#righthererightnow Saturday 8am #smallbusinesslife
Updated: Oct 29
Today is beautiful. Light, wispy clouds are daubed here and there across an otherwise clear blue sky. The sea is glistening. It is warm and calm. It is also three days from November. Its unpredictable weather is what makes Tiree so enduringly attractive. The ever-changing weather swings like a pendulum from one extreme to the other, often over the course of a day.
It’s almost two years since we first contemplated extending the shop. Each time we thought about it, it was shelved on the grounds of not being worth it. We had worked out that the most we could increase was by 30%. Given that we were only two notches up from a kiosk in size, gaining a further 30% of floorspace really did not seem much at all. Particularly when offset against the cost of doing it. The cost would take five years to recoup and all for what was, on the face of it, a bit more leg room. In the end, we took the gamble.
Well… How wrong were we?! Talk about a game-changer. It was MASSive (it actually wasn’t, but it seemed so by comparison). We suddenly had room for tables, chairs and comfy sofas, and had a large window offering a sea-outlook, plus bright and breezy décor. What a makeover – we loved it. It had taken the builders three weeks from start to finish, and Yours Truly a further week to do the interiors and get all the furniture and stock in. Four weeks in all; quite an achievement. In preparation of opening, we created a new menu to include breakfast rolls, made-to-order pancakes and high teas. Things we thought would be easy to do but also a little different. No point in reinventing the wheel – all the other foodies (and there were a lot on Tiree this year) did food so much better than we ever could, there would be no point in competing. At best, we thought we may attract those looking for a snack. Not for a minute were we prepared for the effect our makeover and menu were about to have. It transformed how we operate. It turns out quite a lot of you out there like pancakes with bacon and maple syrup. Among other things.
The month before the makeover, we had won a prize from the Federation of Small Businesses; UK Micro Business of the Year, which we collected a month after we re-opened, and this confused enough people into thinking it was in some way connected to the ‘new’ Yellow Hare but was in fact all about the old, bijou Yellow Hare. The award focused entirely on our business success and how it had been achieved during such difficult times without being propped up. Awards are not something we go looking for. This was something we were invited to apply for, by email, but didn’t expect to hear anything further from. The email arrived at a quiet time – mid-November – and so completing the application was an easy way to pass an hour or so. We sincerely didn’t think more of it until we received word in January to say we were in the Scottish Finals. Winning the Scottish award put us automatically in the running for the UK final along with all the other finalists from all the regions in the UK. The idea of a teeny wee business tucked away on a remote island way up in Scotland, 50 miles from the mainland, winning a UK-wide Business of the Year award was laughable. No-one imagined we would, least of all me.
The final was set for 18th May in Birmingham and as the day drew nearer it was decided that we really shouldn’t go - we would have to close the shop (we hadn’t any season staff at this point), and we needed to claw back as much as possible after the refit. We contacted the main organisers by email, giving our apologies, and got a call from the regional manager a week later, urging us to attend because ‘everyone else was going’. The rest is history. We can't honestly say whether the award has increased our turnover in any way. Tiree has something of a captive market. There are a finite number of visitors each year and they mostly visit all the outlets, whether or not they are award winners. If we were on the mainland, we may attract some curiosity for this but I'm not sure it applies on Tiree. I can't imagine anyone seeking us out on the back of it.
We have had some amazing staff, again, this year and it has been a true joy to watch some of the younger recruits positively bloom over the course of their first season with Yellow Hare. I am the first to acknowledge that I am not the easiest employer. I am very, very particular and whilst I make no apologies for that, I do understand the difficulties for those who struggle with this and heartily applaud those who see it through. Everything must be made in a particular way, served in a particular way, and wrapped in a particular way. Why? Because attention to detail is everything and we care deeply about customer service, even if we don't always get it right.
And it's not confined to service with a smile. At Yellow Hare you may sit as long as you please, working or reading, nursing the same cup for an hour or two, and you won’t be told your time is up. You may charge your phone, battery pack, headphones or any other common portable item without question or complaint. You may order tap water, over and over, free of charge, and no other drink. It is the same price to sit in or takeaway and we don’t mind you using our picnic area even when you haven’t purchased anything. We automatically gift-wrap everything if you let us. You may use our phone for free to call locally. We have taken customers’ household rubbish all the way up to the tip for them, more than once, because they are about to depart on the ferry, there are no bins, and no-one wants smelly rubbish in their car. We gladly give lifts to the campsite to those caught unprepared, phone taxis when needed and have even loaned our car to strangers. If you come in from a downpour, we will dry your jackets and fleeces in our dryers free of charge whilst you have coffee. You never, ever, need to ask if you may use our toilet, although many of you do, thank you. And you certainly needn’t buy something before or after.
None of this makes us perfect. In tandem with the busy-ness of Yellow Hare this year was its fluctuating hours. There must have been times when our customers really didn’t know from one week to the next exactly what our hours were. Even we struggled to keep up. FYI our core hours are 10-3 daily and this remains fairly constant, but we work alongside the ferry times whenever possible and often this means opening earlier than 10am or staying open later than 3pm. Our day off is generally on a day of an evening ferry. This year the ferry kept us guessing right up to the last, particularly during the first five months. It was on, it was off, it was extending its winter timetable, it was publishing its summer timetable, ah wait, no; it was keeping the winter timetable a bit longer, or perhaps just rejigging it, then what the heck; let’s do a new one entirely for the wee bit between spring and summer. And all the time we did a jig the Riverdance cast would have been proud of; backwards and forwards, to and fro; open, closed, open again, closed again, open seven days, closed one, etc., etc…. and that didn’t include hospital trips for broken wrists and time off for award winning dinners and rare family gatherings. Sorry. That’s all we can say. We aim to do much better next year.
Whilst we’re here…. One last word on the Ferry. We are generally VERY busy during the forty-five minutes before each ferry, particularly during July and August. The queue is long and there is regularly an extended waiting time. This has nothing to do with how many staff we may have, or how fast we serve; it’s not because we’re slow, incompetent or chaotic. It’s because you, our dear and valued customer, have arrived to check-in at the ferry port at precisely the same time as most others, after which y’all hosey on over for a coffee. In peak season our queue literally goes from nought to sixty in five minutes. At 10am, the number of customers in our shop? Often zero. Zilch. None. No-one. By 10.15am, the numbers begin climbing and by 10.20am the queue is large and impatient. The ferry comes in at 11. Our stats frequently demonstrate that we serve coffee at the rate of two cups per minute. That’s fast. Particularly when you’re serving really good coffee. And since we're on the subject of beverages....
Of the various changes to our layout and menu this year, providing tea in cups and teapots has been one of those curious successes that has evoked a lot of interest. It began with a Bone China teaset that had been languishing in my cupboard for some years, having been handed down from mum which, in turn, had come from grandmother. My grandmother probably used the set a great deal more, but even then it was unlikely to have been more than half a dozen times a year and mostly for the meenister. And so I decided it was time to put it out there; get it used. One day someone local asked if we could use their mother’s china too, and then someone else after that, and before we knew it we had four sets of gorgeous China. That’s now risen to eight sets, mainly from Tiree, and we’re about to put a framed poster in the loo noting the originator of each beautiful cup and saucer so that you know where on Tiree conversations would have been held over the same cup you are sipping from here in Yellow Hare.
It has been a year of upgrades and updates, and this includes our website and online shop. We like to think we’ve always kept our website current, and it’s certainly updated very regularly – daily in high summer – but it’s taken until now to get back on track with our online shop, which had struggled to stay current following the pandemic because there were so many other areas taking priority. Whilst it’s hoped it wasn’t entirely obvious, it had become jaded behind the scenes, with many items obsolete and others not showing. We kept it topped up, always keeping it on the back burner as something to be overhauled when everything had stabilised. And yes, it really has taken this long to return to a fully-functioning, as-you-were, post-pandemic business. And I don’t believe Yellow Hare is alone in this. I’m quite sure lots of businesses are still fine-tuning. But we’re there now. No excuses.
Two exciting things about our new website that we are pleased to develop and explore further are our focus on Small-Independent designers and creators for our gifts, and our QR coding (hover your phone camera over the square), which will allow the shopper to self-serve in our Yellow Hare shop on Tiree. It’s still in its early stages; we are trialling it all winter, but the signs are looking good. In short, it means you might buy without queuing.
We are now on winter hours, 10-3 daily except Wednesday and Friday, when there's no ferry. We close on 20th December until February, having opted for a half-and-half winter opening. Finally there is time to return to creative pursuits and come up with new designs. That's the real sign, above all else, that we're back where we should be.
We’ve done a lot this year, and it shows. No matter how much we've put into it, we could not have achieved any of it without you, our customer. Thank you for your kindness and patience, and for your continued support.
See you again soon!