Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Lovely local suppliers

Over 80% of the products we stock in the shops are locally sourced, alongside some carefully chosen products that I buy to compliment the local offer. These days, over two years after we first opened, it's quite rare for me to find a new local supplier so it's very exciting to get a phone call a few minutes ago from someone at Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding Company. This world renowned local company are bringing out Christmas puddings and a new range of ambient puds that don't need refrigeration. Perfect! I can't wait to receive the samples which will, of course, need rigorous testing...
Also, later this week (hopefully) we're starting to stock a new jewellery collection by Jane Shaw, who is based in the north of Cumbria. Her beautiful pieces are more "chunky" (for lack of a better word) than our current jewellery so should add a new dimension to our range.
Now to get everything on the website....mmm.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Not quite a cashless society

Yesterday's trauma was that the credit card machine in Bowness, for reasons best known to itself, decided to not accept any cards, flashing up a message that (of course) wasn't in any of it's accompanying manuals. The 24 hour support service didn't extend to Sundays so, in the end, we tried the last trick in the unwritten gadget handbook - turn it off for 5 minutes and then reboot.
In both stores, the majority of the transactions are done with debit or credit card so it was quite a surprise to see that, when push came to shove, most customers weren't flummoxed by the inconvenience of a nonfunctioning credit card machine. Digging deep in to pockets and purses, our lovely customers were happy to pay with cash - one couple even calculated the taxi fare back to their hotel before paying for a a large candle with the rest of their cash. The strange thing is that, once the credit card machine was fixed, the majority of the rest of the day's sales were paid for with money rather than cards.
Today, normal service is resumed and we're gettign ready to take in our Autumn/Winter stock this week. It's set to be colder by Thursday/Friday so customers may be in the mood to buy comfort food, cashmere scarves and autumn fragrances like cinnamon and orange. Let's hope so!

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Beware of innocuous middle aged female shoppers!

September is a fabulous month in the Lakes. July and August are great because it's generally so busy but September is as good businesswise because a different sort of customer emerges: one that doesn't have their children's constant entertainment in mind (sorry to generalise but it really is like that).
The weather in the Lakes has been lovely so far this month but yesterday, at around 4pm., in Bowness a quick thunderstorm occurred accompanied by a brief powercut in the shop. There were a fair few folk in the shop at the time, including 3 middle aged ladies carrying open shopping bags who were inspecting the Lakeland Fragrance display.
After the inevitable slight confusion cleared and the power came back on, Jules did a quick reccie of the shop and found a couple of Eau de Toilettes had disappeared along with the 3 ladies. I'm going to make another generalisation now....it is nearly always middle aged female shoppers who steal from us. Why, oh why, oh why?
P.S. I'm being interviewed by Radio Cumbria this afternoon...I'm not sure what about but I've had to pick my favourite song of the moment (which is Mumford and Sons Winter Winds) for them to play. Desert Island Discs eh?

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Forever blowing bubbles

One of the products that we sell in our shop are the Fanny and Claude Bath Melts - they come in boxes of 6 small heart shaped bath soaps. One of the boxes is left open so customers can have a look at exactly what they are buying but there have been a couple of unusual incidents with them recently:
Incident #1 : A lady brought one (soap, not box!) over and proudly announced she was having a night in and wanted to buy just a single soap...'but you have to buy the whole box madam!
Incident # 2 : 'Are these samples for tasting?' Hmmm, enough said - she would be forever blowing bubbles if she ate one of those!!


Saturday, 17 July 2010

Assumptions shattered

Firstly I have to say "Hooray. Mel is back". Fresh from 2 terms teaching primary children, Mel starts her summer hols with a spell working at Love the Lakes Bowness. Rachael is taking a well earned rest this weekend and Sean has gone to Keswick this morning to take over the helm. Leaving me to take the hounds on their morning walk through the woods. Ever since Angus was a nipper, some 14 years ago, I have often seen the same jogger pounding his way along the path. Our customary monosyllabic greetings to each other have been indistinct as befits the ungodly hour we're both out in the woods. This chap is slight with, what was once, reddish curly hair but now appears to be greying at the temples and in my mind he has always been known as the "Irish Doctor". Don't ask me why: my only excuse is that we live close to a hospital and the guy looks, well, sort of Irish! Today, as the rain was bucketing down (don't start me on the hosepipe ban, that's another day's blog) I didn't hear his approach along the path behind me and I think he surprised the dogs too as Dougal reacted by lunging towards him. "Whoa, steady there lad!" The jogger exclaimed and I gasped in astonishment, all assumptions shattered, as the Irish Doctor is, in fact, from Yorkshire. As I'm now a bit of an expert on the accent from a certain part of that county I might even go so far as to say my Irish Doctor is from Baaarrrrnsley!

Friday, 25 June 2010

You can't get the staff!

I’ve just realised I’m surrounded by offcomers. Jules, who manages our shop in Bowness, is from Derbyshire but has lived for a fair few years in the Lakes. She loves walking at weekends and so has such good knowledge of the area that it’s easy to assume that she’s a born and bred Cumbrian. The manager of our new store in Keswick, Rachael, hails from Barnsley, that’s Baaarrrnsley, and is a right Yorkshire lass. The two of them have been working together for a couple of weeks as we wait for the new store to open and now Jules has reverted to being a Derbyshire girl. Customers are “me duck” or “me love” and I feel like I’m working on the set of Last of the Summer Wine.

There’s a quite a story around Rachael coming to work for us. She and her husband, Robin, are followers of Sean’s walking website, stridingedge.net and had visited our shop a few times. When we mentioned that we were opening a new store in Keswick, Rachael , in an off the cuff remark, said she really fancied working there. In a real change of lifestyle, her casual remark has now become a reality and I’m sure she’s going to really enjoy managing the Keswick store. Now, if she would only lose that offcomers accent!!!

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Dear me!

A deer appeared on the road in front of my car this morning and, as it blindly careered around until eventually dashing off into the woodland, I thought of the present predicament with the new shop in Keswick. Our shopfitters have been fantastic as they managed to start work at a moment's notice. But what was supposed to be 12 days of work now looks like it going to stretch to 15 or 16 and then the new floor has to be laid. We were aiming to open next weekend and will still push for that date but, at this point, it doesn't look good. This slippage, of course, has a knock on effect for the new team, the stock arriving, the configuration of the till and credit card machine etc. etc.. Anyway, Sean and I are going to Keswick this morning to meet with the shopfitters and the flooring contractor and we hope to get a definitive date for the shopfitting to end. Until then, it's like the old joke about the blind deer as we too have "no idea"!

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Our friends across the pond

We were visited today by a charming lady who represents one of the companies we buy from. Although she's Canadian she's lived in Scotland for a number of years and we took great delight in telling her about the American couple who Jules engaged in conversation today. This couple had lived in Cambridge for a couple of years and were very impressed by the lovely scenery of the Lake District. "We've never been this far north in the UK" they announced. "The furthest we've been is Edinburgh". Jules politely explained the exact location of the Lake District but they just didn't get it.
Our Canadian rep found this highly amusing but then confessed that her niece and friend are visiting the UK this summer and, as she couldn't be bothered to drive down to Manchester to collect them and drive all the way back to Edinburgh where she lives, she is intending to take them round the Lake District and pass it off as Scotland. As there's plenty of Edinburgh Woollen Mills and Pitlochry stores she'll probably get away with it!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Light relief

The number of jobs I need to do before we open the new store seems to be growing like Topsy despite my tackling a fair number every day. Looking for a bit of light relief I ventured out from the office in Bowness to catch a customer in the act of buying a Pilula Swarovski Crystal necklace. Helpfully, I offered to gift wrap the lady's purchase with some spare paper we keep under the counter. Under the watchful eyes of Rachael, Jules and the customer, I proceeded to make a right "dog's dinner" of this simple task and, as the customary banter between the girls dried up I asked "Are you here on holiday?" Quick as a flash with dry Irish humour and her eyes on my pathetic fumblings with paper and sellotape, the lady replied "Yes. But only until Saturday". That's me told then!
Later, a couple wandered in and, after drifting around the store, the lady selected a bottle of finest Bubble Bath and brought it to the counter announcing to her partner "You can pay for this". She then proceeded to tell us that her husband has just made her walk up the biggest hill she'd ever seen and she deserved a long, hot bath. Which hill had she climbed? "The one that begins with G, G". "Great Gable?" we helpfully supplied. "No, Gu, Gum". With a certain amount of disbelief in our voices we chimed "Not Gummer's How". "Yes, that's the one". Her husband shrugged as we fell about laughing....

Monday, 14 June 2010

Staff rotas

Our new store manager, Rachael, has been having a lovely time in Bowness for the past week learning all about running the store. Jules has taken over the management of Bowness and, together, they've had a really productive few days getting to grips with the ordering system, stock rotation, deliveries etc. etc. Today, however, came the first real hurdle for Rachael, the staff rota. Not only are we not really sure which day we're opening yet but also none of the staff have fixed working days although they all have times over the summmer holidays when they would prefer not to work. Consequently, Rachael has spent the last hour, pencil in hand, with a befuddled expression whilst Jules and I make useful suggestions. Phrases she has used so far include "My head's steaming", "I'm going blue in the face here" and  "I need a drink to fathom this". I've just popped my head out of the office and she's folding tissue paper rather than looking at the rota. Coward!

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The (ongoing) shop fit

We have been in Keswick all day today checking the new shop and have been going over the new fit mm by mm. There is lots to remember and lots to do:
Staff to employ - check. Shelves to order - check. Light fittings to order - check. Signage to order - check. Flooring to order - check. Stock to order - check. ££££'s to spend - check, check, cheque!

The previous incumbents of our shop left under a bit of a cloud so there is no power on in there yet - hoops have to be jumped through to get that back on. The strip out of the shop is ongoing and who knows what will be found next under the existing panels - that is plural because the previous shopfit is directly over the previous one to that. At least we have found extra space that was not visible previously!

The rats nest of cables and wires that were there have been completely stripped out now, that was another 'wiring on top of wiring' effort. As for trouble with the neighbours (see Louise's previous blog), the lads are pussyfooting around as best they can but I fear there is worse news to come (for the neighbours, not us) as a problem with their power supply has been uncovered in our shop. No one said this shop lark would be easy...


Monday, 7 June 2010

Here we go again

When we were looking for a suitable shop in Bowness we started in September 2007, found somewhere in January 2008, put in an offer early in February and took possession on May 1st. We started looking for Love the Lakes 2 (The Empire Strikes Back) in April 2009, found somewhere in January of this year, put in an offer in February and took possession last week.
The shop in Bowness was already a gift shop and there were negotiations over the price, whether or not we wanted the stock (no thanks!) and some leeway allowed as the previous business owners were retiring. This time, the shop was already empty, the only negotiation was over getting a rent reduction for installing an inside loo (not an unreasonable request we thought!!!) and heaven knows why it all took so long. Along the way the estate agent got fed up of our calls and was unobtainable for days on end and our solicitor fired off a warning email across our bows to stop us harassing him. 
Never mind, that's all behind us. Rachael, our new store manager and stridingedge.net follower, started learning the ropes in Bowness today and the shop fitters have started ripping out fixtures and fittings in Keswick. It's all full steam ahead. Hang on, Jules has just called me....one of the owners of the beauty salon above the new store has phoned to complain about the noise made by the shopfitting team. She has already had to give someone their facial free of charge because the client's chair was vibrating as she was trying to relax. Oh dear, there may be trouble ahead........

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Louise's bloomers

It's been like summer in the Lakes today and I think my ears are blocked with a little pollen or something as I definitely didn't hear the following conversation correctly.
A lady and her husband brought in a necklace which they'd bought last year and asked if we could replace the chain as it had snapped. I was happy to oblige and then followed a friendly chat about the weather and their journey over by ferry from Ireland. "Are you here for long?" I asked to which the reply was "Yes, for a fortnight, which is great as we only usually manage 3 or 4 days". "That's great" I replied to which they said "blah, blah, blah". Ok, I didn't quite catch what they said but, in the spirit of the lovely conversation we'd had so far I replied "That's brilliant". We then exchanged a few more pleasantries and off they went.
As soon as they'd left the shop Sean doubled up with laughter and then managed to pull himself together to tell me that "blah, blah, blah" had actually been....."Our dog has died, so we've been able to get over for longer this time"!!!! Earth, swallow me up.....lovely couple from Ireland, please forgive me. I'm off to wash out my ears.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Entente Cordiale?

We're still in the middle of the wranglings to get the lease signed for our new store.....it's only four months since we agreed the principles but, hey, I'm a patient sort of person, not!
Now, the end is near, it's time to face.......no...........it's time to sign on the dotted line in the next couple of days. It feels like we're in limboland: ready to push the button on many stock orders, getting the shopfitters to storm in wielding hammers and saws, getting the team in place and, for goodness sake, GETTING OPEN BEFORE THE SEASON ENDS!!!!!!!!!!!!
Anyway, in the midst of frayed nerves, a letter has arrived from the landlords of the Bowness store. Opening it with some trepidation (after all news from landlords is never good), I was shocked, indeed, stunned to see that our lovely landlord has decided to wave his right to apply the forthcoming rent review. Our rent will stay the same for the next 3 years. Yippee......now back to the new store lease, what's happening now?!

Monday, 10 May 2010

Pride of Cumbria

This weekend we've been to London to see Barrow win the FA Trophy final at Wembley (never in doubt, but helped by our opponents having a player sent off at the end of the first half). We were there the last time Barrow won this cup some 20 years ago and you just can't beat the feeling of pride in our town when our team achieves something against the odds and the exhilaration that an excited crowd of some 10,000 Barrovians creates when the game goes our way.

On the way to London on the train, Connie met up with a couple of older boys from her school and proceeded to beat them in a DS Super Mario challenge. My quiet pride in this dubious achievement was doubled when Sean (who swore he'd never played Super Mario on DS) beat them too! Hopefully this gets Connie and her Dad ubercool points at school.

Yesterday we wandered around the Tate Modern and then meandered into the Globe Theatre where we found, in the gift shop, a range of Hawkshead Relish jellies and chutneys. We do really well in the shop with this very local supplier and it was great to see their products so far from home.

All in all, Cumbria was best place in Britain this weekend!


Saturday, 24 April 2010

The jewel in the crown

Yesterday a lovely lady and gentleman, both sporting healthy tans, spent a lot of time looking at our jewellery before the lady settled on a Firefrost turquoise pendant and matching earrings. "We've just come back from a Caribbean cruise" the lady told me "and I looked all over the Caribbean for turquoise jewellery but I end up buying it here!" Meanwhile, her husband was jovially muttering something to the effect that most people built conservatories but they had to build wardrobe extensions to accommodate his wife's fashion purchases. Whereupon his wife turned round to him and announced " I don't drink, I don't smoke and I don't do drugs. I'm entitled to spend your (???!!!) money on something!" Good line that, I might use it myself if I can ever give up red wine.
Speaking of jewellery, we've got 2 new jewellery stores opening in the village. The first is Silver Moon who also have a shop in Ambleside, the other is a Pandora shop -  Bowness must have proved itself to be a mecca for people with disposable income to be worthy of a Pandora shop but, for a fraction of the price, you can buy one of Jules' Pilula Aura bracelets which really are lovely and leave you with enough change to buy a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Consider myself told off

Yesterday a lady on a mobility scooter accompanied by an older lady in a wheelchair stopped outside the shop and asked loudly "Can we get in your shop?". I went outside to explain to her that as the step into the shop is only a few inches tall we didn't have a ramp for wheelchairs. She then informed me that I was breaking the law and that she would have happily spent lots of money in my lovely shop but couldn't get in there. She then proceeded along the street to Jim and Sue's cafe next door and I was a bit miffed to see that she managed to get off the scooter and go inside to order.
Muttering to myself I went to the Post Office to send a few internet orders and asked Malcolm, the Postmaster, if he thought we were breaking the law by not having wheelchair access. He thought not and that the law only applied to banks, Post Offices and other businesses offering a public service. When I got back to the shop I googled the issue and found, to my complete surprise, that indeed wheelchair access to any shop has been the law since 2004. I then looked online for wheelchair ramps and found a portable lightweight aluminium one for £70 which I then ordered (it's just arrived). I then went along to Jim and Sue's to apologise to the lady and she admitted that she was only so vociferous about it because not only so few shops comply with the law but also because she was only registered disabled a couple of years ago and was still coming to terms with the complete frustration she felt with all aspects of her new life.
What astounds me is just how many shops do flout the law, probably unwittingly.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Where's the sun gone?

We've had a fantastic few days: since last Thursday the sun has shone and all has been well with the world. Heady temperatures of over 19 degrees were recorded at the weekend and folk have been wandering round the village in shorts and t-shirts. We've seen numerous cases of sunburn amongst customers and Jules arrived yesterday with an attractive red glow about her after tackling 3 Wainwrights on Saturday. We've even stocked up on natural Insect Repellent and After Sun Soother in anticipation of demand. However, after a very promising start this morning (beautiful blue sky and gradual climbing temperature) the sun has now disappeared and I'm now sat shivering in my totally inappropriate sandals. I'm going to log on to Metcheck for a quick weather update.........phew, bright sunshine reappearing on Thursday and no rain forecasted....hang on, what's this????? Snow showers forecasted for April the 22nd. Surely not!!!!

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Summer's coming: the flies are back

What a grotty Easter weekend we had weatherwise. There was only one decent day, Sunday, and I was asked by countless tourists what they could do to keep dry other than visit the World of Beatrix Potter, the answer being not a lot if they didn't have a car (although I find a bit of retail therapy to be the best pastime). Yesterday, the local paper reported that the Wild Animal Park in Dalton had had its worst Easter in 12 years and certainly the weather, once again, proved to be the dampener (literally) on what should have been the kick start to the tourist season. No matter, today the weather is glorious (brave men have been spotted in shorts and sandals) and is forecasted to be good to the end of next weekend. That'll explain why flies have suddenly appeared in the shop  - they've got their eyes on Metcheck and have ventured forth only to discover they should have put on their vests. It's not that warm yet and several have perished without the aid of a swift swipe from any handy magazine. It'll be the wasps next....

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

my hawthorn bush

When we were setting up the shop nearly 2 years ago I noticed on my daily trip up to Bowness in May a beautiful hawthorn bush standing alone in a field just past the Hill of Oaks caravan site. In full bloom at the time, it was a majestic site and I began to always look out for it on the way to work. Last year it didn't produce any blossom but it is a bonny bush, about 20' tall and a lovely shape. Today, I noticed that it looks a little bit plumper than its normal winter shape and can only speculate that it's getting ready to produce leaves. So, despite the huge drop in temperature today and the low lying snow in the Langdales, I'm thinking the better weather really is just around the corner and we can finally say farewell to cold, cold days.
Incidentally, after a very shaky start this morning with a bit of snow, a bit of sleet and a bucket of rain, the sun is now shining..yippee

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Whatever the weather

Well it's Easter and last year we were mostly basking in sunshine: but in 2010 the weather gods have decided to give us a little reminder of the past 4 months by throwing down a vast amount of water in the past 24 hours and the possibility of snow tomorrow. On the bright side, any rumours of a hosepipe ban have fizzled away and it's perfect weather for shopping at Love the Lakes! Many guesthouses in Bowness seem to be fully booked for the bank holiday weekend so we'll all be praying for better weather at the end of the week - there's nothing so miserable as dripping wet folk trudging around the village and crowding into the bottom deck of the ferries only to endure steamed up windows and no view whatsoever! Come on weather gods, give us a break....

Monday, 22 March 2010

The team is complete, bring on the new shop

I'm all talked out today. 3 new team members started this weekend and I'm now sick of the sound of my own voice. It's ok covering all details of our products and suppliers that our new girls need to learn to advise customers,  but it's the idiosyncracies of the workings of the shop that are hard to remember. For example, when the credit card machine freezes you need to turn it off and on again to get it working, the water heater blows a fuse if you leave it running too long, we only turn on 4 of the 6 light switches in the small shop because the other 2 are irritating flickering fluorescent tubes that we don't need on. Jules and I compiled a complete list of these little peculiarities before Nicky, Daisy and Adrienne started and going through the list took quite some time! I hope they all remember for next weekend....
Meanwhile, after several weeks of protracted negotiation, we're up to preparing "heads of terms" for the lease for the new shop. Now we've agreed everything in principle everyone seems very keen to get it moving quickly so we shall see what happens this week!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Dougal the trustworthy dog

Dougal has officially come of age. Never mind his fell training, the most important aspect of Dougal for us is whether or not we can trust him to be left in a room on his own. Since we got him, he has been left in solitary confinement each night in the utility room: actually, at first we put both Casper and Dougal together in the room but Casper soon tired of the pesky pup trying to play with him in the middle of the night and jumped up at the door until we let him out. Last night, for the first time, Dougal was given the free run of the kitchen, utility room, hall, stairs and landing. We went to bed fully expecting some shenanigans during the night but we were wrong. Dougal was waiting outside the bedroom door with his nose pressed right up against it when we got up - it looked like he had been stood there all night. All woodwork was duly inspected and found to be intact - phew! What a good lad that Dougal is...for now at least.
Sean and Louise

Monday, 15 March 2010

Any wildlife experts out there?

Between our neighbours and us we have several garden ponds and a stream that flows at the bottom of our gardens. Our fish have not fared too well this winter as the ponds have often been iced over and we've had to turn the pump off several times. We've had a few casualties but now we can see no fish except for the very smallest ones. Our neighbour has discovered pawprints (with long claws) around one of his ponds and we have some fishscales left behind at the scene of the crime.  We're suspecting an otter and would love to hear about anybody's experience or advice....

Thursday, 11 March 2010

I don't believe it!!

Ok so we've had 13 days of dry weather on the run (a record since we opened the shop in May 2008) and, whilst we're all rejoicing at the end of winter and some lovely spring weather, the mutter in the gutter is that the lake is a foot below it's normal level for this time of year and that there may well be a hosepipe ban this summer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Apparently the sluice gates that were the source of the controversy around the time of the flood in November (accusations were made at the time that they weren't opened fast enough, resulting in the catastrophic flooding of Whitewater in Backbarrow and the Swan Hotel at Newby Bridge) are now rumoured to have been left open too long, allowing far too much water to drain out of Windermere.
Maybe the lake will drain so far that Bownessie will be left exposed, thrashing around in the mud...pass me the camera.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

A thought for Angus

It's the birthday today of our much loved and sorely missed beardie Angus. Sean and I took Casper and Dougal to Bow Bridge, a local beauty spot which was one of the old boy's favourites as it has a handy stream in which to cool off and a plentiful supply of sticks to be thrown for him. When he was young, Angus's one idiosyncracy was leaping around the bottom of trees and bushes and barking at the birds in them. Bow Bridge was a perfect place to display this peculiar habit and the way we got him to stop was to throw stick, after stick for him until he was so worn out that he collapsed in the stream and forgot all about those pesky birds.
Neither Casper or Dougal show any penchant for bird baiting but, whilst Casper eyes with disdain any sticks waved in front of him, Dougal loves to run for them as fast as his legs will carry him and, as I watched him run in a blur of flying legs bouncing hair, I couldn't help but think about our old, handsome hound Angus. It seems only yesterday that he was doing the same.

Monday, 8 March 2010

I don't want to tempt fate but....

We're now in day 8 of March and it hasn't rained for 9 days. It hasn't been dry for this long since the middle of September and the difference it has made to our sales in the past few days is phenomenal. At the weekend Bowness was full of visitors - so many people descended on the village that the huge car park beyond the Glebe, which is normally only used at Easter, half terms and during the summer, was full by mid afternoon. Sean has been at "proper" work this weekend and has been gazing longingly at the fells from afar - needless to say he was off like a bullet this morning with the dogs, going somewhere "gorgeous".
Tony from Bitter End Brewery called this morning and reported that the weather is going to be like this until November. I'd really like to believe him so I choose to do so until the heavens open again.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Has Spring sprung?

White rabbits!
On the first day of Spring the weather in the South Lakes is absolutely beautiful if still a bit chilly. We could do with a few days of good weather so the community can start to feel like the season is about to start - it has been so cold and damp for the past 3 months that precious little work has been done to repair the damage caused by the floods and today's mutter in the gutter is that the Bowness Marina may not be fully open until June. Anyway, today's lovely weather has brought numerous visitors to the village and a fair few of them over the past few days have been followers of http://www.stridingedge.net/ who are always a real pleasure to meet. Yesterday's comment of the day goes to a long suffering husband who, upon his wife spending quite a bit of money, told me "We're here for the week and, no offence, but I wish we'd found your shop on the last day, not the first. I'll be seeing you soon!"

Thursday, 25 February 2010

A Dougal breakthrough

Casper, Dougal and I went for a stroll this morning on Birkrigg, a limestone outcrop complete with stone circle and lots of sheep. Casper usually eyes up the sheep but always responds to my command "Off those sheep". Dougal usually notices the sheep but always follows Casper's lead and so leaves them alone. Many dogs and owners walk on Birkrigg, whatever the weather, and Dougal has over the past few months learned to approach dogs, meet and greet them and then come back to me. So far so good. However, the main reason I resort to putting him on his lead is that he jumps up at people. When he does it he gets suitably chastised but he always does it again, even just a few minutes after he's had a good telling off. Today, however, we met a few people whilst on our stroll and Dougal didn't jump up at any of them. I'm hoping this is a major breakthrough in Dougal's training and I'll hold on to that hope for a few hours until I take them out again.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

I like a challenge

I've just had a lady in the shop struggling to find a gift for Mothers Day. I could empathise with her as my Mum was incredibly difficult to buy for, particularly as she got older. The challenge was as follows: the Mother in question was elderly and her eyesight was poor (ruling out books and Sean's prints); she also didn't like anything fragrant on her body or in the house as it made her sneeze (ruling out perfume, most of our body products, candles and reed diffusers), she was also on a diet and alcohol made her eyes dry!!!? (ruling all our jams, chutneys, relishes, chocolate, gin, vodka and beers). Oh, and she didn't wear jewellery. Did I fail the challenge? Of course not, the desperate daughter went away happy with a cashmere scarf and, as we're currently still in the grip of the coldest winter since 1978, I'm sure Mum will be happy too!

Monday, 22 February 2010

Where has the week gone?

I can't believe it's been almost a week since I last blogged. Half term hit us like a whirlwind (not that we need another weather related extraordinary incident) as droves of people descended on Bowness to enjoy themselves despite the very dodgy weather. Jules and Julie coped brilliantly as usual whilst I played a very minor role in proceedings as updating the website has been my main priority. At home we have been watching the Olympics with half an eye (well, maybe with both eyes when the Ski Cross was on yesterday: fantastic!) as Sean and I have both been crouched over computers creating new products and uploading images. We've now some great ideas for Mothers Day including gorgeous new body products, lovely jewellery, the latest limited edition prints from Sean, fabulously fragranced candles and reed diffusers from Pintail and the shop's best selling jams, chutneys etc. which, when you buy 3, come in a Love the Lakes gift box. Please take a look at lovethelakes.net and see what we've been up to!

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

New shop on the horizon

After 9 months of searching, we think we've found the location for our 2nd Love the Lakes. The deliberation that has gone into it has surpassed the thought that went into the Bowness store (and that made our brains hurt!). At the end of the day you can only go for the best you can do without breaking the bank and after many months of studying footfall, the local retail competition, catchment area, tourist income etc., etc. (not forgetting the new potential hazards of flood level and accesibility during snow!) we've come to a decision. Now the easy (ha, ha) bit starts: bank manager to woo, lease to sort out, shopfitters to pin down, suppliers to coordinate and staff to find. Can we get open for Easter? We shall see.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

What a load of tat

We've just got back from Britain's largest gift trade show at the NEC - it's over 100 miles to walk round the entire show so very, very tiring. In a previous life I used to attend this show as an exhibitor and, as we were always quite busy, didn't get round the rest of the show. This time it struck me what a load of useless rubbish is peddled in the name of "gifts". There were large numbers of Chinese stands and large numbers of British companies selling Chinese stuff. Good quality gifts made in the UK were few and far between and the so called "British Design" section was risable. It seems "buy local" hasn't got as far as gifts yet...shame....but you can check out LovetheLakes.net in the next few days for more lovely (British made) gift ideas for Mothers Day.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Winter on the fells

How did that happen? Louise and Julie have abandoned the shop for a couple of days to visit a trade show and left the fort in my capable hands. Some would call that 'gallivanting', but I woldn't dare! Anyway, that means I get to blog too, so there is a slight change of subject for this one..

I often get asked what I wear/carry on the fells in freezing winter conditions, so here goes..not to say this is what you shoud be wearing but just my personal preferences!

Boots - My winter boots are trusty Scarpa Manta's. I will only wear them if I think I will need crampons, otherwise I will stick to 3 season boots.
Crampons - My crampons are Grivel G10's and I have never had any problem with those coupled with a Mountain Technology Glencoe Ice axe (not sure if these are still around, I've had it for about 10 years).
In full snow conditions I tend to wear ski pants, they are great for the conditions with everything you could want - internal leg gaiters (I detest wearing outside gaiters), they are hard wearing, waterproof and breathable. When wearing crampons they are tough enough to withstand the odd misplaced spike too.
On top I simply wear a HH thermal base layer and a Haglofs LIM jacket over it (see earlier review)... and that is all. I carry a  fleece should I need an extra layer but generally it is not needed. If really cold I will carry a Rab Generator jacket as well - that packs down small and it can be put on over everything else to save messing around with layers.
The only other things I wear are a fleece Buff for when it gets a bit chilly round the gills and one of a selection of hats (latest one is a Rab mountain hat), and a pair of Rab Phantom Grip Gloves.
In the bag is a spare pair of gloves, spare hat, waterproof paclite shell and that is about all...have I missed anything?


Sunday, 7 February 2010

To taste or not to taste

To date we've not done very well with tasters: putting out little plates/cups full of something we sell so customers can try before they buy never seems to have any effect other than to make the taster disappear (usually in about an hour but the record is 10 minutes). Our first taster was chilli chocolates which produced (despite the big warning signs) the inevitable choking noises from customers who homed in on the free chocolate. The second was freshly made local fudge: this was our most moreish taster and we all gained several pounds when we went through this phase. The third was locally made sloe and damson gin, hic! The fourth, and most memorable for me, was fruit dipped in dark chocolate, which not long after we put it out was tasted by a little girl who promptly spat it back on to the plate so it all had to go in the bin! This weekend we have some lovely hand made chocolate out as tasters, but I'm not holding out any hope for extra sales of chocolate!

Friday, 5 February 2010

My last word on the subject (potholes not Valentines Day)

Yesterday I counted 37 hubcaps and one bumper littering the verges on the A592 to Bowness. Today the work to repair the worst of the potholes near Hill of Oaks has commenced. The tragic accident on Sunday has been attributed to ice, mmm.........  

Thursday, 4 February 2010

I think I'm the clueless one!

First customers of the day were a guy in his early 20s accompanied by a "yoof" in his early teens. If I'm honest I thought they might be on a shoplifting spree so I was surprised when the older guy promptly picked up one of our Valentines Day cards and a Fanny and Claude Bath Salts pack (both handmade in the Lake District of course). On interrogation (we always probe for personal information - it helps the day go by!) we found that the older guy was an outward bound instructor and the "yoof" was one of his pupils. Furthermore, the instructor is bringing his girlfriend up to the Lakes next weekend for a romantic weekend in one of the loveliest guesthouses in the area....he even told us which restaurants they're going to (hope they don't close in the next week Angela lol). After that he is taking his girlfriend to Thailand for a month. I guess he qualifies for the "going the whole hog" Valentines Day man and I'm only glad, for his girlfriend's sake, that large cards with padded hearts held by cute teddies are now out of fashion!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Beware men with clueless expressions

Valentines Day is a bit of a hoot for us. Unlike birthdays and Christmas, some people (ok, men) get away with proclaiming that they don't "believe" in it. Others (again, men) make what I would call a token gesture  - chocolates and the smallest, most non-commital card they can find - and others want to go the whole hog (in the 80's they bought those huge cards with padded hearts held by cute teddies) but haven't got a clue what to buy. Predictably, as unsuspecting lone men enter the shop at this time of year, we like to guess which of the above categories they fall into. Actually, there is another category of man - the one that takes note of what their loved one says they like in the shop and then rushes back alone 30 minutes later to purchase said loved one heart's desire......aahhh.

Monday, 1 February 2010

The Elements

I am determined to get back on my bike a bit more this year, I used to do lots (and lots) before the walking took over. I went out today (optimistically) with my shades on - I must have got at least 100 metres before it started to rain and another 100m before it started to hail. Just a shower? No, it was a 'shower' of biblical proportions but obviously it was too late to turn back now!

25 miles later it was still raining until I pulled up at our house when the sun and blue sky appeared. I was abasolutely frozen and mud spattered but felt oddly good about the experience. Will it last? Only time will tell...


Sunday, 31 January 2010

Death on A592

Just where the worst potholes are on the A592 (near Hill of Oaks caravan park) there was a two car collision yesterday. A 42 year old woman was killed and two travellers in the other car were seriously injured. The reasons for the crash have not yet been established but, as the state of this road is now truly appalling, it would not surprise me if one or other of the cars had been taking evasive action around the potholes.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Mel's last day

Our Saturday/Sunday shop stalwart, Mel, is leaving today, boo hoo. She's gone and got herself a "proper" job teaching in Keswick. Since she joined us last April she's proved to be invaluable not just at weekends but any time we need an extra pair of hands and, not content in running the shop, she's also developed her own line of jewellery (guided by our master jewellery maker, Jules). Mel's Sparkly Swarovski Bracelets ("handmade with love in the English Lake District" of course) are really popular, particularly with young girls. We've never put them on LovetheLakes.net but, in her honour, I'm going go get them on the site in all their glory next week. Mel was due to work tomorrow but the lure of a wedding fair at the Low Wood hotel beckons as she and Mike are getting married. We're gonna miss that girl.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Bye, Bye, January - thank goodness!

I've just met a fellow retailer who has had her very nice shop here in Bowness for the past 20 years. We discussed how quiet it has been in January and she admitted that it has been the quietest month she's had since she started in business. We've had 30% ,yes 30%, less customers than we had in January 2009 but our average spend per customer has been way up on last year so for that I am extremely grateful. Now Jules has painted every shelf in the shop (well, 4 to go and 2 sets of tables but let's not split hairs) we're ready for action and today has been our busiest weekday of the month, hurrah. New stock is starting to trickle in and it gives us a real buzz when it starts to sell. Today we got a delivery of lovely, quirky handmade cards designed by a guy who lives near Hawkshead - we think they're great and they're already flying out. Bring on the half term holidays!

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Radio Cumbria Thursday

Listen to Louise blog on Radio Cumbria (@39 minutes)

If only it were true

Last year there was an investigation of Windermere to hunt for our very own monster named, imaginatively, "Bownessie". The search will be featured on the current series "The Lakes" on March 1st, but apparently there were enough grounds to conduct the search again this year.....mmmm.....I'm tempted to teach Casper and Dougal to swim underwater, tied together of course, as we could really do with a decent monster sighting and what better than a two headed, hairy beast from the deep.
I met up with one of our suppliers today for coffee and cake. She and her partner live in quite a remote part of Cumbria and she makes the most fabulous soaps and bath salts (Fanny and Claude on lovethelakes.net). Her parting anecdote was about the time she was at Lowther Show and, desperate to get to the loo, she gently elbowed her way past a little old lady in her way, only to discover that it was the Queen! I was hoping to also meet up with one of my other suppliers, Karen, who makes stunning jewellery, but she couldn't make it. I've sold 2 pieces of her jewellery this week over the phone to customers who bought other colours in the summer so I really need to get her on lovethelakes.net as soon as possible.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Radio Cumbria Wednesday

Listen to Louise blog on Radio Cumbria at 45 minutes on this link.

Sleepy Bowness starts to come to life

Our neighbours from the Two Egg Cups cafe have just come back from Marbella so now, for the first time this year, everyone is open for business on Ash Street. A shop just just down from us which has been closed since October has a new owner who is refitting it ready for the half term holiday and Anne Wilson, a ladies clothes shop which has been on the market for some time, is holding a closing down sale as it has just been bought. The "mutter in the gutter" (I love that expression from Paul from the chippy) is that it's going to be another, more modern, clothes shop, but all sorts of rumours abound and the current owner is keeping schtum.  

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire?

John Lennon might have thought that was a lot of holes but I can report that there are at least as many on the A592 from Bowness to Newby Bridge. The journey to and from Love the Lakes now involves evasive action in many places and it has now become a bit of a game I have with myself to see if I can remember at night where to swerve to avoid the potholes. There is one hole by Hill of Oaks caravan park that is so deep that there is now an ever increasing pile of hubcaps littering the side of the road in it's vicinity. If the holes aren't filled in the next few weeks, I can see an awful lot of claims being made by irate motorists over the half term holiday or, even worse, the holes might become so big that cars are swallowed whole and we might be wondering 6 months later what happened to our tourist season!

Monday, 25 January 2010

My big moment!

Well I've finally recorded my 5 day diary and the first instalment will be broadcast on Radio Cumbria at 5.45 this evening. The programme is called "Little Cumbria" and I think there are several contributors each evening who have each recorded their diary for a week. It was a bit bizarre recording my bit in an empty studio with the tape running and I hope it sounds ok. Anyway, the 15 minutes of fame (or rather a couple of minutes) is not limited to me in our household as Sean is doing the same thing this week and his diary will be aired the week commencing the 1st of February. I wonder if Casper and Dougal allowed a supporting role....

Friday, 22 January 2010

Internet sales

Many independent retailers fear the rise of internet shopping. We set up our site, lovethelakes.net, not long after we opened the shop nearly 2 years ago. Specialising in locally sourced gifts, we knew we could offer something a bit different and after a lot of hard work, we got it to the top of the list when you google “lake district gifts”. Having worked in the gift industry for over 25 years, I was fed up of the influx of products made in China and I’m now really proud that we can support local, quality businesses both in our shop and on the site. Today, in deepest, darkest January, a dead month for retail in the Lakes, I’m sending out the most internet orders I’ve received in one day since we launched the site……Love the Lakes loves the internet.
P.S. Have sorted out a new electricity contract with, guess who, British Gas. That was a waste of approx. 6 hours of my life!


Thursday, 21 January 2010

Parents, who'd have 'em?

If I had a pound for each parent who issues the warning "look with your eyes, not your hands" to their children as they walk into our shop, I could retire right now. People with children divide into 3 separate camps: those who strictly supervise, those who leave one partner outside with the children and those who let their children run riot with or without intermittent warnings of dire consequences if anything is broken. Our first customer today came in with two gorgeous little girls, issued the classic warning (one more pound for me, kerching!) and then proceeded to take a phone call which lasted over 20 minutes as she wandered round the shop. I know it lasted 20 minutes because that's how long I sat on our windowsill and chatted to Grace and Gemma, age 4 and 6, living locally and loving our loveheart cushions......anything to stop them running riot!

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Let the new season commence

January is a unique month in the Lake District calendar for shops like ours in that most weekdays we can count the number of customers we see during the day on our fingers, thumbs and, if we're lucky, toes. This January has, so far, been particularly grim as the weather has conspired against us - after floods, snow and ice we expect the plague of locusts to arrive in May. However this week, along with the slow thaw, has come a trickle of visitors to Bowness and today the trickle has been almost nonstop all day. The other fact of note is that, for the first 3 weeks of the year, the vast majority of purchases are made by credit card whilst this week the split between cards and cash is almost 50/50. What does this mean - have people received their January paycheck or are their cards up to their limit? See what happens when we have time to navel gaze...all these questions and more...perhaps we'll start a survey.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Buried in paperwork shredded by Dougal

I've had a paperwork day today, only lightened by dog number 2's insistence on getting his head stuck in the wastepaper bin not once, not twice, but three times in his quest to shred all paper in the house. The third time he got his head stuck, he tried to sneak out of the office without my noticing and only succeeded in banging his head (in the basket) on the door jamb much to my amusement and his mortification...daft pup. 3 hours of my time has been spent trying to find an electricity provider for the shop as my current supplier (who shall remain nameless....oh, go on then, British Gas) has promised to fix my prices for 2 years at nearly double the rate I currently pay. I went through this rigmarole last year and remembered to keep all the details I need to hand as we have 2 meters, 2 different tariffs and a plethora of reference numbers to quote. 3 hours later and I've still not sorted it... a glass of wine beckons.

Monday, 18 January 2010

London's calling

We've been to London for the weekend to catch a show and go to a trade fair. The show (Hairspray) was great and Sean sat next to Niall Quinn (Chairman of Sunderland FC) who, despite his team being thrashed
7-2 by Chelsea, seemed to enjoy himself. Today, in contrast, I walked Casper and Dougal (who you'd think we'd left in kennels for a month rather than 3 days) at Millerground and, as I gazed across the misty Windermere searching for remnants of snow still clinging to higher ground, I couldn't help but contrast frenetic London with our little piece of paradise. London came out poorly! As we've been basking in heady temperatures approaching double figures, the shop has been relatively busy today. Please let us have seen the last of the snow for a little while.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Snow Grabbers

After slipping and sliding around on the ungritted paths around here for the last week or two, I decided it was time I got some of those low level crampon type things that slip over everyday shoes or boots. Believe me, the low level paths are much worse than those on the high fells but I don't think it would go down so well walking around Bowness with full blown crampons and B grade boots on!

I had to hunt around a few shops in Ambleside as they all seemed to have sold out and they had no chance of getting new stocks soon. I eventually got the last pair of anything in the shop and seemingly the last in Ambleside - they were ArtiMate Snow Grabbers which are of rubber construction and really easy to slip on and off with no faffing around. I can confirm they are absolutely brilliant after my first time wearing them and dog walking will never be the same again with those babies on; they are suitable for anywhere that is icy, which seems to be the whole UK at the moment.


Monday, 11 January 2010

Is a thaw coming our way?

I never thought I'd say it but thank goodness it's raining today. In the space of a few hours the roads and some of the pavements in Bowness have cleared of ice and snow and folk are able to stride out rather than shuffle along like penguins with their arms out for balance. We're painting the shelves in the shop today (once again, this is the royal "we" as Jules is doing a sterling job and I'd hate to take the paint roller off her) and all around the village there is evidence of spring cleaning/sprucing up going on. There was even a queue in the local DIY store when I went up there for white spirit earlier. Top seller today is definitely "Spring Clean" Reed Diffuser.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Mystery solved

OK, I now realise that our mystery celeb was not Dawn Steele but Natalie Robb - an easy mistake to make (dark hair, Scottish). She wasn't actually in Wild at Heart - blame Mel for that one. You can tell we have time on our hands at the moment: googling of potential celebs, random mopping of floors etc. We've also moved all the stock to new locations in the main shop (that's the royal "we" as actually Jules has done it all) and next week we'll be repainting all the shelves and emulsioning some of the walls. Sean had more exciting plans for today: a foray up to the Old Man with Casper was in the offing. A pile of extreme weather gear, ice pick and flasks of coffee were all loaded into the Jeep first thing and off they went leaving number 2 dog whining and pining and generally looking for mischief (a large terracotta patio pot bit the dust today). However, an hour later they returned, beaten back by the snow and doomed to a day of domestic chores (Sean, not Casper). Ah well, tomorrow's another day and methinks it will take more than a bit of snow to stop Sean and Casper venturing out again.....especially as I've got another list of jobs waiting to be done.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Take your shoes off before you enter!

With the majority of the pavements finally gritted, our incredibly neat and tidy team are now hot under the collar about the white salt trails left by customers walking round the shop. The floors of the two shops are now being mopped twice a day: Mel has suggested that we cordon off the small shop and ask customers to point to which items they want to buy but I think we should ask customers to remove their shoes when they come in. I don't think they'd mind: its only 5 below 0 oustide and I'm sure they'd welcome walking round on the cold slate floor in their socks! Anyway, my suggestion is now probably academic as we've had a further dumping of snow today, along with most of the UK.

Monday, 4 January 2010

A celebrity in the shop...we think

A celebrity has been in the shop and has bought a hamper full of local goodies. At least we think she's a celebrity. Mel says she was in Emmerdale for a while (I can't comment as I don't watch it). Mel says she was also in Wild at Heart (again, I can't comment) and she's also positive that she appeared in Monarch in the Glen for a while (see previous comment, ie. no comment). Obviously we won't be able to confirm exactly who she is until she appears in I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here or Celebrity Big Brother, but we're sure she's famous!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

South Lakeland Council's answer to the icy problem

Since well before Christmas we've endured incredibly icy conditions underfoot, in fact you take your life in your hands walking down any pavement in Bowness and the state of the main car park on Rayrigg Road is beyond belief. Of course we're not alone and, inevitably, there has been an outcry in the Westmorland Gazette and I'm pleased to report a dramatic response by South Lakeland Council. Yes, last night, under the cover of darkness, a man in a SLDC luminous jacket was seen scattering grit from his bucket along the main pavement in Bowness. I think he only had the one bucket full but we shall be eagerly awaiting his return, hopefully tonight. The business owners and residents of Bowness will be eternally grateful to this solitary hero.....