesses and these needed to be represented. Oh my, though: 30 seconds to describe my business? A near impossible task. Perhaps in future I can learn how to add a web address graphic to relevant sections to give more detailed information but yesterday was not that day. Had to go with the extreme abridged version.
Am I a diva for insisting on a script?
We timed each section and I realised that if I was going to speak clearly enough, I needed to limit even further the number of words I used. It got to a point where, when we wanted to talk about normal things, that we discuss with customers on a daily basis, we couldn’t remember any of the words we used! Having completely forgotten how to speak, it was time to sit down, quickly gather thoughts onto paper and start again.
We were on a roll (no pun intended) by the time I stood outside the shop, gesticulated enthusiastically at the signage, and shouted across the road in the hope that the tiny phone mike would pick me up!
Finally, the party trick
Party trick? Did they mean juggling? The only thing we can do that people love to watch is make a belt appear in front of their very eyes.
This normally takes around an hour and a half of careful placement of each and every tool stroke so we were going to have to be artful to fit this into 30 seconds. I was already thinking along the lines of adjusting the video speed… I was putting a good chunk of faith into being able to fathom the missing jigsaw pieces in my editing knowledge, by the time we got back home after filming was over.
It’s all in the teaching
Knowing that the editing was going to take place on, let’s face it, a tiny phone screen, meant that any further research needed could take place on the laptop.
Thankfully I found a great tutor. A no-nonsense, down-to-earth, tell-it-like-it-is Australian called Justin Brown from Primal Video. If you ever need any modern editing help, do try him out. It was a great relief to find a presentation that I could easily digest in the even shorter, short time remaining.
Following his advice I worked backwards and found the right clips. Justin had clearly demonstrated how to pull in different recordings, and quick ways to cut out extra work so although we poured over this project, from scratch, non-stop for around 9 hours, it could have taken so much longer and not been completed at all.
A good result
For a first, very green attempt, I’m pretty pleased. Obviously there’s huge room for improvement but we went with what we had, which at the start of the day, was just the phone! We learned some new skills, got our entry uploaded, finished filling in the web form and hit the go button.
For future reference, uploading three and a half minutes to YouTube, and waiting for it to process and become available for watching, takes the best part of an hour. I’ll bear that in mind for next time…
We opened our shop to the general public for the first time in months, on Monday 15th June. We had spent weeks pouring over government guidance and WHO recommendations; glued ourselves to Downing Street Briefings and we’d read everything sent to us by email, from local BID, council and national bodies alike; filled in forms and hung up the appropriate posters.
I think we’ve got it about right, until the recommendations are changed again, but that will be for another day!
We have a barricade down the centre of the shop floor, creating a one-way system that is separated from the second side. We have bright yellow floor tape marking both the direction of flow and the 2 metre intervals right across the floor. There is a hand sanitising station on the door and we are encouraging the use of face coverings but it’s not compulsory at this stage. I expect it will be soon!
We have disinfectant sprays for the surfaces. We’re keeping the socks in their plastic packaging so they can be wiped if necessary, and any belts that are tried on are being labelled and placed in the back room until their 72 hour quarantine is up.
Everyone waited politely on the little roundel (that’s two metres away from the till) to pay by card so, all-in-all, I think any uncertainty we had over whether or not we were doing all the right things, or whether we had missed anything, was put at rest.
Shopping for fun? I think I remember…
I do think it will take a while for people to get the hang of shopping for pleasure again, but by Saturday we had new window artwork by one of our Saturday staff, Gus, and there was music playing from the bar doing takeaway service a few doors down from us; the good old Fore Street atmosphere was well and truly dusted off and back where it should be!
We have been beautifully looked after by both regular and new customers alike and it is so appreciated, thank you.
We are so pleased to be able to bring such a lovely range of products to the Fore Street marketplace and this has been made partly possible by having the new website up and running so smoothly, so quickly. I need to give a massive shout out to Aaron from Takeoff Development for all his help and advice; if you need a website get straight on to him!
Do it your way
Remember, there are so many ways to shop with us. You can browse the website before popping in to the shop and you can try on a tester belt for size before you buy. You can order online for delivery, or for contactless collection: just let us know when’s best for you.
You can also book a private appointment for you and your household or social bubble. Pick your preferred contact option to book, or use your favourite social media and find us via #TBMandFriends.
Thank you for supporting our independent family business… see you soon!
It has to be said, this has been the strangest year of our lives, and not in the way we expected
The original plan, after moving all sites under one (much more convenient) roof, had been to give all of the different TBM belt lines more space to breathe; to fill our much larger shop not only with Classics, Borders, Raises and our characteristic hand sewn patterns, but also with plaits, braids, inlays, guest leathers and, when the product reaches our requirements, to venture into the world of vegan leather substitutes.
The global coronavirus outbreak has changed things somewhat
As mentioned in our About TBM & Friends, we have witnessed the struggle faced by some of our fellow artisans and, not being bin collectors, food providers, doctors or nurses, we tried to think of other ways (in addition to social distancing and hand washing, etc) that we could contribute to the National Effort.
… and so TBM & Friends was born
We put out some feelers , talked to a number of local artisans who had lost outlets, and curated a collection of products that would work with our belts. Items that could be found in an office or studio setting, or in the dressing room of someone nipping across the hall to their work from home den.
Things besides our beautiful hand made, leather trouser support solutions, such as lovely cufflinks that you will really get a buzz from wearing, braces that are hand made in England, also available with button hole ends, leather wallets; all these supplied to us from a company only about 8 miles from our shop.
Natural fibre socks in wool, sometimes also with cotton, are not made in commercial volumes quite so close to home but we have found a maker further north who produces these items that are soft, colourful and… wait for it… machine washable!
Elegant and functional leather briefcases and bags are hand made by an artisan only 2 miles from us, so close! These are incredibly practical and delightfully comfortable to wear; guaranteed and repairable. You don’t really need to look any further for a bag that will suit your needs, as you can customise not only the colour but the number of pockets, pouches and zips, should you wish to place a bespoke order.
If you are looking for desk or study solutions, you can also find those here. Perfect porcelain pen pots, mini planters, trinket trays and lighting solutions are all in stock. Colourful and uplifting lamps and soy candles to light your way, CO2 absorbers for a more comfortable atmosphere, and somewhere to keep together all those things you can never quite put your hands on.
Elegant and functional is the name of the game in this shop. If it’s actually useful, look for it here. If it also looks, feels or works in some stunning way, search for it here. We aim to raise eyebrows and expectations… and support local artisans, wherever we can.
Browse the website, pop into the shop… you are assured of a warm welcome!