Monthly Archives: January 2016

Purepallets – more than a family affair

Latest in the More Expert by Experience series

Purepallets 2 photosIn February 2015, Dawn Taylor – founder of Purepallets – was enjoying a service break from her visual merchandising role with a major high street store. After falling into a possible career change, Dawn wanted to see if she could make a business out of upcycling wooden pallets into unique products for homes and gardens.

A year later I was intrigued to find out whether, after the gestation period, she had cut the umbilical cord or returned to her more secure and financially rewarding role in mainstream retailing.

“I handed in my notice at the end of October” says Dawn. “I’m now self-employed and it’s quite scary. But I knew that if I survived the first 9 months it would be OK. So far, so good.”

Like many other entrepreneurs, Dawn enjoys the flexibility of being self-employed and working from home. She can combine home life with work in her workshop, help her son before and after school and, if she doesn’t think she’s put in enough hours, paint her pallet products in the evening.

“It’s a lot of hours if I include time on social media, but some days I might only work in the evening. And it doesn’t feel like work; I get up in the morning and I never have that feeling I used to get – ‘oh no, another day at work’. I’ve always got a new product to make so yes, I’m loving it.”

But can she keep work and home-life separated when she has a kitchen that doubles as a paint-shop, and what about weekends?

Family means I try to keep weekends free, but in the run up to Christmas I was very busy, so… But I do make a conscious effort not to work weekends. I’m in control – I can always say ‘no’, although a lot of the time I don’t!” Clearly Dawn is addicted to pallets in the nicest possible way.

Young Purepallet customersAttending events at weekends can be very time-consuming and is not always rewarding; Dawn is learning which ones are worth the effort. She points out that face-to-face contact with would-be customers personalises the business, which is the selling point of her bespoke creations – they’re individually made for individual people. And then there’s the reaction when people see her pallet products. “It gives people ideas, sparks their imagination, and I usually get commissions off the back of an event”. Over the past 12 months, commissions have continued to grow, through word-of-mouth and Facebook, to a point where they’re now up to 80% of sales income.

You’d think that the success of Purepallets would be enough to convince Dawn that she has a winning formula. But, like a mother nervously waiting for her child’s school report, she says she’s always anxious when she hands over a commissioned item. “Everything still feels so new that when I make a new item for someone and come to deliver it, I’m nervous they won’t like it. But then they say ‘it’s just what I wanted’ and that puts my mind at rest.” 

Purepallets is not so much a family business as a business that’s part of the family. Dawn’s pallet-dismantling husband and young son are, she says, ‘supportive’ and even the family’s small car doesn’t complain about doubling up as a van.

So how is the new member of the family settling in?  Like a rapidly growing teenager, it thinks in might be time to leave home! From sales at local events in and around York a year ago with mixed success, Purepallets products can now be found in retails outlets in Selby, Darlington, Halifax and, until recently, Wetherby.

Alongside possible re-location to an off-site workshop, storage space and retail outlet, what does 2016 have in store for Purepallets?

The list of events at which Dawn plans to display her products in the next 12 months sounds both impressive and exhausting. April means Living North exhibitions at Newcastle and York Racecourses. A return to the Festival of Thift in Darlington in September follows a successful visit in 2015 with Remade in Britain, and the York Christmas Markets will mean more pressure on precious weekends.

I finish our conversation delighted that Dawn loves pallets as much as she did when I first interviewed her in 2015 – on Valentine’s Day.

Further information:


Remade in Britain

A passion for pallets  (February 2015)

Festival of Thrift 2016


Shining a light on Men’s Sheds

IMG_7605When I was little, my granny and grandpa had a garden shed in the trees at the bottom of their garden. We called it the Mickey Mouse House which might give you the impression we played in and around it. But we didn’t. I think this was because it was quite shaded in that part of the garden and there was a smelly pond nearby.

It didn’t stop me wanting to have my own garden shed from an early age and, 40 years later, I got a small one which is now covered in ivy and falling apart. I’ve been promising myself a big new one for the past three summers; this year maybe.

My life is now inextricable linked to Sheds of a slightly different kind – Men’s Sheds – which are doing great things to keep older men healthier and happier for longer. Important work given that 75% of UK suicides are by men, with the figure in Ireland even higher at 80%.

Sad then that when, last September 10th – World Suicide Prevention Day – I innocently tweeted about the value of Men’s Sheds in tackling isolation and depression, I got a mildly hostile response. I was told my tweet was in bad taste because many of the men who take their own lives do so in garden sheds; something I didn’t know.

Then the other day I learnt from the President of the Australian Men’s Sheds Association that the word ‘shed’ is derived from ‘shade’. And shade comes from an Old English word ‘sceadu’, which means ‘shadow, darkness’. My granny and grandpa’s shady shed at the bottom of their garden came into sharp focus in my mind for the first time in decades.

Two years ago, that same Australian informant – Barry Golding – told me that Men’s Sheds in Australia grew out of the return of veterans from Vietnam, an unpopular war.  The idea of having a place for men – with their shared traumatic experiences – to congregate, to communicate, and to care for each other freely, was initiated by those veterans. A January 2015 article on the ‘A Voice for Men’ website gives more details.

 “ A lot of these men were treated like criminals and especially rejected by the Returned and Services League in Australia, upon their return…  The Vietnam Vets were going away on retreat camps to escape society, so they could just spend time freely among their own, without the pressures of a judgmental society hanging over their shoulders. This was happening in the 1980s… and they decided to ‘urbanise’ their meeting places… Being proven as such an efficacious program for our Vets and a huge help to lonely men, such fraternal gatherings soon took hold within the general population of men. Which brings us back to the mid-1990s and the emergence of Men’s Sheds.

So from the painful birth of a global movement in Australia – where they now have nearly 1,000 Sheds – Men’s Sheds have now come out of the shadows, celebrated all over the world as an effective and empowering response to sustain men’s health and to reduce suicide rates among men of all ages.

As Irish writer Donal O’Keeffe observed, after visiting the Men’s Shed in Cork …  In essence, Men’s Sheds operate around the admission that – left alone – men are utterly useless at dealing with the sort of day-to-day stresses, which women seem to handle with an almost-intuitive common sense. Mostly that seems to boil down to talking. And it turns out that – when it comes to the important stuff – men aren’t all that great at talking. Which you probably knew… Talking makes us human and keeps us alive. Keep talking. Don’t ever be afraid to reach out, be it venturing into your local Men’s Shed or just having a chat with the person beside you in a queue. You never know, you might just find that what helps you might just be that someone else needs you to help them.

Thank you Donal – I couldn’t put it better myself.

Further information

UK Men’s Sheds Association

Donal O’Keeffe on Men’s Sheds

A fight for male space

International Association for Suicide Prevention

Communicating more with less

A laugh is the shortest distance between two people

A laugh is the shortest distance between two people

People have many concerns about the impact of social media on the digital generation – younger people who have never known a world without the internet.

Reduction in attention spans and writing skills are just two, and I have to admit I’m a grumpy old git when it comes to language. Poor spelling and grammar, lazy use of jargon, and unexplained acronyms and abbreviations all get my goat.

We live in a world in which we’re increasingly bombarded with information. We crave the time to deal effectively with the deluge, so it may be that the short text, 140-character tweet, and other bite-size bullets (not to be confused with great dollops of bullshit) are part of the answer. And might their brevity make them better communications?

Effective communication is, of course, not only about transmitting a message, but that message needs to be received, registered and (in a marketing context) acted upon. For me, two characteristics of a good communication are that it touches me emotionally and that I remember the content long after – the two are probably closely related.

So what do I remember from the past? Two communications spring to mind…

When, over 40 years ago, I was in my first, impressionable year at university, we had a talk from Sir Huw Weldon who was a big name at the BBC, associated with Monitor – a series of arts programmes for TV. He recounted how he was making a programme about the life of a composer (Elgar I think) and he was unhappy with his commentary. As it got closer to transmission, he was increasingly concerned, then suddenly realised that much of the commentary was unnecessary. He simply replaced it with the composer’s music; making it all the more powerful.

Many years ago I applied for a job with a carers charity and was astonished and moved to learn about the thousands of young carers – school-age children who, when not at school, care for a family member. I didn’t get the job but never forgot about those cleaning, cooking dressing, young carers who were previously invisible to me (and probably most of society)

Fast forward to a dozen years ago when I used to run a training session for charities – Learn to Love your Annual Report – which tried to help them turn often turgid and unreadable documents into interesting and useful promotional tools. One of the samples I used – as an example of a good report – was produced by another carers charity.

On the cover was a simple black and white photo of a young teenager kitted out for some abseiling; he was obviously excited. The only words on the cover were a quote “I wish I could act my age for a change.” It moved me and left a lasting impression.

Next week I have a job interview which includes a 10-minute presentation (fine) without the use of Powerpoint slides (even better – I gave up using slides, other than photos, years ago). Now all I’ve got to do is to KISS (keep it simple stupid) and leave a lasting impression… for the right reasons.

But enough of this blog – I’ve already gone on too long.

A circle of care

Circle of supportOn the eve of the first strike in 40 years by England’s junior doctor, I wanted to recount a very recent experience of the NHS.

Readers of this blog may remember that 13 months ago I shared my frustration with getting a hospital appointment in connection with prostate problems. The problems continue and yesterday – a Sunday evening – I arrived in A&E [Accident and Emergencies] at the same hospital in considerable discomfort. It was not an emergency, but my bladder thought differently.

I was greeted (yes, I do mean greeted) by a plain-clothed doctor who asked about my problem and even managed a joke “You don’t look old enough to have prostate problems!” Three hours later that same doctor helped me find my car (I’d parked in a hurry, taken a circuitous route through the hospital to get to A&E and, anyway, I had other things on my mind …)

The doctor handed me over to a colleague to get me booked in and I was given a wristband in case I got lost or the hospital confused me with a similarly young-looking 60-year-old. Over the following three hours, I was seen by ten health professionals in what, apart from one small hiccup, felt like a highly co-ordinated routine. All staff were consistently professional, communicative and, above all, caring. Remember this was a Sunday evening – the end of a weekend at a time which covered a shift change – with more urgent cases to be seen (including a younger man who’d overdosed and an older man who’d had a fall)

It confirmed what I already knew – NHS care is already 7 days a week; it has to be. I left A&E much-relieved (pun intended) that we have the health care system we do and so grateful to the dedicated professionals taking care of us. Thank you Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

Value, cost and price

Tractor-For-Sale-Tinsign“Pricing based on cost makes no sense whatsoever. Cost isn’t abstract, but value is.”  Seth Godin

My Dad’s family business – the only company in the world to make hand-embroidered tapestries for the international market – liquidated around 1970. It was just about the time I might have gone into the family firm but for my father the closure was a relief; as Financial Director he’d foreseen the beginning of the end – the Equal Pay Act – a number of years earlier.

The tapestries were high quality and hand-crafted and, even before equal pay, labour costs were high. The women weavers and embroiderers, 90% of the workforce, were highly trained and the work was labour-intensive. The tapestries had to sell for increasingly high prices and people preferred to spend their money on fast cars and big houses.

And when people did buy these works of art, I remember my Dad saying “they’re more interested in telling their friends how much they paid for the tapestry than valuing the quality of the work”.

Fast-forward 45 years and I haven’t a clue about the true value of even the most basic commodity – milk. I pay twice as much for a pint at my local shop compared with our edge-of-town supermarket. I may be stupid but I’d prefer to support the shop at the end of my road while it’s still there (and while I can afford to) rather than line the coffers of the superstore with a strap-line that says ‘very little helps’ …or something like that.

And what about books? I spent 15 years in publishing and left the industry just as the Net Book Agreement – which set a book’s price across all outlets – was withdrawn. Now the price of a book seems to have no relation to its length or format. Nor, of course, does price relate to the thing we value most – the quality of the contents. The industry now seems to treat books as just another commodity, priced at what the market (that’s you and me) will bear.

Personally, I don’t see books as a commodity, but then maybe I’m out of step with current trends (I’ve shunned an e-reader in favour of ‘the real thing’ and will do so as long as my eyesight and bookshelf space allows). And it also matters to me that my online book-buying supports high street bookshops, so I use

With the explosion of £ shops (I’ve even seen a 95p store), Black Friday, all-year-round sales, and 2-for-1 meal deals, I don’t know what I should be paying for even the most basic items, not just milk and books. But I like the idea of restaurants inviting diners to pay what they think their meal is worth…

Until I get too old to make my own decisions, I aim to pay a fair price for what I value – stuff that’s good quality, where possible is locally-sourced and ethically-produced, and that doesn’t screw someone in the supply chain.

This is not easy, I know. But most of us can choose how and where we spend our money. Maybe we should spend more time doing so?

For an interesting insight into the buying process, go to

A useful and all-embracing list of pricing strategies is at