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. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-43879019
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.
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 https://www.ted.com/talks/seth_godin_on_the_tribes_we_lead
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?
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.
When you go seaching for start-up advice, you’ll find plenty on finance, marketing, and of course, business plans. These are all really important of course. However, in all the business advice I’ve found over thirteen years, loneliness isn’t a popular thing to talk about.
Whether it’s simply that business advisors haven’t been in that position, or that no-one wants to discuss it, I’m not sure. But, of all the challenges I’ve faced, loneliness has been the hardest to deal with…
Now before you suggest a networking group, please hear me out. I know of the many benefits of spending time with like minded people, I get that. Please, stop for a moment and cast your mind back.
Does anyone else recognise the feeling of lying wide awake in the early hours? The clock ticking, lying next to your partner who is also laying awake? You both know how bad it is. The cash is gone, the phone isn’t ringing and staying in that well paid job makes so much sense. How can you even speak the words ‘I’ve made a terrible mistake’ ?
Or how about the loneliness of being stuck at a customers address. They’re relying on you to fix the problem, but you’ve no-one to ask for advice. How are you going to explain to your partner, that you left the job and didn’t get paid. You couldn’t fix it, because you couldn’t find out the answer, you had no-one to ask. It’s a pretty lonely feeling.
Loneliness in a crowd
Worse than that is being lonely in a group, say a networking group. Full of aspiring, positive speaking, go-getters. Talking about uncertainty, doubt and fear isn’t going to get people making a beeline for you next week. Even amongst that support group, it can feel pretty lonely.
I’ve been in that place. It’s not part of anyones business plan and you won’t find a chapter in the ‘Ten Steps to Success’ book or Youtube video. However, loneliness is a real emotion that start-ups should know about and be encouraged to talk about. Just a few years before going alone, I was flying with a crew, surrounded by people that knew me through and through. There was banter, and respect and expectation, but never loneliness. Within four years, I was a man in a van. The difference was brutal and completely unexpected. Of all the challenges in my career, loneliness has left the biggest impression on me.
Oh and it’s not reserved for start-ups…when you’ve been around for a while and you’ve got employees and suppliers who look to you for payment, and you’re pushing close to the overdraft limit, who are you going to tell? Your partner? The bank? Your peer group who respect you ‘making a go of it all alone’. What do you mean you’re terrified of failure? Who on earth wants to hear all that?
For me, I was lucky. A chance meeting with a business coach allowed me to spend five years in ‘business therapy’. Pouring my soul out in the early hours, telling the truth to someone who wouldn’t judge me and being honest about where I really was. It saved me. Maybe I’m being dramatic, maybe it’s a state of mind, or, quite possiblly, I was just out of my depth. Whatever the explanation, one of my ‘Important Steps to Success’ , is to find someone, anyone you trust, who’ll listen, just listen. If you’re lucky, they’ll help you put things into context over a coffee, and loneliness will keep at bay.
We’ve all been there. Your boss needs you to work, you family needs you at home. When you’re self-employed, this is magnified ten-fold.
I still remember the frantic efforts to pick the door lock of a BMW, the light fading, my wife calling, my customer pacing. I’d promised her I’d be home in time, him I’d get his car open and neither was happening.
I’d struggled to earn anything all day then finally the job came in, a new BMW. It was a tough job, I’d never done one and they were difficult to pick. It was winter, the weather was bad, and the light was fading.
This was over ten years ago, at a time when my kids were just seven and three years old, my business was just getting going. I’d still have days with little work, so when a job came in I’d have to take it. In parallel, I’d have times I’d need to be home , to have the kids, so my wife could go to work. Just like yourself, we had no family about to help us, it was tough.
I know many of us go through leaving the forces and settling miles from our place of birth. We made our home in the beautiful city of Lincoln, our families were 200 miles away. We had to work well together, managing this constant juggle.
Today I had a similar, unusual choice. I was booked onto a training course, one hundred miles from home. I’d previously promised to take my daughter to the train station mid-day, to go back to university, and on top of that, my son to school. It was a tough one. I wanted to do it all, my business was once again making life difficult all round.
On this occasion, I booked a Taxi for her to get to the train station, and my wife did the school run. I had the most amazing day, getting an education. It would’ve been easier for all of us if hadn’t gone on the course, I felt bad, even though they all told me to do it.
These are the choices we face when we don’t have a boss. Family or work. There’s no-one to make the choice for you.
Something is happening in Lincoln, maybe around the UK. Today we had further news from the high street that another big name is in trouble. Carpetright, one of the UKs biggest carpet chains is in trouble. It’s been on the cards for a while, and now the mountain of debt has caught up with them. It also seems we have a taste for chocolate, instead of Carpets.
Lincoln is an up and coming city. In a short time, many of the leading brands are opening up here, and with good reason. Firstly there’s the massive investment in the university and the associated technology park. Next, Lincolnshire is the fastest growing county in the UK, property rich southerners are selling up and snapping up bargains throughout the county. So cash is pouring in.
So why are traditional shops such as Carpetright struggling and closing stores? A victim of our change in habits?
The BBC reported last week http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-43541990 that the frequency we move house has cut down by a half. We’re staying put, extending our houses instead of moving, and so I’m guessing we just need less carpet in our lives.
However, the good things in life, we still send our money on, including chocolate.
Hotel Chocolat is on it’s way. Despite the closure of Toys R us, Maplin, and now Carpetright, it seems we have spare cash for finest chocolate. This luxury brand is opening soon, and it seems our taste in Lincoln is changing. How long will it last ? Lets wait and see.