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And now Marks and Spencer

Well there’s no CVA mentioned, but at long last, Marks and Spencer join the long list of companies leaving the high st.

I’m normally on the business news throughout the day, but missed the announcement this week. But as I cut a key at a local garage, while chatting to the garage owner, his wife broke into our our small talk with the big news.

‘Marks and Spencer eh, closing a hundred stores!’ She was really shocked, it was the beginning of the end for all of us.

Once again, this is a brand, steeped in history, that’s struggling with where it is, and who it is. Want some unusual Christmas stuffing, or some black court shoes for work? Marks and Spencer is where you want to be. However, what else  grabs you and pulls you in? I can’t think of much.

As the 2018 Retail cull continues, it’s clear now no-one is immune. Shops near to empty, drab interiors, uninspiring displays. Whoever’s getting our money these days, the experience is either amazing entertainment, or a faceless, on-line retail transaction. It doesn’t matter that Amazon’s experience isn’t exciting, they just need to have it and fullfill on the promise. They do, so we all keep returning to their site.

This sharpens my mind, making me think about our quiet times, and how I can make our shop something people remember.

How can I make us the one that they think of when they’re deciding who to give their precious money too?


It Went to Plan

There are days when it all goes wrong. As a business owner it’s easy to feel that there’s a conspiracy. Job after job has problems, you’re not getting paid and its eating up your time. It’s easy to have a day where nothing went to plan.

However, when we have a day where it all goes right, how often do we stop and think how good it feels?

This Saturday was one of those days. Customers came, they were chatty and grateful. Everything worked and we earned some money. It all want to plan, a blueprint for a good day.

As I pulled down the roller shutter and set the answer machine, I took a minute to be grateful. We can take sucess for granted, but when it happens we should enjoy the small moments as much as we can.

When you’re planning your new business and you get a win, celebrate. Go for a drink, meal, or maybe just a run. Share the news with your partner so they don’t just hear the bad news!

Enjoy, it all went to plan.



The new Trendy CVA

I’ll be honest. I’d never even heard of a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) before last month. In the olden days, companies just went bust and shut up shop. However, it seems like over the last two months, the list of companies entering into a CVA just gets longer and longer. This very public process of reviewing just how in-trouble the business is, has become daily news.

The obvious start is overpriced food. Prezzo,  Jamie’s Italian, Byron and Chimichanga.

Then stuff we’re just learning to live without, Carpetright, Maplin and Poundworld,

Then of course, rediculously overpriced Jaques Vert, or the uninteresting clothing stores such as New Look.

Worryingly, healthcare is in there with Allied Healthcare, looking after our old folks in care homes.


Then this week, restaurant chain Gauch (whoever they are) and the iconic House of Fraser join the list.

So what is a CVA? It’s a badge. A label. It says ‘you can’t touch us for a while. We’re in trouble, we need some help’. It allows the rents to be negotiated and the refinancing to begin. Store closures and job losses follow to try and save the brand.

As the minister for magic said, ‘these are dark times, theres no denying’.

Are there just too many stores competiting for a tightening purse? or as a country, are we just not spending our money on overpriced tat any more?


Safe job in a bank?

We all have money, and we need somewhere to take care of it. In the good old days, if you wanted a job for life, where better way than a safe job in a bank?

Yesterday, RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland) shocked the market announcing it was shutting branches. Alot of branches.

Basically, it’s’ our fault. We’re not using the branches, we’re banking on-line, it’s time to cut out the waste and downsize. Gone is the safe job in the bank.

How will it feel for any bank teller in any bank now? To know that in one day, nearly two hundred branches and eight hundred staff are no longer needed. Will this catch on? Are more closures on their way?

Many of these bank staff will have years of experience. The problem is who will employ them? Will there be another bank to go to? I doubt it.

Planning where to spend our post forces days is getting harder. The ‘job for life’ days are almost over. The skills we need as we leave are no longer just an approved course. As we move our lives on-line, a whole job sector dies. If we choose to work in retail (as I do), we should all be ready for the change that’s coming.



Plastic-free coffee

The plastic-free movement is gathering steam. Last year’s introduction of the 5p charge for a supermarket plastic bag changed everything within months. It’s led to shoppers looking like they are on ‘Crackerjack’, balancing items to win prizes, trying not to spread the coleslaw all over Asda car park.

This week there’s news on the reduction of plastic in every field. India closing factories as it pledges to be plastic-free.

Vending machines spit out ‘once only’ cups all over the globe. The leading chains of Starbucks and Costa sell millions of disposable cups every week. It seems the industry has disposable cups at it’s heart. However, this week, a coffee chain took the lead and announced it wouldn’t sell coffee in disposable plastic cups.

The ‘Boston Tea Party’ have twenty-one coffee shops in the UK and have pledged customers must change their habits. The choice is either bring their own plastic mug, or buy one. This is a massive, brave step from a business point of view. It’s also a perfect example of how a business is reaching out to a niche audience, separating itself from the masses.

Plastic-free Tribes

Want to take our coffee away? Show me the money. Want to be a member of our plastic-free club? You’ll need to carry around a plastic coffee cup all day, to be a member of this Tribe. (Watch this fascinating TED talk to hear more about Tribes

Concerned about the environment? Come and get your coffee from us, we also care.

Will they sell more, or less coffee? This will be fascinating to watch. Is there a way that we can all follow this in business? It has my attention. I’m already wondering whether we can go plastic-free?



It’s just a Wobbly Handle

One of my oldest and best customers has a vehicle hire business. He started trading the same time I started and has built something  imprtruly impressive. From just a few vans, he now has many hundreds, spread across five depots all over Lincolnshire. On top of all that, he’s also a really nice guy.

We do spare keys for his vans and are always impressed with how new and clean they are when customers hire them. On top of this, his staff wear uniforms, are professional and helpful. I gush about this because it’s rare, and his company stand out by a mile.

However, there’s a problem that every customer see’s, feels, experiences, that really let’s the business down.

His main depot in Lincoln has a standard UPVC door, that’s looks in good condition, but it’s been well used. It’s the original door from when he started out, used by many thousands of people. When you turn the handle, it gives way, as if broken. This sloppy,  wobbly handle has been like it for two years. Every customer experiences this, it’s one of the initial contact points, even before meeting the staff.

Does a wobbly handle really matter?

Well, yes I believe it does. I noticed this because the rest is so professional. However, this wobbly handle stands out every time I visit.

We all have wobbly handles is our business, I certainly have them in mine and not just the one. Our reception has seats for customers to sit and wait. The chairs rub on the plaster board wall leaving a gouge along the wall. I see this every day and it would take nothing for me to sort this out. However, I’m blind to it. Likewise, the van has a piece if side skirting missing, the unit door needs painting, but again, I don’t see these anymore.

When you start your business, try and think what your customer will see and hear on contact with you. Will it impress them? Will it make them question whether you care at all about how they see you?

This month is for spring cleaning. I’ll be looking at wobbly handles in every part of my business, it’s the little things that people notice.