When you start your own company, you quickly notice how certain essentials no longer appear as if by magic.
Some are obvious, like a laptop, a phone, IT support, a salary.
Others sneak up on you unexpectedly. Like a particular item of stationery that you suddenly urgently need.
Like a rubber band.
This happened to me a few weeks after setting up Closer to Brands. I needed a rubber band. Well, four, to be precise. We were about to do our very first research groups, for HPI, the company that runs history checks on used cars before you buy one.
I’d been to the bank to pick up the money for incentives - 4 x 6 x £40 = £960. I’d put two £20 notes into twenty-four newly-bought white envelopes. All I had to do now was separate those envelopes into four sets of six.
So I needed four rubber bands. But I’d forgotten to buy them when I did my first stationery run.
I searched the dark, distant corners of the house and found precisely none. What next? Maybe, I thought, they sell them at the corner shop. Unlikely but it was worth a shot.
So I grabbed my keys and rushed out. And there, right there, sitting right outside our front door, looking lost and unloved, was a light brown rubber band, as if it were about to knock.
I grabbed it. Tested it out. Good quality. Nice and stretchy. Perfect size.
But it was only one. I needed four. I still had to go to the shop.
So I started off up the road. And two doors along was another one, same size, same colour, this time lying in the middle of the pavement. I couldn’t believe it. A pair.
Then I had an idea. I didn’t know what was going on, whether there really was a rubber band fairy at work in the locality, but maybe these two weren’t alone.
So rather than going straight to the shop, I took a gamble. I turned right.
And there, yes, was another rubber band. Four doors further on, I had my fourth. Back home I strode, like Columbus returning from the New World, with my four rubber bands. I was ready.
From that day on I started picking up rubber bands whenever I saw them. I quickly traced the supplier. It was the postmen and women, of course. I couldn’t for the life of me work out why they just dropped the rubber bands after they took them off the bundles post. In fact, the wastefulness became part of my motivation for rescuing them. But it was still free stationery.
After a while, I realized I had rivals. There were gangs, small children on Mini Micro Scooters, cruising the neighbourhood, little eyes peeled. They started taking over, collecting rubber bands on their T-bars like tangled trophies. Like they were mocking me.
But there were still enough to go round. I didn’t need hundreds, the plan was always quality qual. I kept a decent stash in a glass by my computer.
Then one day it all stopped. No more rubber bands. Someone at the depot had obviously devised a new strategy. The insight was so simple it was genius. You can use a rubber band more than once.
It looked like the end. I had enough to keep me going for a while. And you could still find the odd one hiding out, not knowing that the war was over.
The Mini Micro’s gave up. They moved on to bikes, their younger brothers and sisters were never told about the glory days, so they never knew what they’d never known.
The strangest thing happened too. Work got quieter, research work anyway. People started doing less qual. Maybe it was Brexit, maybe it was Big Data, maybe it was Budget.
Maybe it was bravado. People don’t say what they mean or mean what they say, so let’s just not bother with research, not the long, drawn-out circular type anyway.
Before too long, the glass on my desk sat sad and empty. I tried taking envelopes along loose to groups but it never really worked. For some reason, though, I baulked at the idea of spending £5 in Ryman’s on a bag of 500 rubber bands. After all this time, buying a rubber band for a penny felt like cheating.
Then one day, about a year ago, they reappeared. First one, then another, then three or four on one walk round the block. Discipline at the depot had clearly broken down. Slowly the glass refilled.
Now I try to keep it half-full. I like it that way. There’s an insight in there, along with the rubber bands. Not just about taking care of the pennies or optimism, that sometimes you just have to wait in research for the pendulum to swing back the other way. But resilience, too. You have to keep going, doing what you do, believing in what you believe. And when there’s a setback, which there will be, you have to be able to bounce back.
Anyway 2017’s been a better year. Thanks to all the clients who’ve given us work. I hope the insights we delivered have proved of genuine value.
And to all those recruiters and viewing facilities who now have any of those rubber bands, look after them. They may have come free to you but they were worth a lot to me.