Category Archives: marketing


TrollyBag – the shopping bag of the future with a patent

Logo_packingsortedMy dad has always been something of an early adopter, keen to try out new ideas and inventions. He bought a Sharp EL-801 one of the first pocket calculators, a Sinclair ZX 80 computer, and VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet. So I shouldn’t have been surprised to find a shiny new set of Trolley Bags in his cupboard the other day.

A little research shows the colourful product was invented in Ireland by Paul Doyle in 2010 and is protected by a patent for A Re-usable Bag System.

With the imminent charge for plastic bags in England, the time is right for Trolley Bags to clean up. The Single Use Carrier Bags Charges (England) Order 2015 comes into force on 5 October. And the order requires sellers who employ more than 250 people to charge 5p for a “single use carrier bag” which is less than 70 microns (0.07mm) thick.


Espacenet screenshot

trollybag patent drawing


A name that is well and truly tasty

On my regular drive to my parents house I pass several food vans catering to the hungry driver.

Their names vary from the mundane Joe’s Food Shack, to the humorous such as Mrs Doyles, which alludes to the iconic character appearing in the legendary Father Ted comedy series.

Source Channel 4

But my favourite is a tiny little white van with a bright red Yummy’s logo and a 1950’s style waitress winking out at the passing motorists. When you add in their strapline Well Tasty, I think they get credit for an effective promotion in a competitive market.


Proving the power of the blog with cups of tea

1018292_cup_of_teaWay back in 2007 I wrote a short blog post based around the British Standard for making a cup of delicious tea. British Standard for a cup of tea – BS 6008

Over the years it has proved to be a popular story, so I was intrigued to see what would happen after a recent short news item on the standard on BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

The result was over 100 views during the subsequent 7 days which surprised me.

The reason for the number of hits was that a Google search for “british standard for a cup of tea”, finds my revised blog post at third place after Wikipedia, and the Independent newspaper, but ahead of the Guardian, and Telegraph newspapers. The original post comes in at number seven, but still on the crucial first page of search results.

A pretty impressive result for a couple of humble blog posts, and solid proof of the power of blogging.

cup of tea search

UK Christmas spending totals £43bn – but have you spent your £680 yet?

"Christbaumkugel" by User:Euro2008 - Transparent version of Christbaumkugel.jpg. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons -

“Christbaumkugel” by User:Euro2008

According to consultancy firm PwC, Christmas spending in the UK totalled £43bn in 2013, with consumers spending £680 on goods in the last two months of the year.

The Christmas period is still the busiest for the UK’s retailers, with just under a quarter of annual spending being carried out in the last two months of the year.

This year I did my bit for the Christmas economy by buying my first ever Christmas fir tree. After seeing lots of signs offering trees for sale, we ended up at the ultimate niche pop-up which sold Christmas trees, stands and nothing else. But they were doing a roaring trade, driven by a single sign by the side of the road.

Christmas Trees sign

Sign says all it needs to

The site was professionally run, with the trees sorted by size and needle-drop variety (drop or non-drop). I assumed they would only accept cash, but they had a credit card machine tucked away in a cosy shed. With our 8 foot whopper selected, they soon had it wrapped up, and three burly men carefully inserted it point-first into our car (for easy extraction at home).

Christmas trees for sale

Plenty of Christmas trees to choose from


Have breakfast all day at the Cereal Killer Cafe

Cereal Killer Cafe logoAs you may have guessed by now, I love niche products and services. The ‘nicher’ the better as far as I am concerned.

So how about a cafe in London that only sells cereal? Well, identical twins Alan and Gary Keery from Belfast, have just opened Cereal Killer Cafe in Brick Lane, in trendy East London.

Apparently the the idea came to them when they were hungover one morning and really craved breakfast cereal.

They offer British, American and global cereals all at £2.50 for a small bowl with a choice of milks and toppings such as banana or marshmallows. Also on the menu are what Gary calls “cereal cocktails – mix different cereals together with different milks and toppings to create different flavours.”

Gary is confident that people won’t just come for breakfast: “Many people eat cereal throughout the day as a snack or a meal … we will be open until 10pm.”

Slightly worryingly they didn’t have enough takers when they tried to crowdfund the project. The publicity, however, enabled them to get a loan and a sympathetic landlord.

Alan and Gary Keery - Cereal Killers

Gary (left) and Alan Keery at their Cereal Killer Cafe



Here is a niche within a niche… Krusty the Clown from the Simpsons in a box.

My new favourite trademark… Magicman

MagicmanLOGOWhilst enjoying my ‘mindful commute’ on my Brompton (as recommended by the Evening Standard – How to have a mindful commute), I spotted a van with my new favourite trademark – Magicman.

I had a quick search on the UK IPO trademark database and was relieved to see it was registered to Magic Man Limited under class 37;
Maintenance, repair and restoration and resurfacing of all (i) surfaces, cladding and facades (in each case both internal and external) including but not limited to ceramic tile, stone, stone resin, marble, granite, wood, laminate, uPVC, plastic including but not limited to thermosetting plastic, glass and powder-coated surfaces and (ii) fittings including but not limited to bathroom and kitchen worktops, sanitaryware, floors and doors; glass scratch removal; plumbing; general commercial and domestic repairs.

Magicman and van

Surprisingly there is only one other use of Magic Man on the database. It is owned by Dieck & Co. Erfrischungsgetränke OHG, and is used for;
Class 32 – Beers; mineral and aerated waters and other non-alcoholic drinks; energy drinks, fruit drinks and fruit juices; syrups and other preparations for making beverages.
Class 33 – Alcoholic beverages (except beers); alcoholic mixed beverages and alcoholic energy drinks.

Even more of a surprise was only finding one reference to ‘magician’ on the database, which is now dead, but was owned by Branston’s Limited, and used between 1948 and 1997.

Magicman has plenty of examples on their website of their ‘magic touch’ to “repair, renew and restore”.




Using Twitter to get Lady Gaga’s attention

Dayne HendersonIn my workshop Introducing Social Media for Small Business I talk about Twitter’s unique ability to engage with otherwise inaccessible public figures.

To be honest, someone with millions of followers is unlikely to read every tweet sent their way. But it is possible to get noticed if the content piques their interest.

This is one of the wonders of social media over traditional forms of communication. You wouldn’t expect a letter, text or fax to be read by your celebrity target, let alone to get through on the telephone, or meet them in person. They would all be filtered out by their agents and minders.

But in fact many high-profile figures revel in the opportunity social media, and Twitter in particular, has given them to be in direct contact with their fans.

A recent story in the Metro newspaper gives a great example of this unprecedented access. Fashion designer Dayne Henderson who produces latex fetish outfits in his spare room in North Shields, uploaded some images onto Twitter. These got the attention of Lady Gaga, who commissioned him to make 19 headpieces for her world tour.

As Dayne told the Metro, ‘I never in a million years thought my first bit of work as a self-employed designer would be with Lady Gaga’.

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga wearing one of Dayne Henderson’s latex designs

Agents of Shield

Personalised car number plates. Fun – Flash – or just plain Naff

Last November the father of autonumerology, Noel Woodall died at the age of 82. Noel is credited with creating the market for personalised car number plates in the UK, worth more than £2bn to the Treasury since 1989.

Noel WoodallHis interest in what grew into a multi-million pound business began in 1960 when he noticed a car driving past with the plate BB 4. He discovered it belonged to a local Blackpool Bookmaker. Thinking other people might also be interested in memorable number plates, he started the first cherished number plate business in the country.

As this was in a time before the Internet, Noel went on a research mission to his local public library, and was surprised not to find a single book on the subject. So, being the entrepreneurial type he put an advert in the RAF’s Air Mail magazine, asking for information about distinctive number plates. He received so much information in response, he decided to compile and publish it in a small book entitled Car Number Galaxy – Celebrities. It cost him £250 to produce, which was 6 months’ wages at that time.

He went on to publish more than 20 books, including Veterans, More Celebrities, Cartoons and a series called Car Numbers, written with Brian Heaton and described by its publishers as “one of the longest running, and most popular publications about vehicle registrations”.

Car Number Galaxy 1963

As for me, I grew up with a strong prejudice against preening drivers who paraded around the streets with vanity plates adorning their shiny cars, like some kind of automotive bling jewellery. I couldn’t think of a more idiotic way to waste money than to ‘invest’ in an ‘IAM GR8’ plate.

So, I was glad to read that even people involved in the industry recognise its controversial nature. Piers England an auctioneer from the DVLA’s auction company admitted, “We call them marmite products – you either love them or hate them.” To quote one contributor to an online discussion “When I see a vanity plate, I think only one thing: ID 10T”.

List of the 10 most expensive plates sold by the DVLA

  1. 1 D – £352,000
  2. 51 NGH – £254,000
  3. 1 RH – £247,000
  4. K1 NGS – £231,000
  5. 1 O – £210,000
  6. 1 A – £200,000
  7. 1 OO – £197,000
  8. 2 O –  £142,000
  9. 6 B – £130,000
  10. 1 HRH – £113,000

So how then can I even start to justify my recent purchase of N11 1NFO for my humble Skoda Octavia? The answer is a combination of my failing memory and local car park rules. Until recently there was an opportunity to end a shopping trip in town with a good deed by handing over my parking ticket to a new arrival. The grateful recipient could then benefit from whatever time remained.

The local council became aware of this ‘good Samaritan’ behaviour and decided they were losing valuable income. The solution was to introduce shiny new ‘intelligent’ ticket machines which required your car registration number in addition to payment. This was printed on the ticket to prevent it being transferred to another car. So no more ‘random acts of kindness’ in the council owned car parks thank you very much.

As well as being frustrated by this meanness of spirit, this change led to a challenge for me. Sadly I have never managed to memorise any of the number plates of any of the various cars and motorbikes I have owned since passing my driving test back in 1976. So I would either have to park with my bumper in view of the ticket machine or keep a note of my number to hand. A third and unexpected solution was to buy a new plate with a memorable number.

After much internet research and even more soul-searching I was finally ready to go ahead and join this group I had enjoyed despising for so many years. The change in my thinking came about when I realised a personalised plate was just about the only way to express personality and even humour on a product that is standardised and factory produced. If you own a Ford Mondeo it looks just a like any other Ford Mondeo apart from a limited range of colours. Although I did see a chrome-plated car the other day which was so bright it actually hurt my eyes.


But just having an initial or two, combined with a number seemed to be a wasted opportunity. And I began to take notice of properly memorable numbers I came across in my travels. Whilst cycling through the East End of London on a ‘Boris bike’ I spotted SK1NT on the back of a brand new Rolls Royce. A nice example of four wheeled irony. I also saw a rather surprising DARR0N on an Audie A4 queuing to get out of Legoland.

Mazda car MX55-NOB

My challenge was to see if I could find a memorable plate amongst those listed at the DVLA  starting price of £250. Needless to say, there wasn’t anything close to ‘librarian’ at that price. I compromised on a combination of my initials and info (my chosen profession), with an additional redundant ‘I’ stuck in the middle.

The irony of this story is that by the time I had deliberated, purchased the number, had the plates made up, sent in the forms, and finally got out my screwdriver and physically replaced them, the council had changed their parking policy. Outraged shoppers had bombarded the local council with complaints and the local newspaper had picked up on the issue. After initially robustly defending their new ‘fairer’ policy, the politicians realised they were on a losing wicket and eventually caved in. So now when I go shopping I no longer need to enter my number plate into the ticket machine, undermining the original reason for personalising my car’s identity.

Jany 2015 update:

I recently spotted a black cab outside work with the number CABBIE which was impressive. But I was even more surprised to see the same car featured in Paddington the movie, being driven by Matt Lucas.

Sept 2015 update:

I’m always on the lookout for fun number-plates, and was impressed by this one I happened upon this morning. I like the way they have picked an appropriately annoymous black Ford van to put their ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ plate on.

Agents of Shield

Agents of Shield van

Agents of Shield van

A revolution in websites has arrived 25 years after the birth of the Web

Tim Berners-LeeThe World Wide Web turned 25 this month, and it got me thinking about how website creation has changed since Tim Berners-Lee first proposed it to his boss at CERN in 1989.

For the first few years websites had to be hand-coded by computer programmers, which rather limited their number and design.

My first website was built back in the mid 1990’s, for my Hot Dog prothen employer Hermes Pensions Management. I used, what was then, state of the art software in the shape of HotDog Pro from the wonderfully named Sausage Software.

It was something of a labour of love, as each new page was another step on a steep learning curve. However just like the game of Snakes and Ladders, one false step forward could result in many steps back. I still remember clearly the moment we realised moving one page, required manually editing links on every single page on the site.

We made a major leap forward when a colleague in our IT department suggested using FrontPage from Vermeer Technologies. This company was soon taken over by Microsoft who were keen to establish themselves in the world of web. As one of the first “WYSIWYG” (What You See Is What You Get) editors, FrontPage was designed to hide the details of the dreaded HTML (hyper-text mark-up language), making it possible for novices to create Web pages and Web sites. Even better, when you moved a page, it automatically updated all the relevant links!

Microsoft Frontpage

However although FrontPage was wonderful improvement, it did have major deign limitations, and it was all too easy to spot ‘FrontPage’ websites.

Next on the scene for me was Dreamweaver version 2, the ‘Ferrari’ of web design software (beautiful and fast… and a bit flaky at times). After a couple of days training we were able to start producing complex websites with beautiful pages.

Dreamweaver v2

After many updated versions, Dreamweaver is still available today but is dying a slow death thanks to content management platforms such as WordPress and Drupal (Dreamweaver is still dying).

But in the last year or two the world of website creation has been truly revolutionised by template based, low cost services from the likes of Weebly and SquareSpace.

Now almost anyone can create professional looking websites, with no technical skill at all.
I surprised myself by managing to create a very simple but attractive website for my father within a couple of hours using SquareSpace. Compare that to the week it took me to create a 20 page website for SLA Europe using Dreamweaver ten years ago.


A great example of a Weebly website is Keep Me Jewellery from one of my clients here at the Business & IP Centre. As you can see from his amazing creatures, Tom Blake has a great eye for design, but he doesn’t have any background in building web sites.

Keep Me Jewellery

Also, these new platforms enable you to easily add a blog onto your website (an essential part of your marketing strategy – Blogging for fun and profit). And if you want to sell through your site there are shopping modules available too.

So if you were considering a career as a website designer, now might a good time to think again.


A brand as strong as a Hippo

On my drive to work this morning I got stuck behind a big yellow lorry. It was a Hippo Bag truck, and I was struck by how strong their brand is.

HippoBag_logoApart from the bright yellow base colour, the enormous text splashed across the back made it impossible to miss.

It got me thinking about strong brands, and how it doesn’t really matter too much what the name is, as long as it is memorable. In this case Hippo conjures up images of strength which help reinforce the brand. But it is also the most dangerous animal in Africa. Hippos kill more people each year than lions, elephants, leopards, buffaloes and rhinos combined.

I had a quick look on the Intellectual Property Office trademark database and saw that Hippo has been used 333 times in trademarks. Hippobag is registered by two different owners; one by Waste Management Systems Limited for the following classes:

  • Class 22 – Non-metallic bags and sacks for the transport, transfer, handling and storage of materials in bulk.
  • Class 39 – Removal and transport of waste to transfer, disposal, recycling and treatment sites.
  • Class 40 – Recycling and treatment of waste.

But it has also been registered by The Old Tannery Shop, Cambridge under Class 18 – Bags, pouches, holsters, belts, wallets; all for carrying or holding tools, fittings and instruments; but not including any such goods made from hippopotamus skin.