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Good Taste Goes Down With The Titanic
How should my shop react to the Titanic 100th anniversary? How will my customers want to mark the Night To Remember?
At a recent trade fair, I came across a stand full of Titanic branded products. Given that our Winchester shop is only a few miles from Southampton, a port forever associated with the ill fated ship, I thought there could be something for local people who want to commemorate the tragic event.
What confronted me was an array of items from aprons to ash trays to mugs and even a toddler’s t-shirt with the slogan ‘Captain’s Little Helper’ or words to that effect. While I had realised that the Titanic would be big business this year, I was still taken aback by this exploitation- celebration, even- of a disaster that killed over 1500 people.
Later I looked up Titanic merchandise on the internet. There are plenty of scale models, newspaper reproductions, framed photos and so on- the sort of thing you would expect. But what I also discovered was a huge number of products that seem to me to be of questionable taste, including underpants, babies’ bibs and Titanic swimming club t-shirts. Am I being over sensitive? After all, everyone associated with the ship is now dead.
Of course people will want to remember the 100th anniversary for more than the loss of life: the impressiveness of the liner, admiration for the crew who helped save so many and the hubris in saying the ship was unsinkable. To be fair, quite a bit of the celebratory merchandise seems to be centred on Belfast. Given that the ship was built and launched there, they are justifiably proud of the engineering achievement.
It may be that the tragic side of the event resonates more strongly with Britain’s greatest passenger liner port. Those of us with Southampton connections find little to celebrate. I imagine the city’s new SeaCity Museum will show some restraint in the merchandise it sells.
I don’t object to people making money out of the anniversary by satisfying the demand for tasteful mementoes. That would be hypocritical since my shop is selling a replica of the Steiff Teddy produced at the time of the sinking, as well as a modern version. However, these are sober black bears of historical interest that clearly mourn the loss of life.
What intrigues me is who would want to buy an amusing baby vest or a pair of boxer shorts in remembrance of such a tragic event?
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I co-own Your Life Your Style the home and gifts shop in the Brooks Centre Winchester which also sells online at yourlifeyourstyle.co.uk. I love running a small business. The headlines go to the companies turning over billions of pounds but nearly half the UK economy is powered by small to medium size businesses. Small businesses lead change and offer a huge range of challenges. Having spent my early working life in retailing, I moved into arts marketing including many years as the Head of Marketing and Operations at The Mayflower Theatre. I still provide marketing and PR support to small businesses. Paul Lewis