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Celebrating 12 Years of all things Curious and Pancakey!

Celebrating 12 Years of all things Curious and Pancakey!

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.... and yet 2011, despite its recession-y vibes, was clearly a much simpler and happier time for literally most of the world! It was into this world of rampant optimism and rose tinted spectacle wearers that The Curious Pancake was launched, late one night on October 22nd, to the whooping of one woman (me), and the quiet relief of her coding, website-building other half. On the eve of that fateful night we hit 'go live' on the website, had a Peroni and a slice of lemon drizzle cake each, then.... went to bed. To sleep! What a launch party! 

Fast forward 12 years, and we're still here... (I know, I can barely believe it myself) and so I'd like to share with you 12 photos that will hopefully give you the flavour of some of the last 12 years of business, starting with the mirror selfie that I took, shortly after going live:

A mirror selfie - Claire, Pancake's founder, smiles at herself, looking down at the phone. On the mantlepiece under the mirror we can see two bottles of Peroni and two slices of lemon drizzle cake.


Next we have a photo that, for me at least, perfectly sums up the small business struggles of photographing your stock with not much room or talent with the added chaotic presence of cats! I genuinely placed this box on my photography table, turned my back to get something else, and our naughty ginger floof, Mort, hopped on up (and in!) for his close up! I was quite tickled by the resulting photograph, though!

The cutest ginger cat ever sits in a yellow box on a photography table, surrounded by a trio of continuous lighting lamps.


The image below represents all the times I've financially messed up as a small business over the last 12 years. From buying stock that hangs around for yeeeears, to printing errors, packaging errors (too expensive, too flimsy, too complicated!) and everything in-between. You really *feel* those mistakes when you haven't got two pennies to rub together! But it doesn't get any easier when you have more money either. In lockdown I made some stupendous errors of judement, which cost the business lots of money... but at least I had the money to spend at the time, I just wish I'd gone on holiday with it instead!! I'd like to say we get wiser, with time, but it doesn't always pan out! ⠀

An open hand with a tiny bit of confetti in it. The confetti reads "bellend"

The next image is a reminder to myself that there will always be some amazing cards or products that I can't stock. And I have to accept that. Most of the time it's because I'm an online only store (at the moment, it may change in the future!), and I appreciate that brick and mortar stores should get priority over exclusivity. Sometimes it's just logisitics. There are loads of cool US designers whose cards I'd like to stock, but customs duties and exchange rates make it not commercially viable. The bag below was from PGLive one year, it was sponsored by one of my favourite card companies, who sell to brick and mortar shops exclusively.

A photo of a bag which reads: I'm a card-aholic

The next image is a reminder to be organised with stock, and to always hire a photographer when funds allow! This photo was taken by Holly Booth, who is much adored in the small biz community for her fantastic ability to make our small businesses shine!

Claire picking an order from a shelf of brown boxes full of cards. Photo by Holly Booth

Next small business useless pearl of wisdom: expect the unexpected! Lockdown 2020 was a never-before-in-our-lifetime event. No two people's lockdowns were the same. Because we both worked from home in our house, it was pretty much business as usual. But business all of a sudden became highly UN-usual for me and Pancake from March 23rd onwards. I think on one of those early days I made £900's worth of sales in a day. This eclipsed my previous best day of sales ever by about 600%!! And it showed no signs of slowing for many months thereafter. The number of cards I handwrote became highly ridiculous! Pictured below is probably 1-2 days worth of handwritten orders... it's a wonder my arm didn't fall off! Being a small, online business during lockdown was thrilling and exhausting in equal measure. One of the best things about being a small business means you can pivot/change/adapt to new situations pretty quickly, and, in those early days the market was focussed on all us 'indies' - I wonder if we'll ever see the likes of this sort of shopping again. It was amazing to see people shopping local, picking orders up at kerbside, helping out neighbours. I kind of knew it wouldn't last, but I crossed my fingers that people might have forged new shopping habits and continued to shop small. I could go on... but I think this is a blog post for another time! :-) 

Tons of letters that went out during the first Covid lockdown of 2020

I try and embrace the delight of being a small business as often as possible, which you can see in my next picture! I always write a little note with every order I post out, I used to even draw a unique doodle for each customer, although I've had to reign in the time I take on notes in recent years (if only for the sake of my hand!) - people seem to love the notes, and I like to show my personal appreciation for every order placed. 

Handwriting a thank you note for a customer with a doodle of a crocodile.

The next image can be captioned "There will be good fairs, there will be bad fairs." I have a bit of a love/hate thing about doing art fairs. At their best they are a fantastic way to connect with customers, to see what people are laughing at or navigating towards in your stock, and they're a good opportunity to chat to other stallholders especially when you realise you aren't alone in the weird occupation you've chosen for yourself! At their worst? No sales, no customer interest and you question every decision you've ever made that's led you to this long 5 hours of boredom! Heheee. Mostly they're good though, and, honestly, I do love them more than I hate them. But you can't help remembering the bad ones!

Claire standing next to her stall at a Crafty Fox Market in London.

There will come a point where your house is not big enough. The image below perfectly encapsulates this! This is when 9000 sweary pencils and pencil packaging ended up in our lounge for several months (whilst I made room elsewhere - under beds most likely!) - funnily enough our old lounge is now PancakeHQ, which has worked out very well (we still have a lounge as we converted the dining room (who uses dining rooms for anything other than dumping the washing?!) into a mini snug. It has enough space for two humans, two cats, an unfeasibly large TV and some plants and shit. I know I'm quite lucky being able to use my house like this. It's not something everyone can do - but even so, stock still creeps into the rest of the house from time to time! It's all part of small biz fun!

Mort, a ginger floofy cat, stands by a room full of open pencil boxes. He looks bemused.

When things are going shit, don't forget how unfulfilled you were in your day job! I took the picture below when I was still working part time. I've only been full time on Pancake since 2018. Answering the phones, for someone else, and getting shouted at by customers was not where I saw myself in life! It took a big leap of faith (and a partner with a 'proper job') to take the plunge and go full time with The Curious Pancake, and there aren't many days I regret it (I miss paid holidays though! And paid sick days!).

A picture of me in my past job - answering phones to angry customers.

Having staff is always more demanding than you realise. In year two of lockdown (how mad is it to say that?!) I decided I needed a part time employee, which was a real rollercoaster ride! It was, ultimately, worth it... I think. It taught me much about what I wanted out of my business, and how I would go about hiring someone if I had to do it again. I've had lots of really shit bosses over the years (hi there if you're reading this, shit boss!), but almost overnight I realised all the extra skills I needed and was missing in order to effectively manage my employee. I'd sooner have cats (pictured below: Mort and Edna), but they're super crap at packing orders!

Mort and Edna looking through the window at PancakeHQ

And finally.... (bugger me, 12 images took a lot longer to write about than I had first imagined!) a huge, big, cheesey thank you from my beaming face to you, my much appreciated customers. Hi to my lovely regulars (waves at Nick, Jackie, Anthony, Helen, Chloe, Sally, Ben) and double hi to the new peeps discovering me every day. If you have a friend you think would like our stuff, please spread the word. Thank you, thank you.

And here's hoping we make it to 13!

Claire, founder of The Curious Pancake, with a healthy stack of handwritten cards ready to be posted!


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If you've found even a small part of this blog interesting or useful, please feel free to share it with others. Or if you have some business tips you'd like to share below, I would love to hear them!

Fancy some shopping after all that reading?

'Course you bloody do! Here are our bestselling cards:

Next article No more flat-faced dogs on our cards and gifts!

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