third village event is our biggest challenge
Organising our annual fund raising”vide grenier” (car boot sale) in the village didn’t seem to any easier with practice
We started La Vie Anglaise as a way to show we weren’t just passive incomers in our new community.
Our English classes and cooking workshops have created strong links of support and friendship with our members.
We’ve also tried to run one event every year to make a wider splash in the village. It’s a double-edged sword because we want to give people something to do on an otherwise quiet Sunday, but it’s also our main annual fund raiser.
We decided to run a “vide grenier“, the French version of a car boot sale. It makes sense for us because there are two income streams. We charge a fee for “emplacements” (pitches), and we also sell coffee and home made cakes in our our salon de thé .
We traditionally pick a date in the early autumn, an early mistake based on bad advice. We were told there weren’t any local car boot sales at this time of year, when in fact, it’s peak season.
We rose to that challenge. We forgot about sleep, pushed everything back a week and hand-corrected every poster and flyer we’d had printed. We were so tired and delirious, one day we went into the Mairie (town hall) for some photocopies and came out with a two-month-old kitten. It’s OK, though, in the end we made a pretty good job of both the vide grenier and raising Chloe the Exceptional Cat.
Challenge of a Crowded Market
This year there’s been even more pressure from competition, even closer to home.
The number of vide greniers in the region has grown way beyond common sense. It’s not just a local event here and there, a few times a year. They’re held everywhere, every weekend, all year round and they’re often commercially run.
Before last summer Bassan only had a couple of association-run vide greniers a year. In an over-saturated market, at least we had novelty as a home advantage. Then our more or less virgin territory came on the radar of a commercial organiser, and the Mairie agreed to let him run an event in the village every month.
In one stroke our novelty value flew out of the window and timing became even more of a headache. We’re competing in our own back yard and the second Sunday of every month is off limits. We’ve had to tuck in right at the start of October.
The Battle for Minds and Eyeballs
On its own the vide grenier is a huge challenge just from the amount of extra time it chews out of our lives. To give everything the attention it needs, we have no time left for ourselves.
For the day to be a success this year it’s been more important than ever to promote it outside the village. The timing has jammed it into the same week as our first regular classes of the year. And all the preparation and administration for everything falls on just two pairs of shoulders
Since the start of September we’ve been consumed by advertising and promotion. We’ve bombarded our Facebook friends with updates. The mushroomed vide grenier business has generated a cottage industry of small-ad web sites and online calendars. However, we can’t escape the importance of burning petrol and shoe-leather, and we’ve been into most of the villages within a sensible distance from Bassan to put up fly-posters.
When we asked one of this year’s sellers where he’d seen our details, his wry answer was “partout!” – everywhere!
Poster maintenance is our equivalent of painting the Forth Bridge. Putting them up and making sure they stay up, or at least legible, is the job that never ends. If we went out in the car we’d throw at least half a dozen card-backed posters and our bag of cable-ties and garden twine on the back seat. Between trips out we’d print more posters, cut more card and glue and staple them together.
The day after our first fly-post expedition there was an almighty overnight downpour. The next day I was straight out on my mountain bike to assess the damage and do what repairs I could. Almost every time I went out for a ride I’d bend my route around the places we’d hung posters. I’d even take a rucksack of card-backed posters, glue, staples, ties and twine to make repairs where I could or hang them in fresh territory. From time to time I’d have to face the inevitable but always heart-breaking fact that someone had just maliciously pulled our hard work down.
We saved some time this year by not hand-delivering flyers around the village. It’s takes at least one of us a whole day, and when we asked our sellers last year how they’d heard of us most them said it was direct email, websites or posters in the street. The most back-breaking exercise gained next to no subscribers at all.
The Great Bake Off Challenge
Jacqueline has taken the full weight of the one job that’s more of a challenge than I can stand. When the promotion has done its job, inquiries and bookings usually come by phone. Even after three years of living full time in France, talking to French people on the phone in their own language is my worst nightmare. This has given Jacqueline the burden of all the administration, at the same time as planning both our existing and new beginners’ English classes and running her famous baking workshops.
Jacqueline also carries the entire weight of the unique selling point of our returning, locally much-anticipated salon de thé. There’s no way around this. It’s baking. I can’t help. All I can do is make coffee and prepare meals in the square inch of kitchen worktop not taken up by cake.
It really is a lot of baking. The Great British Bake-Off is a fantasy of comedy and high-jinks edited to maximise drama and minimise the long gaps of repetitive hard work and waiting time. In the real world baking means a lot of time standing in the kitchen. In the last four days Jacqueline has prepared two of her signature butter-iced chocolate and beetroot cakes, two butter-iced carrot cakes, two butter-iced and coconut dusted coconut and lime cakes, two traditional Parkin cakes, two baked cheesecakes, two lemon drizzle cakes, a date and walnut cake, three trays of chocolate brownies, and six Bakewell tarts of various sizes. We don’t even need to shop-bought Speculoos fingers because she’s baked four hundred and something of our salon’s distinctive home-made butter biscuit stars to go in the hot drink saucers.
I’ve been responsible for bulk email correspondence and the design and endless production of our print advertising.
Last Minute Challenge Nearer Home
This week we reached the end of the straightforward rolling out of fly-posters, but this hasn’t taken us out of the public information arena. Every evening since Wednesday evening this week has seen us creeping around the village square and nearby public car-park hanging posters and tagging car windscreens with handbills giving notice of the parking ban in the centre of the village all day Sunday.
Even here I can’t claim sole credit. We’ve book-ended the village with billboard-scale public announcements hand painted by Jacqueline on sheets of reclaimed supermarket packing card.
It has been a challenge. In fact, it still is. This afternoon we have to set-up the salon de thé in the village square community “hangar”, ready to go tomorrow morning.
Tomorrow morning we’ll be in the square by 5.30 am to welcome our sellers, then from around 8am we have 10 hours of non-stop hot drinks and refreshments service.
With luck some time on Monday morning we’ll start to look back and enjoy the experience!