Blowin' in the wind

Yesterday, we set up stall at our regular monthly Sunday Market. Storm Kathleen had blown through the night before rattling the windows and howling down the chimney and although much diminished, was still showing her presence on the day. My guess is that the Met would have called it a gentle to moderate breeze - but I’m not a meteorologist and truly don’t know the what the wind speed was.


It was windy enough to have a noisy set up;  tables blowing over, shouting (to be heard over the noise of the wind) and my husband and I working out how we could put the sand bags on the legs to stabilise the marquee before putting it up. Spoiler: you can’t. You have to put it up and then, as fast as is humanely possible, get the sand bags tied securely around the legs. 


As the occasional wind got under the the marquee threatening to send it skywards, we felt that sand bags were insufficient and my husband did a scout around and came back with 12 bricks which went in and on top of the sand bags. 

One stall, feeling their canvas was taking on the persona of a main sail,  set up then decided to pack up and go home before the market had even started.


I went over and chatted with the woman across the way from me who was selling the most delicious home baked biscuits. Every so often I would look up and see her; one hand above her head  hanging onto the inside frame of her marquee during a squall. It was somewhat reminiscent of the Mary Poppins scene where positions are taken, waiting for the cannon fire that shakes the house on a daily basis.


The day went on and, as predicted, storm Kathleen ran out of puff.  But then, around midday, Kathleen gave one unpredictable dying blast, a large squall sent canvas's flapping, followed by an almighty smashing sound. 

The final flurry had blown off the large perspex display counter belonging to the biscuit stall. The marquee, well weighted down, was fine but all the biscuits scattered on the pavement, now unsellable. There was plenty of help on hand including my husband who reported back that the vendor seemed, understandably, quite distressed. The marquee was dismantled, the bits picked up and the home baked biscuits given away to her team of helpers. A zip car arrived and the despondent woman climbed in, leaving the folded rented marquee sitting forlornly in a trolly, occupying the space where there had been a smiling face and yummy biscuits. 


It put a bit of a cloud on my day as I knew how upset I would be if  my day’s market stock had just been destroyed as well as my display cabinet - all  in a matter of seconds.  


That evening I found her on instagram and messaged to check that she was OK. She messaged back telling  me that along with her display cabinet ,her phone and card reading machine had also been trashed. 


We are talking hundreds of pounds of equipment here literally blown away in 10 seconds. 


Before starting our business I had only a vague concept of profit margins -  which are continually squeezed - not just with the cost of the product but with your operating costs, which seem to be disproportionally larger the smaller you are, but that’s my perception, I don’t have a background in big retail. 


All I know is that this young woman across the way from me at the market had the courage to set out and build a business, she has instagram and a website, is entrepreneurial and will post you her delicious biscuits as well as sell them directly to you. You can also buy the dough to bake yourself. She turned up on her own, set up and put a smile on her face to customers while leaping up to hold her marquee secure in the wind. Any one of us yesterday could have ended up in the same position as her, it was a freak squall that did the damage. 


What I don’t know is how much reserve there is to weather such accidents and whether insurance will pay - and crucially, mentally how much each individual entrepreneur can take. 

From my limited experience of starting a business mental resilience is as key as all the other attributes. 

The Office for National Statistics show that 20% of business’ fail in their first year and around 60% will go bust within their first three years. As an allegory, I think the windy day at the market sums up small business's perfectly. It wasn’t windy enough to cancel the market, the wind was fading, it was a final freak squall that sent the display cabinet flying while all the marquees held tight, it was as people say ‘one of these things’. 


As always, I take my hat off to all the entrepreneurs out there, struggling with the daily battle of profit margins and stock control. Its not a walk in the park, and certainly not a breeze, sometimes being an entrepreneur feels truly as if the rest of the world is literally ‘taking the biscuit’.


So with full apologies to the wonderful Bob Dylan

 ‘how many blows can a small business take before it decides to pack up

the answer, my friend , is blowin’ in the wind

the answer is blowin’ in the wind.’

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