Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Work Overload - Corporate Gifts Island Style

Hello again folks – my humblest apologies for being away so long; I had no idea the scale of the work I would take on over the last couple months, but now me and my team are out the other side and it’s about time I told you all about it. It's a story of the kind of challenges that are perhaps peculiar to St. Lucia, those unexpected turns of event that every business get faced with at some point,  forging relationships and a good bit of rolling with the punches too.

Last time I saw you, we were just coming into the end of preparation stages for the Arts & Crafts Village at the Caribbean Marketplace ’09. This ‘little’ side event of the Marketplace was given to me to mold, shape and make happen, by an old school friend of mine and now very competent event planner and manager in the hospitality field, Daune Charlery-John.

Daune called on me as someone she trusted knew the kind of quality event she’d like to see and who best knows the St. Lucia creative products scene. I was thrilled to get the job not just because it was good work in increasingly gloomy economic times but also because it was in the field closest to my heart. But I knew it would be a challenge to pull off, despite Daune’s complete commitment to providing the means for us to put on a great show. But this post's about the other work we got through this event, I'll tell you about the event itself next time!

Along the way to the Arts & Crafts Village, we took on sourcing and making a couple of delegate gifts – 4000 in total and 420+ ‘message pots’ for the delegate desks. We started with agreeing to source 2000 local traditional fans but that idea was forced aside when after a couple of months of trying to source just one sample, we were told that artisans’ sewing machines were not working…welcome to the world of dealing in local arts and crafts!

So I spent an evening wondering what the heck could I source in those high numbers in the short space of time. You see, we have good producers, just not ones that have the normal capacity to produce 2000 items – the fan makers were from the Choiseul area where many women make similar products so we could’ve gotten about 10 persons to produce 200 each.

After reluctantly sending in suggestions that we provide a range of similar value but quite varied items and having that, not surprisingly, rejected, it was back to the drawing board – the event was being hosted by “Business on the Beach” and for those of you who weren’t there, it was, on the beach, so the idea was to have gifts that would suit and of course a fan comes in handy when you’re basking on the beach in our tropical sun.

We finally came up with a design for a fan that could be made by a group of people – two papermakers, and a small group of crafters. That was the plan. My part would be making a cold porcelain shell to hang on the handle, label it and deliver. That plan did not serve us for long. When a week after I arrived in St. Lucia, late November, I had not one sheet of handmade paper in my possession, I began to realize I may have to get hands on.

In the meantime, I had agreed to do source 400+ mini local bamboo fish pots to be used for delegates’ message containers for their desks. I was not getting anywhere with my search for persons who could get these made – the fishermen now mostly use ‘chicken wire’ to make their pots so only a few bamboo weavers still remain, and the ‘straw’ craft makers don’t do the fish pot weave…whoy misye! I briefly considered teaching the straw craft makers the weave, but time was tick-toking away and they’re located quite the other end of the island.
Picture from Ocean Planet

So during a meeting with Daune something made us think of pottery and I figured ok, the traditional potters could make that quantity –so we settled on little ‘tesson’ pots without lids – these are the traditional pottery cooking vessels that sit on our pottery coalpot stoves.  Calling them Message Pots seemed obvious but just to make sure people got the point, we decided a little flag-on-a-stick should do it and then a bit of sea, sand and a cold porcelain sand dollar completed the design. Ok, so now I had two things to make.

So I was still trying to find someone to make the bamboo strips I needed for my fans but during this search a thought seeped in, I realized the number of little bamboo strips I needed for my ‘great’ design – 8,000 in total: there was no way I was getting someone to cut me them in a hurry. After a couple days of concern trying to become worry, inspiration kindly visited me, and I figured, bamboo blinds: I visited every single shop in my least favourite part of St. Lucia, Castries, and the closest I came to a solution was buying 300 placemats from S&S the Pricebusters, but since they only offered me only 10% off for this rather large purchase I wasn’t too keen to fork out nearly $1000.

Driving home resigned to the unavoidability of making that purchase, serendipity popped by and turned my eyes to the right as I was pothole dodging just past Gros Islet; ‘Inside Out’ the sign said – I did a quick right turn and walked in to see my saviours waiting – lovely bamboo blinds with just the right width strips. So I bought one, went home and measured and calculated that if I dismembered 6 of these beauties I’d have my 8000 bamboo sticks. After cutting that first one up though, I was hit once again by the enormity of the task ahead of me. I made up a new prototype with just two sticks instead of 4 – mercy me, they liked it! Now too I'd have some lovely blinds left over for the veranda – something we’d long thought about!

Then came my next opportunity, when I dropped in the prototype of the Message Pot, a new thought popped into the organizers’ heads, it’d be great to give delegates a welcome lei of a sand dollar – part of their logo - made of cold porcelain, could you do that Finola, 2000 of them? I said, ‘Yes I can’ ‘cos I could, but would I have time to sleep? Keeping in mind here, I was still the Organizer of the Arts & Crafts Village, but I figured things were pretty well going on smoothly in that regard, so we could take this extra on!

By now I’d advised my husband who was still in Barbados, that I really needed his help – we’ve pulled off amazing amounts of work together in the past, so I knew we could do this again. But when his arrival was delayed in trying to tie up loose ends on the work he’d been doing with the Indepen-Dance Festival in Barbados, and Christmas was fast approaching I began to, I admit it, panic just a bit.

When he did arrive – on our anniversary – several hours late but just in time for us to go to dinner straight from the airport – we enjoyed a few days of getting things done, only to be faced with the news that his Dad had been taken into hospital. A few days of wrestling between work needs and emotional needs later, his Dad passed away on Christmas Day evening. Well, family said stay and work until the funeral and we did, but you know under the circumstances it was not easy. So a couple days in, we decided to call in one of my ex-students Teige, whose drive and capability I’d been very impressed with in the past.

What a good decision that was – Teige worked diligently – showing initiative, stamina, not flinching at correction, and great commitment – she even took work home with her. But by then we knew we'd still need more help, so we called in another ex-student, Jody – you may know her from her pic on this blog, modeling my jewelry -  and the two were a great team. My visiting sister Liz pitched in like a trouper – she’s a pilot, not an artist, but being a determined one all her life, despite her trepidations, she found out she could do a lot more than she first thought – we wouldn’t have gotten through without her!

So between us all we just pulled it off – we had a weird and wonderful Christmas season, tinged by the loss of Tim’s Dad, but filled with unexpected camaraderie of hard work and achievement. Even the funeral had it’s moments of happiness – everyone seemed to be finding family they didn’t know they had!

The girls became the ‘Workabees’ when my sister used the pet name in respect of their hard, hard work – many a fun moment passed in between the super long hours of often grueling and repetitive work. 'Workabees' only begins to tell the story – I felt so proud of these youngsters – so often I’m lost in the face of a seeming determination of employees to do as little as possible, and here were two girls, still students, restoring my faith in our future. I hope they stay with that attitude and hope there’s more out there like them!

This is only half of the story but enough for now - the set up and running of the event is a chapter all on it’s own. So do come back over for that one, which in deference to my new-found acceptance that I cannot possibly blog more than twice a week at most, I will aim to bring to you before Valentine’s Day.


  1. Wow Finola! I am impressed. We forgive you for your conspicuous absence :)

  2. Hey, thank you:)) hope not to need such forgiveness again!

  3. I like the idea of giving island souvenir-inspired corporate gifts. Typically, a lot of office folks miss out on leisure like this because they're stuck on their work.

  4. Nice post,Corporate gifting is fast picking up. More and more companies have understood the potential of corporate gifting.

  5. Thanks - That's true, I think we're just getting it in the Caribbean still, but it's coming along!