Friday, 21 October 2011


 And finally...

It's been a long time coming, but here's the new shop front, more or less finished. Couple of tiny bits to touch up, but I'm happy with it. I may miss the fossil stencils a little.

Given the trouble it's taken to get this done, I'm not keen to ever go through the process again. I was thinking recently about - in the longer term - opening another shop. It would either be a fossil shop elsewhere or maybe a shop selling something else in Edinburgh. Fossils and minerals are what I know best, but the benefits of being able to spend time in the other place without hours of travelling means it's worth exploring new possibilities. Not something I'm going to do anything about in the near future anyway.

As the sign writer was working his magic (and he was impressively quick) I thought it'd be a nice touch to add a little extra. So I got him to put the date the business was established on the wall, too. I had to do a little checking to make sure of it, as I'd come across 1988 in a couple of Stan's old documents, but the shop was opened in June 1987. I even found a picture of a proud and beaming Stan at the launch event - it was from the Scotsman's archives, and available through SCRAN. I've bought the image for the shop, and will license it for use on the blog in time for next year's 25th anniversary.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

On the map

The Grassmarket is a great place. It's got a reputation as a bit of a drinking den, which may still be true to a lesser extent, but I think that does it a huge disservice. It's more than that, and always has been. It has an amazing history, some lovely architecture and - obviously - a proliferation of interesting, independent businesses. Its mix of little shops, cafes, restaurants and bars make a visit a very different experience to walking along a town high street or through a modern shopping mall. A bit of character, not a list of familiar brand names and logos.

Small businesses are by nature more susceptible to trying financial times - it can be difficult to weather lengthy downturns and there has often been a bit of swapping around in the area as shops close and new ones fill the gaps. While there are a few empty premises at the moment, things have been relatively stable of late and I believe the Grassmarket is beginning to see its status and profile climb a little.

Last week, The Guardian added Edinburgh to its popular City Guide feature in the online Travel section. For these, it selects ten businesses in a few categories, writes a brief review and marks them on a map. A linked accompanying article collates the reviews. Mr Wood's Fossils makes the list of Independent Shops, which made me very proud, but also included were three other Grassmarket traders - Hannah Zakari, Deadhead Comics and I.J. Mellis, the cheesemonger. Red Door Galleries made the Craft & Vintage section, The Grain Store is in Restaurants, Under The Stairs in Cocktail bars and The Last Drop in pubs. Transreal Fiction, my old neighbour, and Anaglogue Books have also been featured by the same newspaper in the past couple of weeks. Publicity like this - unpaid recognition on merit alone - is a fantastic boon for small businesses like these and hopefully will help build the Grassmarket's reputation as a place to spend a few hours browsing shops, having lunch or just wandering around.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Marked cards

Every time I sell something - from a piece of dinosaur bone for 25p to a dinosaur egg at £640 - I write out a little label with the information to go with it. I don't know how many I've written in 13 years I've been here but it's likely to be in the gazillions. I'll bet I've written 'million years old' more than 99% of people in the world. Probably there's no award of any kind I can get for that. No world record. Never mind.

The labels are important though. For a number of reasons. Firstly it means something to me that people leave with a little bit of knowledge about what they've bought. Even if they aren't particularly interested after a couple of days, the name and locality will be there for them should they ever choose to look. Or if they want to impress their friends with the age of their meteorite or whatever.

Secondly, hand-writing the labels is a small but effective act of customer service. Almost everyone is pleased to have the details written down - sometimes they've already been jotting it down on a scrap of paper as they browse, or taken a picture of the label on their phone. The fact they're hand-written at the time of purchase, rather than pre-printed is also helpful, I think. It suits the unique nature of the fossils and minerals themselves, and reinforces the idea that these aren't mass-marketed, manufactured products, but something a little bit special. We're a small business and don't spend a great deal on advertising. Word of mouth is our most efficient method of getting known, so treating the customer well is essential. I want people to remember the shop for the right reasons.

Which leads me to the last role of the labels - they act as a form of background advertising in themselves. There are a ton of little orange cards out there, each with Mr Wood's Fossils written on them. And the address. And phone number. Anyone curious about the fossil can pick up the card to see what it is. They can also see exactly where it came from and how they might go about getting one of their own, should they feel inclined. So while it can be a pain to write out the tags for a pile of thirty mixed tumblestones... it's usually worth it.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Creep on creepin' on

Last week, two young women are looking at the trilobites.

'Ooh, look at these eels! How weird.'
'Those aren't eels - they're some sort of fish.'

Most weeks I'll be asked what trilobites were. To reply you need to gauge exactly how interested people are in the answer. Some are more than happy to listen to your five minute spiel about one of the most interesting animals to have graced the planet. Most aren't, though, and some variation of 'kind of like a slater that lived in the sea' is what they're after.

For a beastie that's given so much to science, I reckon they're still flying under the radar a little. As I mentioned a few weeks back, Attenborough's First Life last year got them some publicity, and some ten years ago Richard Fortey's Trilobite was something of a popular science sensation. His engaging enthusiasm for trilobites made for an accessible and rewarding read for people with no geological background. For a few weeks, trilobites made the papers. I can see that they're a harder sell than dinosaurs. Not as immediately recognisable as the iconic spiral of the ammonite, or as dramatic as giant shark teeth. They may be destined to remain the creepy crawly of the fossil record (I once had a woman return one to the shop as she 'couldn't sleep with it in the house'), but trilobites deserve a little more love, I reckon.