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Summer of Kindness

Close up of our shop window with handwritten chalk pen banner stating Come & Browse, Free Prize Draw, #RetailWeek, #SummerofKindness

Summer of Kindness

Close up of our shop window with handwritten chalk pen banner stating Come & Browse, Free Prize Draw, #RetailWeek, #SummerofKindness
Close up of our shop window with handwritten chalk pen banner stating Come & Browse, Free Prize Draw, #RetailWeek, #SummerofKindness

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.

Preparing a daisy for hanging
Preparing a daisy for hanging

Here at The Belt Makers and Friends, we have teamed up with Frocks in Swing Time (vintage fashions) and The Black Pearl (Italian fashions) on our own Fore Street; Zebel Bespoke (tailoring) who moved from Fore Street to just behind the High Street; and Loake Shoemakers Exeter on Catherine Street, in view of our most excellent Cathedral.

A whole new kind of shop display!

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! 🥰

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Film making: a short but intense journey

Video thumbnail of me outside the rebranded shop front

Film making: a short but intense journey

Video thumbnail of me outside the rebranded shop front
Video thumbnail of me outside the rebranded shop front

Channel 4 threw down a gauntlet

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.

Channel 4 throw down the gauntlet: make a video
Channel 4 throw down the gauntlet: 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.

Still shot of both of us filming the video introduction
Still shot of both of us filming the video introduction

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.

YouTube logo
YouTube logo

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.

Onward!

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.

Marie in front of some belt shelves
Head shot interview, TBMF 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.

Mark at the bench smiling with 3 finished belts
Job done!

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…

Please do have a look and tell us what you think!

‘Film making: a short but intense journey’ was written by Marie Buckfield

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Thank you for a fantastic week!

Social distancing measures: sanitising station and floor flow markings

Thank you for a fantastic week!

Shop front with Open artwork by Gus
Shop front with Open artwork by Gus

Ushering in the New Era

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!

Social distancing measures: sanitising station and floor flow markings
Social distancing measures: sanitising station and floor flow markings

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.

Payment roundel floor sticker
Payment roundel floor sticker

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!