Nelson’s Column

Recently I enjoyed the glitter and magic of the Clickimin Christmas Craft Fair. My wife, in her capacity as a jeweller and silversmith, set up her silver at a stall between some beautiful photographs of Shetlands wild flowers and a collection of gorgeous woven textiles. (Textiles? In Shetland? Could happen.)

I was there in my capacity as her shop boy. I was pretty much blown away by the quality of goods on offer, particularly the table full of tasty handmade sweeties across the aisle that I had to stare at all weekend, my teeth and waist line screaming “don’t do it!”

All of the traders I met and spoke to were exceptionally welcoming to us newcomers to the fair, full of compliments for the work and encouragement. Happy crowds came and went, gathering up all of their Christmas presents in one go. One recurring theme was how people kept saying that they wanted to give their loved ones something special, unique or handmade, and that they were extra chuffed to be buying from small independent traders. In fact the woman who ran the coffee shop blatantly claimed “Ahm no’ sending my money sooth!”

It’s very heart-warming to hear this. We still have a great respect and love for the “croft industry” even though the world of big business is letting everyone down. I’m not sure I want to spend my dark winter afternoons traipsing around the busy shopping centres of Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh giving my money to the big high street stores owned by conglomerates of “entrepreneurs” who have little interest in what their shop is selling just so long as it sells.

I think that’s one of the basic problems that cause big businesses to mess up: they don’t care what they are selling; they just care about the selling itself. Look at Duncan Bannatyne, our representative “up by the bootstraps” Jock in the Dragons Den. He started selling ice cream then moved on to selling residences in care homes and that lead into selling memberships to the gym. Sorry, but I don’t see the link. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with confectionery, pensioner care or exercise; I’m just saying I think it’s pretty clear that the man has no passion for the actual thing he is selling.

Take Sir Alan Sugar too. Just before he took over the Sinclair Company on behalf of Amstrad he went on record saying, “We’re business men. We’re not made up of ex-graduates throwing a bunch of electronic components into a plastic box.”

Oh it’s that easy is it? Well I tried throwing a bunch of electronic components in a plastic box. All I got was an awkward and boring baby rattle. There’s a bit more to it than that. Here was Sir Clive Sinclair, the man who in the 1970s, while everyone though he was delusional, had the vision that one day there would be a computer in every home in Britain – the man who developed the microchip which is probably in your own mobile phone right now – ridiculed for having a baldy head, a ginger beard, a utopian vision of the electric car and a predilection to innovation over salesmanship.  The Businessman doesn’t care. If it doesn’t sell it doesn’t matter; move on and sell something else. At least before Sir Richard Branson invested in soft drinks and aeroplanes he spent twenty years getting rich off something he didn’t necessarily make but he absolutely loved and understood: music. (Notice how they are all knights, by the way. The new Templars?)

I would like to shout out to two young groups I met at the craft fair who showed great love for their product. One is Anderson High School’s entrepreneurial team, “Calibre”, who have developed “The Ti-Pod,” a tee-pee style greenhouse designed to encourage people to grow their own fruit and veg in limited space. I believe they raised a lot of awareness about self-sufficiency and a few sales to boot. (So enthusiastic were they I overheard them in heated discussion about whether it should be pronounced “Ty-pod” or “Tee-pod.”)

The other is “Windhouse Productions”, a collective of teenage writers who have taken old Shetland ghost stories and rewritten them in their own words for a modern readership. Even though the book will not be published until 10th December they managed to sell many advance copies just with their passion and enthusiasm for the project. I’ve got mine on order.

It was wonderful to see so many diverse groups in such a mutually supportive environment selling such a variety of wares that they had created with their own hands and imaginations right here in Shetland. The rest of the UK could take a tip.


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