Bumpy start for the association and our first village event
We’ve never run a marathon, and never hit “the wall”, but presenting the association to the village and problems with our first “manifestation” (village event) left us drained and exhausted, and with challenges still to come.
A success despite ourselves
We officially launched the association at the end of an incredibly long weekend at the start of September 2014.
We should have stopped running our fund-raising salon de thé at the end of August, to give us a week to prepare for the “matinée des associations” membership fair. But we’d become so swept up with our unexpected catering triumph that we bowed to public demand to continue three days a week through September.
Our deadline was Sunday morning. Friday and Saturday were back-to-back salon de thé sessions. Jacqueline was baking until after midnight on Thursday and Friday. I kept the same hours struggling to prepare posters and flyers.
We’d moved to France to get off the nine to five treadmill, we had no appetite for long hours of anything this close to real work. We couldn’t have picked a worse coping strategy than trying to ignore being tired from early starts and make up lost ground with late nights.
The association’s public début was a success despite our poor preparation and the emotional charge carried us through Sunday morning. In the afternoon our heads spun and our energy dropped.
But a tea-shop is an unforgiving taskmaster and on Monday the baking had to begin again.
On Monday evening for the first time since we’d started the tea-shop we were so distracted we forgot to collect the key to the “local” (community building) on the Promenade. We’d have to wait for the Mairie (village council office) to open Tuesday morning.
The wheels come off
Tuesday morning brought the unexpected, first serious setback to any of our plans.
We planned to hold a car boot sale, or as the French say”vide grenier” (empty attic), our first big event in the village, at the end of September 2014.
You might wonder why we wanted to run yet another fund-raising event when we still haven’t finished with another perfectly good one?
Associations mainly organise events to generate revenue, but in a perfect world the event also animates, entertains or brings value to the community.
We wanted to be quick off the mark with something that made a bit of a splash but that we could organise between the two of us. A vide grenier seemed like a perfect fit, a day out in the fresh air for people to swap unwanted items for cash, and pay us a small fee for the privilege.
We’d been told that early autumn was an ideal time for a car boot in the village, because nobody had ever organised one. It wasn’t long before we discovered the real reason why.
We already knew one nearby village had the same sort of event on the same day.Typically over-confident, we shrugged it off. The local pond seemed big enough for two fish. We committed to the date and invested hard-won funds in posters and flyers.
We were hardly into our stride at the salon de thé when a friend arrived with an article from Monday’s edition of the local paper, Midi Libre. Another, much closer village had also picked our day for their car boot sale.
I didn’t respond well to the obstacle. With two competitors a stone’s throw away, and one with newspaper publicity across the whole region, how could we hope to attract paying sellers to attend?
Our friend tried to explain that this was the rentrée. It’s a time when people clear things out and start again. The region is full of vide greniers.
That was clearly the real reason nobody had bothered to organise one in our village before.
My opinions hardened. Three car boot sales in a such small area at the same time meant we were unlikely to attract anything like enough sellers to make ours worthwhile. We could either carry on with an under-attended event, or just call it off.
I was ready to throw in the towel, and just write off our investment.
If Life Hands You Lemons, Change the Label
Luckily Jacqueline is made of sterner stuff. She was open to other options. We could change the date.
Holding it earlier might steal some wind from the other villages’ sails, but left us almost no time to advertise. Holding it after gave us more time to prepare, and less local competition might bring in more people.
Either way, I thought, we needed fresh posters and flyers. That meant more money paid out before we could bring any in. The association is supposed to be not-for-profit, but I drew the line at throwing good money after bad.
Jacqueline’s answer was simple and elegantly rational. It was only paper. We had self-adhesive labels, plain paper and glue. With a bit of patience and a steady hand on the guillotine, we could fix everything.
All we had to do was pick a date.
Early was never going to work, so we pushed things back a week.
The Almost Inevitable Silver Lining
We manage quite well is a quiet corner with cake and hot drinks, but we absolutely aren’t equipped to provide hot food for the potential crowds at an open air event. When we first thought about the car boot sale cum vide grenier, we looked for some outside catering with an English spin. The internet revealed a couple of local businesses with fish and chip vans, but was thin on contact details.
We let it slide and thought about buying a panini sandwich maker.
Now we still had to solve the problem of hot food, but we were in even more urgent need of a unique selling point to make our event distinctive.
To give you a clear picture of the division of labour at the Vie Anglaise, I spent most of Tuesday in a spiral of grumpy resentment, and Jacqueline spent it the phone and the internet.
A slightly more motivated search turned up enough information to contact both food van businesses. No two people are the same, or run their businesses in the same way. The Beziers-based bar didn’t respond to our voice-mail, but Marseillan-based Mr Fish and Chips were more than happy to speak to us.
Sometimes all it takes is to be clear headed and determined enough to keep the situation and the doom-sayers in perspective, and flexible enough to consider all you options.
Thanks to Jacqueline’s always more professional approach, we now have what is probably the perfect elements for our event. We have outsourced catering which doubles as a unique selling point.
I have in turn revised our poster to reflect all the new elements for the day.