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Insta-hero or business zero?

BLog instagram

With a surge of enthusiasm from my team I was persuaded into tackling Instagram. Which means that now every morning I get into my bikini, take a selfie of me eating candy and hash-tag it with as many populist expressions as possible to ensure I get noticed.

O.k. that’s not what happens on my account. That is however, what I thought Instagram was all about. As a person who has an utterly entrenched aversion to being inflicted with other people’s holiday photos, I imagined Instagram to be a terrifyingly boring experience, which would result in me getting depressed over the current trend of extreme narcissism.

In a world first, I have somewhat been proven wrong. There is some wonderfully innovative imagery on Instagram. For the non-wordsmiths out there it is the perfect forum to let their creativity be seen.

In same ways I feel Instagram is easier to master for small businesses than Facebook, it’s a simpler tool where you literally snap and go. The words you use aren’t that important, and in a way neither are the images. Your audience is far less protective over their accounts and more willing to let businesses into their ‘feeds’ than on Facebook. It is also commonly known as a shopping tool, so your audience is already primed to have things sold to them.

However, I’ve noticed that certain types of businesses are far better suited to Instagram than others. Outdoor adventure, travel and fashion are absolutely made for Instagram. It’s the businesses that sell life-styles, ideals and dreams which can easily pitch to us a better version of our lives and selves.

A quick Google search tells me that the top followed companies in the world are ones such as Audi, Tiffany and co., Gucci, Nike and Burberry. All of these brands market by telling us we could be better, we could have more status, live a life of luxury and style by wielding or wearing one of their elite products. So where does that leave a candy store?

I have been trying to figure out Sarkara’s niche area on Instagram and am still very much in the beginning stages. I always suggest that brands establish an identity before undertaking any social media. I decided Sarkara’s is to be fun, quirky and informal. Our brand identity is a little off the wall, a little crazy and always bright. So far we have concentrated on imagery that shows us getting creative with our candy. But next month I’ve decided to move us into a more personable zone and feature Sarkara’s wonderful team more.

In the end, social media requires monitoring to determine what works best for your brand. It can be awfully time consuming for a small business and it can be scary opening yourself up to negative comments on new communications channels.   But every brand can have a voice even the seemingly mundane ones. For Sarkara instead of selling an unattainable lifestyle our best bet is to sell the idea of attainable fun. By coming into Sarkara, by buying that wee piece of nostalgic candy, your day will be better. That is our primary social media goal.

Although proven wrong, in that there are many worthwhile images and causes on Instagram, I still firmly believe that using superficial means is the quickest and surest route to Instagram stardom. So if any of the Hadid sisters or really good looking people who live in their togs by a pool are interested in eating candy and taking photos of themselves, I would guarantee Sarkara could reach 50,0000 followers within six months.

But as I’ve had no daringly dashing volunteers to assist me,  I’ll be stuck trying to entice followers by good ol’ fashioned creativity and tongue in check humour, with the goal of reaching 500 followers in six months.

The above is an important point for small business owners to understand. Social media success is unlikely to be over night. It’ll take a bit of work, consistency and long-term faith to make it work. So, having previously designed workshops for social media and studied (mainly Facebook) in detail in my previous life, I’ve put together a wee list of dos and don’ts for small businesses taking on social media:

DO

  1. Decide who you are and what your persona will be i.e. tone of voice, style of images
  2. Set three primary goals i.e. more visits to your website, higher levels of brand awareness or specific targeting of new markets.
  3. Take the time to look at other brands you admire on social media. It will help you’re creative ideas flow.
  4. Organise yourself. Have a monthly schedule in place, don’t update on the hoof, as you’ll find it stressful and won’t ensure consistency with your messaging.
  5. Respond to anyone who reached out to you, even if they say something negative. It’s a great opportunity to bring back a potentially lost customer through great online customer service.
  6. Use Facebook ads. It’s a cheap form of advertising with a pretty good reach. Take the time to target and see which ads get the most clicks. Information, after all is power.
  7. Offer social media promotions as a reward to those following you.

DON’T

  1. Leave your social media account idle for too long. You should be updating at least weekly.
  2. Open up too many channels before you’re ready. Test the waters with the channel that suits your company best. If you’re looking to target 30s-50s then go for Facebook, if your demographic is younger, then start with Instagram. But try to only open the can of worms  you can successfully handle.
  3. Be a person, instead of being a brand. Keeping this in mind will ensure you keep your distance from being too personable on social media. Remaining professional is always essential.
  4. Give up if the likes aren’t streaming in, it is really hard for regional small businesses to gain traction.
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Stay Calm and Import

Tips to importing

So I’m back blogging after what turned out to be an extended hiatus after Christmas. I’m trying to think of a decent excuse, but I’m not able to come up with an honest one.

The Christmas period went fantastically well and Sarkara is proving that good customer service, a fun retail vibe in conjunction with selling an ever increasing variety of sweets, slowly but surely increases our chances of long-term survival.

So despite sounding like a whiny Witney,  I have to tell you that one of the downers of increased sales is the need to increase my importing of candy. I HATE import order week,  the week before it takes place I begin to fill with anxiety, as I know a week of late nights, frustration and more often than not ordering errors awaits me.

I order from around four different suppliers. My big ones are in the U.S.A and the U.K where I consolidate multiple orders from multiple suppliers.  Each one works on not only a different time zone but also apparently a differing level of customer service.

Every order involves at least two late-night phone calls to the U.K to find out why something which strikes me as easy, is in reality asking someone to go above and beyond. All I ask is that my orders are delivered to my freight agent in the U.K or U.S.A and that nothing has a best before date of less than six months. But between pallet issues (they have to be fire resistant ), delivery slip-ups and sudden out-of-stocks of products  that I’ve already paid for things never run to plan.

But here’s the kicker, it turns out candy suppliers are like telecommunications companies. They all tend to have the same issues. Which means there’s no point in chucking my toys at one, as the next one will be just the same and eventually I’ll run out of suppliers and be left with no products and end up doing impromptu mimes in my store to try to make a living. Or even resort to my long (some say thankfully) buried party trick of fitting my fist in my mouth to pay rent.

Adding to supplier problems is freight agent frustrations. It’s one of those fields where people get so used to their own jargon that they wrongly and quiet frankly rudely assume that everyone else speaks it too.

I have seen many emails to my suppliers sent from my freight agents in response to simple questions which you simply have to roll your eyes at.  For example:

Freight agent: 

“Hi XXXX

We have been advise that the terms are FOB”

Supplier:

“What does that mean exactly?”

Freight agent:

“Hi XXXX

 Hope this helps

FOB, “Free On Board”, is a term in international commercial law specifying at what point respective obligations, costs, and risk involved in the delivery of goods shift from the seller to the buyer. Under the Incoterms 2010 standard published by the International Chamber of Commerce, FOB is only used in non-containerized sea freight or inland waterway transport. FOB terms do not define transfer of ownership of the goods. Ownership of the cargo is independent from incoterms. In international trade, ownership of the cargo is defined by the bill of lading or waybill.

This term FOB is also used in modern domestic shipping within the USA to describe the point at which a seller is no longer responsible for shipping cost.”

Well as you can imagine, that cleared nothing up, confused my supplier and resulted in another late night phone call to try to sort it out.

So after a few years at this and a mountain of experience at re-committing the same errors I’ve got a few tips on importing:

Suppliers

  1. When you find a supplier make sure they understand 100% your expectations, and requirements. Have it all in one email not in a confusing chain.
  2. Check on payment options, international bank transfers often incur a fee which ranges significantly depending on countries and banks. If you don’t allow for this fee it will be deducted from your payment and you might find your supplier not willing to send as they reckon they’ve been short-changed.
  3. Speak to them on the phone at least once so they recognise you’re a person with feelings, a family and an accent.
  4. Don’t threaten them with leaving them….they don’t care that the small store in Wellington, New Zealand stops buying. That realisation truly hurts.

Freight agents

  1. Go meet them, put a face to the emails. Ask them to explain freight ‘norms’ and jargon which you may not know.
  2. Get insurance
  3. Boats will get delayed, your cargo will get dumped for more important stuff and wharfies go on strike heaps! So give yourself 1-2 weeks breathing space.
  4. They don’t really understand customer service. As a generalisation (read not everyone!) do not expect to ever hear “I’m sorry, we mucked up, we take full responsibility”. Stay calm, state your resolution and don’t get worked up about it (trust me, it’s never gotten me anywhere).

Ultimately as you get to know your suppliers and how they work things will run more smoothly. Although I can’t lie, importing tends to run under Murphy’s Law so never get too comfortable.

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About a Boy

SoJax and me anniversary shot to all three of my avid readers, I have some disappointing news. This will be the last blog I do until just after Christmas.

You see, the store is rearing into flat-out mode and with the added hours, a birthday party and just general life-mayhem I’m not going to find the peaceful time I need to update this blog for a wee while. But that doesn’t mean I’ve got nothing useful to say today!

Today’s post is all about a boy. He’s a boy I didn’t necessary expect to meet, and who, even after a year I’m still getting to know, discovering more and more about him everyday. He’s by far and away the most emotionally and physically draining man I’ve ever had in my life. He also doesn’t give back in the traditional sense. There are no flowers, there’s no trying to make my day easier. But he manages to give me more than anyone ever has before.

In December we’ll celebrate our one-year anniversary. We plan to mark the occasion by me stressing over the preparations and him not particularly giving a monkey’s arse about the fuss. But it’s a great excuse to celebrate him in all his fabulous nonchalant glory.

I’ve been scratching my head thinking about what I’ve learnt over the last year from being with this tiny baby boy. I can’t deny the amount of personal growth a new mum (and dad) experience is immense. It’s the ultimate test of patience, pain thresholds, adrenalin, fear and love.

But on the other hand I know my experiences are very much entwined with my lifestyle, my business and my relationship with my partner and family. Others will have learned different lessons and experiences. They are bound to have excelled in areas where I have struggled and vice versa. All I really know is that nothing could have prepared me for the glorious test of character that was ahead of me.

However, while reflecting on the last year, I did manage to come up with a slice of sage advice for mums-to-be. Let go of control. If you’re anything like me then you’ll end up almost unconsciously taking ’charge’ of everything to do with the baby. From the way his nappy is changed to feeding times and the precise way he should be laid down for a nap. The seemingly well-intended control surrounding your baby is limitless, excluding of others and quite frankly unnecessary.

An example of this is that fairly early on I decided that because Jaxy AKA small toes went to sleep faster with me holding him down (I mean gently cooing at him) then it was easier if I just did it. The result is that I’m not able to fully enjoy a dinner with a friend, as I’m aware some poor soul is dealing with a screaming baby in a cot, desperately trying to get him to sleep. That’s not fair on the babysitter, that’s not fair on me and it is definitely not fair on tiny teeth. I should’ve let my partner put him to sleep; I should’ve relinquished control based on an unfounded thought that my way was the best way.

So please mothers-to-be who are like me. Trust me, learn to let go and you’ll find everyone’s life will be easier.

But I’ve digressed from my original story about a boy.

He’s a boy that sleeps in four hour blocks and absolutely howls like a banshee whenever you change his nappies. He’s a wee lad that demands you get down to his level to have crawl chases and adores smacking you in the face. He’s a boy that looks at you with a sly smile on his face and when he giggles your whole entire world lights up and it honestly feels like life couldn’t get any better.

After a year of previously unfathomable sleeplessness and stress, this little boy with chubby hands and no wrists has made my world and my partner’s world and even my parent’s world better than we could have imagined. He’s still a baby but he’s becoming our boy and like probably all babies he was born with a Midas touch, as he honestly has turned everything we saw in our future into something more shiny, more valuable, more meaningful and hands-down more fun.

So thank you my wee baby boy and happy anniversary – from the main woman in your life (until you’re at least 22), your dark eye-bag ravaged Mum.

 

 

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Rolling, Jingling and Baby Internet Blues

Baby trumpHere’s a brief recap of events over the last week or so. It rained; Trump startled everyone by actually becoming the President of the United States, it rained again, Jax began yet another painful stretch of teeth sprouting, then it rained a wee bit more, a major earthquake reminded us all of our own mortality, stock arrived from the UK for Christmas (while it was raining) and the store started gearing up for Christmas.

Rain+baby+internet = crap idea

 It honestly feels like it has been raining all my life. I vaguely remember a day potentially last week where I frolicked in the sun with wee Jax. But with the great outdoors not being an entertainment option I began to desperately search for new things to keep Jax brimming with the will to live. Which ultimately led me to make bad decisions involving searching the Internet. Consequently after looking up ideas for 12 month old (Jax is 11 months, but I figured I’d challenge him, as he challenges me) I discovered the following suggestions:

“ Hide objects around the house and ask him to go find them i.e. go get my shoes”

Hand a phone to your child and keep one for yourself. Pretend to make calls, and hold conversations with each other or imaginary people. Use funny voices, and create silly characters on the other line.”

Ummmm Jax has just learnt to push his trolley at great speed across our lounge, sometimes he’ll shake his head randomly and he’ll da,da,da,da (never enough ma,ma,ma,ma for the effort I’ve put in) merrily during important moments in TV programmes. But the suggestion that in one month he will be getting my shoes on command or having a bloody telephone conversation with me seems utterly ludicrous. All that this Internet search resulted in was a new gnawing stress that my perfect little man may not be developing, as he should.

My concerns are obviously stupid, as babies go at their own speed and other than not being able to dial me up for a chat when he’s out and about he seems perfectly happy and normal. But there’s nothing like feeding a new Mum’s instinct for worry like an Internet search.

Lesson, DO NOT INTERNET SEARCH ABOUT BABIES.

Christmas Bells Tolling

I’ve got a thing about retail stores getting their Christmas on too soon. It always seems like they’re trying to leech off the season rather than celebrate it. Don’t misunderstand me; at Sarkara we love Christmas in part because it’s a financial boom. But we also enjoy it because of the energy the customers bring, the excitement about long holidays and we especially love the squeals of delight when we hear a customer find something they know someone will love.

The challenges for a business like Sarkara is the need to order stock so much in advance. Often our suppliers will not have their Christmas stock ready for ordering in August and knowing which of our new items will be top sellers and which won’t is always a bit of a guessing game. But we do our best and hope to please.

I also get super, duper excited about having my Christmas songs playlist in-store. It doesn’t go on until the fortnight leading up to Christmas but it makes me so happy inside. I spent honestly (and slightly sadly) hours putting a playlist of international Christmas songs together. I’ve got rap, reggae, Spanish, French and the Ramones it doesn’t get any more non-annoying and cheerful than these yuletide tunes.

My to-do list is still vast, I’ve got a Christmas promotion to convince people to have in their restaurants, Google ads to set up, and not to mention stuff like decorations, labels etc. to organise. But no matter what I’m sure we’ll still feel the buzz of a Merry Christmas.

Women are dogs

Ahh Trump, I haven’t got much to say really. I feel he’s a product of those who feel bitterness at a new developed world where the rich are rich and the poor are poor. We should all be aware of these voices, that feel due to their race, gender or historic prominence they ‘deserved’ to be treated more fairly by a world which has advanced developing nations (read non-white people) and has moved manufacturing jobs outside of a nation.

As a believer in a global world where my right as a person who so happened to be born in New Zealand is no greater than anyone else’s, I personally believe these under skilled, tunnel vision voters are wrong. They voted for an under qualified man, who campaigned using rhetoric to literally divide and conquer in the hopes that he’d make them ‘great again’. I never once heard him say he’d do this by up-skilling them, or provide counselling in the hopes they’d realise what their ancestors did to others. Or by giving them inner drive over outward blame.

But other than that, it saddens me that we live in an anger driven world. And it distresses me even more that a man who clearly sees a woman’s worth is in his pants, can rally support behind his ‘cause’. But then again when I think of it Mormonism enlisted millions too.

Shake, Shake, Shake Sarkara, Shake your Candy Store

While the U.S.A was reeling from the Trump win, New Zealand began reeling in a much more profound way. The 7.5 magnitude earthquake rocked us in the Wellington region like no earthquake I’ve every felt before. It wasn’t so much a shaking as a weird seesaw motion. But I think with earthquakes like this the scary part is the reminder that you are so minute, vulnerable and unarmed against Mother Nature.

The store shut for a day, but I have to say that despite the slow realisation that this would affect business I was more immediately worried about those closer to the epicentre, all I could think was ‘hell, if that’s how it felt here, what has happened there.’

Luckily the death toll wasn’t high and in a sign that the world keeps spinning round and round – it rained today.

 

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Creativity for hire

good-design-quoteSage advice for  working with designers or photographers.

 At some point every small business that has its eyes set on growth, will contract a creative ‘genius’ to make their visual presence look more professional and eye-catching.

It’s kind of like going to a hairdresser in that for some reason you feel pressured to be ‘cool’, which often means you smile, giggle and end up agreeing to some pretty interesting, unnecessary and expensive enhancements. In the hairdresser world that would be a dark red and blonde balayage dye job. In creative job terms that would be $500 worth of store photos which you never could, nor would use in any way whatsoever.

A lot of my errors have had nothing to do with the contracted creative mind, rather with my inability to express what I want, how I want it and the top level of a budget to get it.

So I thought it might be useful for someone out there if I outlined a few tips for hiring a photographer or designer to get a job done.

  1. Set a realistic budget and know stuff ain’t cheap

For a skilled professional photographer or a graphic designer you are often looking at $100 – $150 per hour. What is going to surprise you is that something that you perceive to be easy like ‘change that font’ or ‘replace the background’ can take a designer an hour or two to actually do. So make sure that whomever you contract knows your final budget. I have now started treating contract design projects like mobile data and ask them to give me a head’s up when I’ve passed a certain halfway budget point so I know to tread carefully with change requests.

Also beware, creative contractors kind of work like lawyers and you will be charged for EVERYTHING. So be careful about taking up offers to organise print jobs or drop proofs off, as you will see this in your bill, which may or may not result in a tear forming in the corner of your eye. If you can do something yourself, just do it yourself and spend your dollars on the skills you lack.

  1. Be lengthy with your brief

Trust me on this one, I’ve merrily jabbered away at people without managing to clearly put into words (preferably written ones) what I want, when I want it, and the uses I want it for. Take the time to set your brief in stone. For example, if you want hi-res images for print, but you’ve only asked for web banners then you need to tell them this at the start.

  1. Apples aren’t oranges

Take some time to find someone who has done work similar to yours. For example, in my newbie days I paid a photographer to come up with concepts for product images for my webpage. She was a cool chick, but really wasn’t the right fit for me. Her interest was mainly in creative fashion and my interest was mainly in selling candy online. I ended up paying for a number of background concepts which worked really well if my goal was to camouflage what I was selling. In the end I’ve never used any of them. But learnt a lesson on finding someone who has the skills to fit my task.

  1. Copy and paste your desires

Don’t just tell them you want something ‘vibrant’ ‘that wows’ try showing them. Get your fingers flicking through Pinterest and send them a mood board of what you like and tell them why you like it.  You will have been quoted for a set number of small changes to whatever concept you’re given, so the clearer you can be (without drying their creative juices up) the less likely it will be that you’ll end up paying for extra changes.

Pretty much the stuff that I’ve hired creative minds to do has been well worth the dosh. I’d say any small business needs to get their signage, logo, images and posters done by a professional as often as possible as it makes a business stand out and look proud to exist. But before you watch your precious dollars fly out the window, take note of my advice as it’s coming from someone that has previously metaphorically thrown wads of cash into the creative rabbit hole.

 

 

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Childcare subsidy – It’s more than just money honey.

Childcare costsSo this week my wee man Jax went into childcare for four hours a week.

I sobbed as I left him; he on the other hand dealt with his obviously overwhelming emotions by picking up a slightly dirty toy and shoving it in his gob. I like to think he put it there to stop him from screaming out my name as I left.

But his placement into care coincides with a few articles I read last week on our national news website Stuff. They were to do with a recently elected councillor who was demanding the council remuneration included subsidy of childcare. Now, let’s be clear. This councillor is in the same position as many women across the country whose (combined with partner) salary crosses the subsidy threshold. For the life of me I can’t understand why she made it about her rather than about women in general, or at least her constituents. There is no reason why she should receive any special treatment or feel entitled to it.

But what shocked me was the lack of understanding in the comments section on the wider issue of childcare subsidy. An article on Stuff titled “Here’s what you need to know about childcare” attracted comments such as:

Anti lemming

if you think what’s best for the children…a parent would be at home with them instead of palming them off into care and expecting others to pick up the tab…plan for your family and budget accordingly.”

Alittlemoretime

If you have children – you need to raise them. That means thinking about work and childcare before you have them. Having kids is a selfish pursuit – you have them because you want them not because society does. Therefore – take responsibility.”

“Stephen Champion

As someone without children, I struggle to understand why people who have children expect me to subsidise more than I already do so that they can have more money in their household. “

I completely agree that people have to understand that having children is a financial and emotional commitment and no one has a ‘right’ to childcare. However, I find it interesting that everyone seems to accept that we have a ‘right’ to primary school education which the government is responsible for providing. In a blog I recently read on The Guardian website on why early childhood care should be subsidised the author points out how as soon as a child turns four society says education as a must that should be provided free of charge. Increasingly evidence proves that early exposure to education can be vital in helping at risk children. So why is age four such a magical number?

At Jax’s daycare 80% of the teachers hold a qualification (which I lack) in childhood education. Of course my baby boy needs my time, attention, love and laughter but he also needs exposure to new things to equip him with flexibility, strength, social skills and imagination. The New Zealand Government’s own review into early childcare finds early care decidedly positive. With evidence proving kids gain advantages in mathematics, literacy and have a far better disposition to learning in general.

For at-risk kids the benefits to society can be even greater as getting them into childcare early can be vital to their future prospects. One American research organisation found that “Well-designed early childhood interventions have been found to generate a return to society ranging from $1.80 to $17.07 for each dollar spent on the program.”

In terms of economics, the Stuff comments regarding why the hell someone else should have to pay for my kids doesn’t really make sense to me. I’m sure if the Government subsidised a child $30 or even $40 p/week for childcare the taxes the parent would pay by not being at home would cover this subsidy – so no one’s picking up the proverbial tab. Additionally, we can look at it another way, if my kids are given tools to become tax paying members of society they are likely to be footing your bill for retirement and hospital care at a later date.

Just as crucially  is the loss of brainpower to our society. Currently most middle class parents would need one parent to stay at home full-time for the first three years of a baby’s life. As it is generally the middle-class who are most likely to eek across the subsidy salary limit, which means they will have the most to lose financially, as it may be touch and go between money earned and money spent on childcare.

Now gender aside, those three years are likely to have a medium to longterm impact on a number of factors for the at-home parent, including their career prospects, their pay, their professional development and their tax input into society.

Being a geographically isolated society, it’s difficult for New Zealand to compete with other nations in primary industry trade. What we can have though, is ideas. The best money to be made for an economy is not in the fabrication of items such as a laptops or cellphones it’s having the ideas to design, sell and enhance products.

To make good ideas people have to be allowed to continue to develop their minds. And it is often through a workplace that skills and knowledge are enhanced. Stunting someone’s mental growth by giving them no other option than to be at home in an isolated environment, is no good for New Zealand’s economical development. In my opinion, we should let every able and willing New Zealander develop their practical and mental skills to enable them to contribute more to New Zealand’s well-being in the future.

My kid isn’t anyone else’s responsibility but mine. At the same time, neither is educating your teenager, or providing the increased healthcare necessary for our elderly or services for those with disabilities. However, a society which doesn’t protect, enhance and love is not one which in my opinion will thrive or in which I particularly want to live in as it sounds mean.

Meanwhile, while Jax was in childcare I managed to spend two hours working on improving my business and bettering my ability to provide for him and others in our society.

 

 

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Constantly Constance

Constance HallThere are a couple of new things that have transpired since I gave birth to a sprog.

First thing is I now notice other people’s babies; I have never, ever been a baby watcher. Now I found myself smiling at any unsuspecting child being lugged around the streets.

The second thing is that I am perfectly accepting of my at-home hair dye job. I used to believe hole heartedly that a good dye job was essential to my being. Now it’s as if the time and money that I have to spend to get my hair dyed (into a shade which no one ever bloody noticed anyway) seems misspent.

The third thing is I am now also an avid follower of Constance Hall’s Facebook page. She’s the only ‘Mummy blogger’ I bother to follow. As to be honest, I’m not someone who has found solace in reading about other people’s child struggles. I’ve only got one small human to juggle, and many bloggers have multiple poo machines to tell interesting tales about. So I haven’t found I relate or care that much about reading them and I also find the idea of reading them slightly single focussed, as if I was no longer anything else other than a mummy. I’m busy trying to not over think raising my wee man, and if I were to constantly read about babies then I’d definitely let it consume me.

That being said, I find Constance Hall and her following fascinating. For those of you who have never heard of her check her Facebook out. But to give you a taste here are a few of my favourite posts:

Constance Hall

14 September at 18:47 · 

Dear ex boyfriend,

Today after dancing up and down on the table squirting me with a water bottle, my son told me that I am the worst mum in the world because I suggested that he should come down and stormed into his room, under the bed where he proceeded to cry out for me telling me he loves me and begging me to come and find him.

It made me realise that the way I treated you was wrong.

I’m sorry. 💗

Constance Hall

5 September at 18:24 · 

I went to pick Snow up from her daycare day last week.

She had to go and hug her bestie good bye, they squeezed each other so tight that they fell over.

Her bestie is Janey, Janey is Indian and has a full head of thick hair and speaks fluently and is already toilet trained.

Snow has no hair, can’t say a word and has never once wee’d on a toilet or potty.

The Daycare Queens told me that Janey talks baby language when with Snow to help them chat and they spend their whole day together laughing and smiling and making weird sounds.

What a world they live in, where intelligence and race and hair goals don’t exist. 💃🏾💃🏾💃🏾

They just love each other 💗

Snowy and Janey for the win 💗👑

She also recently wrote one about her haemorrhoid, which I initially thought a bit crass, but then noticed by her opening up about it she took some of the shame away from others who then felt free to discuss it.

Although I think Constance Hall’s posts are wickedly entertaining, raw and at times thought provoking I find her equally fascinating from a business perspective.

She has something which marketing and PR firms yearn for – an ability to gain a mass following in an organic (read free) way. So what’s Constance got that so many others don’t?

Genuine Gal

Constance calls herself and all woman Queens. I think she genuinely wants to build a supportive network of woman that don’t tear each other down. As a sassy, loudmouth lass who is far from a nun I think she’s probably faced a fair few snide comments from women in the past and part of the reason behind her blog and posts is to show women that they can put their jealousy and judgment to the side and find alternative happiness in supporting.

Personally I think that if the reason behind something, whether it be a business or blog is not somewhat altruistic and genuine then you won’t get sustained interest.

She gets down and dirty

In a way that is unfortunately reminiscent of Trump’s mass attraction, Constance reaches people by being a straight talking, swearing, and no beat-around-the-bush kinda chick. She talks like many of her followers, it’s easy to read and easy to relate to, as her posts are written as if she was sitting down for a wine with her Queens. She airs her dirty laundry and creates a forum for others to reveal their imperfections too. It’s not aspirational, it’s not telling us who to be and how to be it. It’s her saying ‘this is me and I’m just fine’.

Lonely-hearts club appeal

There is something often isolating about motherhood. You at times feel trapped and alone. Leaving the house can be a pain in the arse with a little one in tow. I know mine hates his pram and car seat with a scarily aggressive passion. So when I go out I have to make sure it’s for short stints to make sure he doesn’t lose his shit and stress us both out. I know plenty of Mum’s who feel apart form the real world, a world that they used to participate in with freshly cleansed skin and high heels and now struggle to pee in peace.

This means that Constance followers are yearning for human connections and empathy. Turning them into active participants in her world, they’ve got the time and primal need to be part of a village.

Other than the lonely-hearts part I want my business to slightly mimic Constance’s style. Although obviously I opened Sarkara to make some money, I never opened it to be a millionaire (and am in no danger of shattering that non-goal). I started it because I wasn’t satisfied by the ‘rat race’ and to create a store that oozed happiness. I also try to be honest and upfront with customers. I never pretend to have the best store, as I know that I could be doing better. I try to be true to who I am with customers and to not create a fictitious personality to make more money.

Who I am is an awesomely flawed Mum & business owner who does silly things like purchase a big floppy hat for the summer, because in my head Jax will have reached an age (12 months) where I can sip wine in my summer dress and hat at the edge of his sandpit in the evenings as he plays quietly and contentedly by himself.

I like to think that this naivety and positive dreamer is what has helped make Sarkara a fun place to be and what will make Jax roll his eyes at me in a lovingly exasperated way.

 

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Travels through a sweet world – The final chapter

It’s the final leg of my sweet journey around the world. And what a last few weeks it would be, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of Japan and Korea in what was a fitting end to my epic travels.

Candy store enticer, Harajuku, Tokyo
Candy store enticer, Harajuku, Tokyo

I can’t lie, by the time I had reached Japan I was exhausted and a little under the weather. You see I’d committed the cardinal sin of travelling. I’d assumed that spring meant warmth (which it doesn’t) and had neglected to pack appropriate clothing. It’s similar to the ‘of course I’ll wear that at home’ travel syndrome, which sees you buy ridiculous items which look fantastic in-situ but bloody awful at home (see my wardrobe for such gems as Indian weird-toe shoes, Balinese sarongs, a multitude of inappropriately revealing outfits and a Korean neoprene top with a horses arse on it).

I’d organised to meet one of my closest friends, Mariko, who is a wonderful 50/50 mix of Japanese and Kiwi. Meaning she’s not only genetically blessed with brains and beauty, but she also speaks Japanese like a natural and was a perfect candidate for helping me navigate the Japanese candy world.

Tokyo is also the first airport where I had ever been pulled aside for a full search including a pat down. Despite not having anything dodgy, I always get nervous when probed by stern looking people and I swear my face looked as though I was about to confess to being the new head of Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel. After they’d found both my NZ and British passports and my body piercing ear stretchers (which in Japan looks too alternative and therefore suspicious) and had stuttered out what to me were logical responses they finally let me go.

It took me about two days to fully recover from flight, flu and pat downs. But then we went to a Japanese supermarket and I found my energy in a candy aisle as long as the intro to a Fat Freddy’s Drop song.

Japan LOVES candy, the variety is absolutely incredible. It makes American candy look like a market stall range. What makes it even cooler is that they have fun with their sweets. The packaging promises crazy times and insane outcomes and yet the flavours move from subtle citruses to full on hyper-state inducing artificial mouth parties.

Japanese sweets
Our Tokyo candy bounty

We bought enough lollies to fill a tiny Tokyo flat and diligently got to work stuffing our mouths while we noted down our favourites in the hopes that somehow I would be able to bring their delights back home.

After we awoke from our food comas we got out of our fat-pants and ventured out to see what Tokyo had to offer. After I allowed my guides to navigate the labyrinth subway maps for me, we got off at Tokyo’s alternative hipster neighbourhood Harajuku.

It’s in this place fulll of tourists, noise and some pretty cool clothing stores that I found an inspirational candy store. Enticed in by a Japanese lass in a milk bar/maid/star trek costume we were all wowed by the fun, and fancy free atmosphere that this store created. I wondered how Wellingtonians would react to me dressed up like that offering lollies to potential patrons on the street. Sadly, I decided that most people in Wellington would look at their feet or phone as they desperately tried not to engage with me as it might call attention to them which is something most Kiwis run a mile from. Also the Wellington wind would turn my family friendly costume into an X-rated peep show as my skirt would soon be sent billowing around my head. But the Harajuku candy store reinforced my belief that candy was about an experience not a product.

After spending a few more days eating traditional soy bean sweets, frolicking in cherry blossoms and being elbowed by fellow tourists at temples, Mariko and I headed off to Korea where I had organised to meet a supplier in Seoul.

Korean topSeoul is not Tokyo, it’s not even similar. What Tokyo has in orderliness and over sanitisation Seoul has in a sense of anarchy and street food smells. As a die hard fan of meat and kimchi Seoul is like my culinary mecca.  Seoul has gigantic shopping malls open almost 24 hours a day. Which means you can drink beers, then go shop at 2am – this by the way, is under no circumstances a good idea, the proof is in the absolutely unwearable horse’s arse neoprene box t-shirt I paid $70 for at 2:35am (see image).

Deciding not to put on my new neoprene top I headed out on my third day in Seoul to meet a supplier, who was promising wonderfully exotic sweets such as green tea, salty bamboo and red ginseng. ‘Philip’ (I’m pretty sure that’s not his name) and I were scheduled to meet in a café and I made it there bright and early. But after sitting for 15 minutes I remembered, I had no cellphone nor any idea what Philip looked like.   After 25 minutes I approached a man who seemed to have a suitcase that I’d decided could potentially be brimming with candy samples. I was right, I’d found Philip. However Philip looked shocked. He had assumed I would be Jen the man, not Jen the dress wearing chica. After assuring me that he had in-fact worked with woman before (seriously he did) we sat down, ate candy and talked business.

Korean traditional sweet sellers
Korean traditional sweet sellers

Philip sent me off with about 10 kilos of sample candy, non of which could fit into my hand luggage and almost all of which got left to our hotel staff. But I’m glad to say you can sample his company’s sweets in our store, so the trip and disappointing Philip by being a girl was well worth it.

It had been an incredibly tiring two months on the road. But in terms of feeling like a bit of a candy expert it had been completely enriching. I’m not sure I’d ever be game to do a trip of that magnitude again. I feel too old to ‘backpack’ and would prefer to spend more time in one country rather than whirlwind round national monuments.

More to the point though, with bonbons and babes to worry about the one hour train ride into the store is about the biggest holiday I can imagine right now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Travels through a Sweet World (Part II)

Barcelona turns out to be a hipster candy heaven, while no one wears a Fez in Istanbul.

Me Turkey with fez
Someone had to wear a fez in Turkey, so it might as well have been me!

Right, so I must officially declare that this blog will now be happening bi-weekly(ish). It’s become obvious that making time to get into a writer’s ‘head-space’ (i.e sitting in a quiet place with a glass of wine) isn’t something I can easily achieve weekly. Not when there are store price signs to print, POS buttons to activate, sugar-ridden orders to import and a crawling baby to try to yell “don’t touch that” at.

However, rest-assured, my dedication to sharing Sarkara’s journey has not waned, and I’m hoping the extended time will result in even better dazzling tales for Business, Babe & Bonbons.

So with that said I’ll pick up where I left off in my last blog post, glamorously winging my way from Bournemouth to Barcelona.

In reality, I was catching a bus at 5am on a FREEZING cold morning to Heathrow, where I got yelled at by Easyjet staff about my overweight hand luggage and provided a public spectacle as I fumbled around unpacking and repacking my belongings in order to pay a large fee to check-it in.

Despite my chaotic embarking, I made it to Barcelona, a city where hipsters, artists and pickpockets thrive. I had visited Barcelona on my O.E (many, many years prior, so long ago that I think Aqua was still playing in the clubs); and it remains one of my favourite cities in the world.

Barcelona is old, and yet modern, with people sitting outside cafes at all hours drinking sangria and smoking. Women drive scooters and men wear sweaters draped around their shoulders. In short, it’s everything you expect Europe to be just with waaaaay more tourists and the aforementioned pickpockets than you’d like.

After indulging in a breakfast of ham and coffee I set off down the nauseatingly winding streets to find a small little candy store called Papabubble. When I say small, I mean in terms of metres. Papabubble is a rather successful artisanal handmade sweets shop with locations in New York, Barcelona, Tokyo and Sao Paulo (and more, I just can’t be bothered typing them out as they are clearly more successful than I, and you get the picture).

They make their simple (yet yummy) sweets in front of you, and have done a great job at making candy something more refined and special. They are in a nutshell inspiring.

Papabubble
Making sweets in Papabubble

After my whirlwind visit to Barcelona’s boutique bonbon bombshell of a store, I sadly downed my last brunch sangria and headed to Turkey to meet with a potential supplier.

Ahhhh Istanbul, a city I’d been craving to visit, so I could breathe in the history-steeped smells of religious sackings. A crossroads of Asia and Europe throughout time, and the home of kebab meat, pretty much Istanbul was my potential utopia.

It actually surprised me how put together Istanbul is (for some reason I expected everyone to wear a Fez). Public transport is excellent, safety seemed as much of an issue as it does in other European cities and people were friendly. Although men can be a little too forward and flirty it’s nothing a stern look can’t handle. The only downer was that it was full of more tourists than Rome and Paris combined and after five days of kebab meat I started getting sick of it, which is a phenomenon I never thought possible.

Turkish fig kebab
Turkish man lures you in with some fig kebab out side a Turkish delight store

Anyway I spent five days going back in-forth with a supplier only to be stood up, yet again. But this time, unlike in Bournemouth I got to take the edge off my disappointment by eating far too much baklava and walking through one of the oldest bazaars in the world (sigh, the candy business is tough).

I’ve just realised I still have Japan and Korea to go, and I’ve already written the equivalent of 20 tweets, which means I’ve far exceeded the modern reader’s attention span. So I’m going to give you a break and stop here, as I’d hate to short change Asia, because their candy deserves a pedestal, rather than a rushed mention in a potentially un-read blog.

me driving boat on Bosphorus
I got to drive the tourist tour boat on the Bosphorus!! Being a blonde gets you places.

 

 

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Travels through a Sweet World (part I)

Tasting the worldFrom San Fran to Seoul, an international search for yummy in my tummy sweets!

Pre-baby human, when Sarkara was in It’s incubation phase and I still had time to achieve things I’d spend my out of work time, hunting down sweet suppliers around the globe.

I soon discovered that the range of candy available was a bit overwhelming. I thought I was pretty well acquainted with sweets, but after looking at webpage after webpage I realised that I hadn’t even nibbled at the tip of the sugar iceberg.

So I booked meetings with those I thought would make good suppliers, packed a suitcase, bought a round the world ticket and set off on an international candy hunt. My destinations where:

  • San Francisco
  • Tijuana
  • Bournemouth
  • Barcelona
  • Istanbul
  • Tokyo
  • Seoul

Before I continue, I need to warn you that this blog post, like any good travelling tale, will feature a few travel photos. So if you’ve been traumatised in the past by an over-zealous snapper subjecting you to hours of post-holiday photo torture then you may want to look away now, as things are about to get ugly.

This week I’ll only subject you to snaps from San Francisco to Bournemouth, before moving into the more exotic tastes of Asia (and Barcelona) next week.

San Fran

It’s the epicentre of personal journeys, where many an American has been lured from across the country to find their inner freedom.

And right in the heart of this beautifully hip and horrendously over priced city (blame Facebook and Google for pumping up the average salary) is a wee slice of candy heaven. Fisherman’s Wharf, in the hub of San Francisco is a place where locals don’t dare tread, as the throngs of tourists have made it uncool and possibly irreversibly damaging to a local’s street cred. But for me and for many of Sarkara’s customers it is the home of American candy.

Candy Baron sweet store San Fran
Candy Baron – San Fran

There are at least two mind-blowing candy stores at Fisherman’s Wharf which are literally jam packed full of more candy than a five year old could dare dream existed. Salt-water taffy, Hot Tamales, Twizzlers, candy corn, Peeps Marshmallows and even bacon candy (which unsurprisingly didn’t pass the Sarkara taste test) can all be found on the Wharf.

They’re candy stores done in a brazen, over-brimming American style and they’re amazing.

It's Sugar San Fran
It’s Sugar San Fran

 

I dedicated much of my time to gnawing my way through kilos of candy and can say that personally, American candy isn’t my across the board cultural favourite, but there are plenty of specific treats that I will happily stuff my face full of – Bit o Honey (old school caramel bites), Warheads and even Twizzlers, which bear no resemblance to red liquorice but have a strangely moorish rubbery texture.

After visiting the U.S.A on a purely candy focussed trip and seeing the eye-watering amounts of candy on offer, it’s no exaggeration to say that America is probably the uncrowned King of candy.

Mexico

After looking at the outrageous prices of flights to Mexico I ended up driving down from San Fran to the border town of Mexicali and then back home via Tijuana, San Diego and L.A. What a trip!

Truly, if I can advise you to do one thing in the U.S.A it’s to go on a long road trip. There will be so many unforgettable experiences and people throughout your journey that you’ll forever remember every single one of them. You’ll also never forget the stench of a car after a 14-hour drive, which has been fueled with beef jerky, energy drinks and candy.

Tijuana border
It was a three hour wait to cross the border back to the U.S.A.

In my ever more distant youth I’d done a stint in Mexico as an English teacher so I already had a number of Mexican sweets that I had fallen desperately in love with. Rockaletta (spicy, mango, bubblegum centred lollipops) and De La Rosa (melt in your mouth peanut Marizipan) were and still are my absolute favourites.

Mexico, and Mexican candy are both in my humble opinion unmatched in the world. Mexico is a vibrant country pulsating with bright, primary colours and a people who are always willing to have a chat and a laugh. Oh and did I mention the food? Forget the over cheesed crap we get in NZ, Mexican food is divine in its simplicity, and yet spellbindingly full of flavours and spice. It’s on my ‘I’d love to live there’ list of countries alongside Vietnam (again I go where my stomach guides me) and Morocco.

Like its people, Mexican candy is balsy and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It tends to head towards the mouth explosion territory and is often filled with tamarind and chilli, making it not for those who have a subtle palate. As with salted liquorice once you get the hang of the salty & spicy goodness you’ll find yourself craving more.

Mexican candy
My Mexican candy taste testers

For beginners I’d always recommend Rockaletta and for those looking for something truly Mexican I’d grab a tamarind Pulparindo fruit stick.

After eating my weight in Mexican candy, dancing with mariachis and eating tacos on the street (always ask your hotel or backpackers staff where to eat, trust me they know the spots) I headed back through Tijuana towards my on-bound flight to the U.K.

 

Bournemouth

Ahhh Bournemouth, the Victorian English Ibiza. Surrounded by historical promenades, blistering winds and a seemingly unhappy populace. Seriously, I have never heard so much whinging in my life and yet the promenade was really stunning, and the town itself rather pretty. But not one person I spoke to was happy to be there, they all seemed to dream of being somewhere else.

bournemouth pier

I happen to love England, the narrow streets steeped in history, the rolling green fields and the wonderful array of accents from town to town. And there’s almost nothing in the world that is more fun than spending a Sunday afternoon enjoying a roast and a pint of lime & lager at a village pub. But perhaps due to the time of year (February), the winter blues had overtaken Bournemouth’s people and made them all begrudge their existence, who knows?

I’d gone to Bournemouth to meet with a supplier and had patiently endured a never-ending taxi ride to an industrial zone to attend a meeting which I’d arranged two months prior.

But it must be that coming from New Zealand isn’t enough to get out of bed for, as the man I’d arranged to meet wasn’t even there!

Annoyed doesn’t even begin to describe me. But a slightly embarrassed young employee showed me around their stock rooms as I pointed out dusty out-of-date stock and he complained about going on leave and returning to find he’d been demoted. I couldn’t have felt more glamorous and special, I’m pretty sure it’s exactly how David Beckham is treated every time he launches a new line of smelly sprays.

UK Supplier
It wasn’t really this welcoming. UK Supplier!

But without English candy Sarkara would be a shadow of itself. The English who are in my opinion underrated in culinary terms (have you tried a decent bangers & mash?!) are one of the all time best sweet making nations in the world. Their toffees are pure and delicious, the bon bons divine and then you’ve got my English favourite flying saucers that are a post World War Two wafer filled with a sherbet bang. You can never underestimate the yumminess of English sweets.

From the clouded skies of Bournemouth I took a short flight to Barcelona, where the people are way, way happier to be there, as was I.

 

To be continued…