Bill Card is a co-director of two Prudhoe based businesses – North East Gifts, launched in 2013 just months after he retired from a career as an accountant and company secretary, and CCS Products, which followed in 2017.
PB: How did North East Gifts start? BC: When I retired in 2012, I was looking for another interest. My stepson and his friend had created a website to sell regional gifts but had no funds to buy products. When we researched the market, we found there were online shops that just sold greetings cards, or calendars, or art. Others sold souvenirs from Newcastle, or Sunderland, or Durham. The gap we saw was to create a website that would cover more products and encompass the whole of the region.
PB: What has influenced your product choices? BC: We’ve mainly been guided by customer demand. We knew there was an enormous sense of pride and local patriotism within the North East, but there is also a large prospective customer base that have moved out of the area and are looking for nostalgia, so books became big sellers. Regional accents and dialect products are always really popular too, as well as flag products – in particular Northumberland flag car stickers, pins, button badges, mugs and coasters.
PB: What have been your biggest challenges? BC: When you start from scratch obviously the first problem you often have is the finance. Fortunately when I retired I was able to put money into North East Gifts to cover start up costs – mainly stock. Our next problem was when we wanted to introduce our own designs. We had to save up to afford printed items like mugs and coasters as we found the more you get printed the cheaper the cost becomes, but that comes with a bigger financial commitment and the risk of being stuck with products that don’t sell well. After a few years, and once we could afford to, we invested in a mug press and sublimation printer and shortly afterwards bought a flat press for coasters.
PB: Did that help you overcome the problem? BC: Yes, as we could finally print mugs and coasters without committing to large quantities, other than the blank mugs of course. But what we started to realise was that other small businesses had the same problem as NEG in sourcing printed mugs and coasters in small quantities whilst still being able to make a profit. With this in mind we set up a new company, CCS Products, in 2017 and created a trading name, Muggins.biz. We now print a range of branded items for small businesses, artists, designers and photographers.
PB: What has changed during your time as a business owner? BC: The retail sector has always been volatile but over the past ten years there has been a growing trend towards online shopping, which means it is now a more acceptable way of buying. At the start I was very conscious that, as a new website, customers might not spend large amounts of money initially but as we became established we could introduce more expensive products. But this does mean we have more competition online and need to keep new products coming. Personally as a person in the ‘older’ age group working with the ‘younger’ age group and being a person who initially did not know his hashtags from his web cookies, I have had to learn a lot.
PB: In 2022, you worked with a local author to re-publish his children’s book, tell us how that came about. BC: A few years ago, we bought Newcastle Library’s last remaining copies of a book called Tinseltoon, written almost 30 years ago by Chris Goulding. By Christmas 2021, we’d sold out completely. So last year, we got back in touch with the library, who published the original book in 1998 and its 2012 edition, to ask if they had plans to reprint it. They told us they didn’t, so we got in touch with Chris and organised to print a new edition ourselves. We met up with Chris for the first time to take some photos for the relaunch, where we were both stood in the centre of Newcastle looking at a floating foamex fairy. It was definitely a new experience for me.
PB: What was so important about Tinseltoon? BC: It’s a fantastic story for a start, and we didn’t want it to just disappear. In the story, the fairy from the top of the Northern Goldsmith clock comes alive, flies around Newcastle and brings other statues to life. I’ve read it to my grandchildren and taken them on tours of the town to see the various statues, so it’s more than just a bedtime story and it would have been such a shame had it not been reprinted for future generations.
PB: Did the reprint sell well last Christmas? BC: It sells all year round for us, and was one of our biggest selling products of 2022. We reached out to other retailers, who are effectively competitors, to offer them copies of the book at wholesale prices, as it wasn’t just about ‘us’ – we wanted to get the book back on shelves around the area. Several independent shops bought it, including Souvenirs Upon Tyne, Love Of The North and The HUB Consett, and it’s also on Amazon and Waterstones online.
PB: What’s next for the businesses? BC: We’ve realised that coming up with our own products for North East Gifts is really the only way to keep it fresh, as we can base our choices on what we know our customers buy, so we will definitely launch more products in 2024. And for Muggins, we’d like to enhance our online offering to customers, as we’re currently an ecommerce company that doesn’t really sell online. Historically that’s been due to the fact that pricing always depends on quantity, what the design looks like, where the customer is based etc, but we know enough now to work out the logistics so we can deal with fewer orders by email.