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Dynamic duo find a common cause
Businesses which rely heavily on one person often have difficulties growing. One solution is to find partners whose experience and skills complement those of the founder, allowing the company to expand in ways that would have otherwise been difficult.
That is exactly what happened to the founder of the Travelling Souk, a business based in the Oxfordshire countryside near Longworth.
The business started in 2003 when Georgiana Pike had the idea of running travelling fairs with a difference. The twin aims were to sell top quality goods and give something back to charity from the proceeds.
Small retailers, designers and inventors can sell their wares at the Travelling Souk fairs held in all sorts of exotic locations around the UK such as barns, castles and racecourses. The Souk delivers an opportunity for small businesses to reach markets they would not otherwise be able to get to, without spending a lot of money.
For a long time Mrs Pike, who had previously been in advertising and then had a successful fashion business, felt that the Travelling Souk could take advantage of the Internet, but she did not have the expertise or the time to do it while running the business.
Enter Claire Simpson, also with a fashion background but crucially with extensive experience in retail and mail order operations.
“We met through our children and she only lived two miles away,” said Mrs Pike. “I had had the idea about going online in my head for a long time but it was too much to do on my own. She had sold her own children’s clothes through mail order and fairs so it all seemed to fit.”
Mrs Simpson started working as a co-director in 2007. Although her experience came from a time before Internet shopping was commonplace, it was more about knowing effective processes and procedures for selling direct. The Internet operation is a layer on top of this.
The online shop allows the retailers control over the products and prices in their own ‘shop’. This means that although Mrs Pike and Mrs Simpson have overall control over the site they do not have to spend their time making constant changes on behalf of individual retailers.
“From the suppliers’ point of view they do not have any petrol costs, do not have to have a shop, they can work from home and introduce new products, they manage it totally themselves, we just have an overseeing role,” Mrs Pike said.
The fairs and the Internet operation now feed each other although it is definitely more one way than the other.
This is more important now because the rising cost of fuel has means that fairs are restricted to the south of England. Repeats of previous forays into the north and Scotland have had to be put on hold.
Mrs Pike said: “People who attend the fairs get the website details and can then order without having to wait for a fair to come round. There is more of an overlap that way, but online customers do also find out about fairs in their areas and come along.”
“We can also sell tickets to events in advance online, at a discount. We do get queues at the doors so fast-track entry is a bonus for customers. And it is a bonus for us because it helps cashflow and planning, as we have a better idea of numbers on the day.”
A printed catalogue is on the cards. This will be distributed at the fairs, hopefully further increasing the traffic to the website from fair visitors.
“I felt that we needed to move with the times and going online really has proved to be very successful,” said Mrs Pike. “We now have customers in the USA and Australia as well as parts of the UK and Ireland that we can’t reach with the fairs.”
The two directors feel the Travelling Souk offers something unique.
“There is no-one who does everything that we do, there are people who compete in some areas but no-one doing all of it,” said Mrs Pike.
A typical Travelling Souk product would be “something a bit different, a bit quirky.”
As an example Mrs Pike quotes dachshund bookends which have been very popular.
Another example is a hammock chair which has been so popular that they have run out. With forward orders in hand they are now waiting for new stock.
The fairs continue and the curious can see the Travelling Souk at first hand at Sudeley Castle on November 9 and 10 or Thyme Food School at Southrop on November 14 and 15. On November 21 and 22 the fair will be at Milletts Farm, this time in aid of SeeSaw, the Oxfordshire-based grief support charity.
And if you cannot make those dates, then the online shop is there for you.