Brexit …..aaargh….Jan 1 …brrr…Customs… aaargh !

Over the last four years , I have tried as much as possible not to post about Brexit. However, from a purely practical point of view I have relented, in the hope I can inform in an apolitical way.

Unbiased (I keep biting my lip even when I only write those words), I am going to try and put some of facts down which will hopefully inform traders who have been buying from suppliers within the EU, on what they need to do. I would like write about exporting to the EU , but that is even less clear and to be honest my interest is in stuff coming from the EU.

So lets start with some facts. There are 11,000 containers of UK Government PPE at Felixstowe docks. Ships coming into both Felixstowe and Harwich have been subject to delays for some time now. The Customs IT systems are not fully tested yet. Every UK point of entry ie ports & airports invariably run different types of software for customs declarations . It is muted there will be all singing, all dancing single system by 2025 . No matter whether there is a deal or no deal on Jan1 2021 things will change big time. If you did not really understand the words ‘free movement of goods’ you will then .

What’s to do then ? If you import absolutely anything from the EU or intend to then the following 2 steps are essential.

  1. Apply for an EORE ( pronounced by HMRC as EOREE. Well at least someone has a sense of humour or irony) .
  2. Apply for deferred Custom Declarations and Vat payment
Eoree -Amused me !

You have to do No 1 before you No 2 (that may chime with some- schoolboy humour). You can only apply for 2 if you have not been a naughty person with HMRC. If you are having difficulty loading the HMRC site to download this form, it maybe the browser, as it only works on certain browsers. But HMRC Help Line doesn’t seem to know that. It also doesn’t explain the forms you may or may not need. The one that you probably do is called C1202 as it is a direct debit mandate for HMRC. Without this you are unlikely to get approved . Here’s a good ‘un, you have to complete the form online but then you have to print and post it. This implies that they could have anywhere between 100-200,000 postal applications between now and Christmas, which they will then have to handle manually. Having just had two weeks locally of no postal service, the signs are pretty ominous.

If your application for deferred status is confirmed it allows you to do 2 things …

  1. From the Jan 1 to June 30th you can defer making your customs declarations. But you must keep a record of all your transactions during that period. I will itemise the data you need later.
  2. Whilst in the EU there was an agreement that all VAT transactions between states did not carry VAT on the invoice. This stops on Jan 1. From then on, there will be no VAT on an invoice from an EU supplier but you will have to record the VAT that would have been due on that same invoice in your VAT returns.

The Following list are the core items you will need to record for customs declarations :

Customs Procedure Code

Supplier

Date

Consignment no/ Invoice no

Product code

Description

Tariff code

Tariff Rate

Cost Price

Quantity

Total Due

Without doubt I will have missed certain elements but these are the basics. If a deal is reached, I get the impression that declarations will still have to be made as to what they contain is another matter . One thing is for certain is that you will have to record the Vatable amount as that will certainly be due on July 1. I cannot speak for the Northern Ireland Protocol, as that is another layer of political customs speak. Nor do I have any knowledge of specialised products such as plants , food, oil, gas, aero engines, airplane parts, chemicals, drugs………All of which I assume comes into the definition of oven ready deals.

None of this helps with the importing from nations not in the EU but have free trade agreements with the EU. There are fifty plus such nations . We have made a couple of deals notably Japan, Switzerland , Norway and Iceland but there are a number of significant trading nations where we will no longer have a free trade deal such as Mexico, Vietnam and Turkey. And I am not so sure there is a lot of help available. There are grants for training on customs procedures and there are also grants if you want to set yourself up as a Customs Agent ! I think that in itself tells a story. There are also many HMRC webinars . Having recently sat through one , I would not raise your hopes of celestial enlightenment . Maybe others are better .

I lied. At the start I said I was going to be apolitical . I have been . Now I am not. The UK Government has been floundering about in very deep waters dealing with Covid. So has every other National Government. No matter what shade of political belief , no Government would have got it right. It is one of life’s undeterminables. And it will continue to be so. The Government has a duty to preserve and protect the lives of its citizens. Where there are definitive actions that could be taken they should take them.

Which brings me back to Brexit. I am a remain voter accepting of the UK decision to leave. What I cannot agree with is reckless political ideology that puts our nation in harms way or at very least increases the risk to both health and wealth. One of the underlying principles of paying off the huge debts that have been incurred (quite rightly) is the returning to some form of economic growth. Even (at least most ) political Brexiteers agreed that the first months of Brexit would be very hard on the economy, and that was pre-covid. Consequently , I get very wound up by superficial ads with actors, apparently in large warehouses, saying we are ready are you? When they, the Government are very evidently not. Moreover, how would you expect hundreds and thousands of businesses that have currently got to deal with more economic, financial and emotional hurdles to deal with than at any other time since the 2nd world war .

So please tell me UK Government why you have chosen not to doing anything about the one thing you did have control of ie Brexit Transition you chose to stick with political ideology . That is to say you kept your snouts well and truly stuck in a political bucket . Take back control , whatever that means but do so when you when can at least see the steering wheel. As a consequence we can look to at very least six months of even more supressed if not depressed growth rates. Ta very much .

You’re Toast…..

Plagues, pestilence, pandemics,post apocalyptic scenes of retail destruction, are not for here.

During the last fifty years there has been an extraordinary period of massive technological development. From communications and computerisation , through travel to medicine , entertainment and so many areas that impact our everyday lives . You can turn the central heating back on at home via your smart phone from the other side of the globe.

It feels that every day brings an announcement of some monumental change. Electric, self driving cars, electric planes, robot surgery , it is ceaseless. Yet there is one area which remains exactly where it was fifty years ago. Technology has been defeated by the humble slice of bread. Nothing, absolutely nothing, de nada…. has changed.

Yes, a few extra dials have been added on some models . Now you can toast your Bagel on a Bagel setting. You can defrost your bread on a defrost setting. But they are only cosmetic. In reality they are just words on the dial as they are only timing setting that have always been there. They, all, still just toast and not very well, like what they did before . We wont even go to the Commercial Toaster. Yes we will.

That worse than useless bit of kit that they have at buffet breakfasts in hotels, that creates long queues, where you have to write your name (in case somebody nicks it) on the bread because you will have to go around at least twice, and then by the time you get back to your table, hottish, vaguely brown toast has become cold and soggy.

Commercial Toaster

Where are the Elon Musks, Steve Jobs, James Dysons of the Toaster World ? Is it because it ain’t sexy like electric cars, iPhone and Vacuum cleaners . If so what is sexy about a Vacuum cleaner ?

The UK market, alone, is worth about 5 Million toasters a year (this, apparently does not include Commercial toasters). The world market has an approximate value of £1 Billion. So it is a toasty (sorry weak pun over tasty) market. One issue maybe the potential returns. In the early sixties the price of a toaster was about £6 (not much different to the average minimum wage). Yes, you can still buy a toaster for £6. Yet that did not stop Dyson making an amazingly expensive vacuum cleaner ,with which you don’t even get any bags!

That said, if we assume that six quid was just about a weeks wage, today you can buy a piece of kit (drone) that you fly remotely, drops bags of drugs into prison yards, film your neighbours unruly kids from a great height (or worse) or fires high powered missiles into unsuspecting enemies from 6000 miles away ( I know they cost a bit more than a weeks wages) for much the same sort of money.

Hands up we are a fifty quid toaster couple. Yes, ours can toast 4 slices , heat bagels, defrost bread and lasts 9-10 years (average toaster life is 4-5 years) but we cannot guarantee that the bread gets toasted in the same way every time. However, the sixties toaster could do all that except toast 4 pieces. That’s toaster innovation for you.

This week alone there has been the announcement of speakers that you can hear, and you alone. Yes, four ( is that allowed) of you can sit in a room and it creates an audible bubble that only you (whoever you is ) can hear the speaker- no head phones ! Don’t ask , I don’t know . What I do know is I can put a slice of bread in my toaster and I have no idea what it will look like until it has popped up. Maybe toasting is more exciting.

Chaos Theory……..

I will not patronise those highly intellectual individuals who read this post with an explanation of Chaos Theory. However, for the odd fish that slips the net and needs a quick explanation, see below

Chaos theory is a branch of mathematics focusing on the study of chaos—states of dynamical systems whose apparently random states of disorder and irregularities are often governed by deterministic laws that are highly sensitive to initial conditions. Chaos theory is an interdisciplinary theory stating that, within the apparent randomness of chaotic complex systems, there are underlying patterns, interconnectedness, constant feedback loops, repetition, self-similarity, fractals, and self-organization. The butterfly effect, an underlying principle of chaos, describes how a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state (meaning that there is sensitive dependence on initial conditions). A metaphor for this behaviour is that a butterfly flapping its wings in China can cause a hurricane in Texas

Directly from Wikepedia

As everyone is entirely cognisant of the above, you can of course transpose the butterfly in China to Bat Coughing in China and causing a world health crisis. And for those who have forgotten the Chaos theory formula (why would you?), it is as follows:

There are alternative formulas but this is a useful starting point. Any one of us will at some point think that life is chaotic at least once a week. Yet that Chaos, will be something like your home is a mess, you don’t whether you are coming or going ‘cos the kids are driving you mad, the dog has just ‘pooed’ in your bedroom, your partner is working late again and the oven is broken.

I would like to be slightly more theoretical and point in the direction of the Chaos Theory may have some impact on your business and as likely your life in general.

A fictitious example staring with the humble wasp …….

Someone is relaxing in their garden, in summer, having a drink. A wasp pops down and stings said person. Said person has an anaphylactic attack and is seriously unwell. The said person is the leading heart surgeon in the US. That afternoon they were about to perform major and urgent surgery on the US President. There is no replacement . The President dies. Wall Street plummets, the dollar crashes, reverberating around the world. There is a run on the banks . Nobody is in control……

I can hear the cry, but there are checks and balances to correct this sort of event ! Maybe, maybe not, but that is the point , if there are there then they exist because of the existence of Chaos Theory. Most major organisations have teams who are continually running disaster scenarios and calculating what to do if they were to happen .

Or you would like to think they would. The current situation we are all faced with is a Chaos theory starting with the humble bat.

“The impact of a huge epidemic, like a flu epidemic, would be phenomenal because all the supply chains would break down. There’d be a lot of panic. Many of our systems would be overloaded,” ……”But being ready for epidemics of different sizes, there’s a lot more we should do.” 

CBS News Bill Gates Davos 2017

Few took note . In the last couple of weeks the Chairman of Trailfinders, a UK travel company, announced the company could last 2 years without a booking. Why? Simply because there was £300 million in the bank. Other travel companies said that this was very impressive but he was fortunate to have such cash reserves . Not quite so straight forward…..

Trailfinders from our seemingly pathetic little start-up in 1970 opened two bank accounts. One for our clients’ money and one which belonged to us. So we knew exactly which monies were ours and which were entrusted to us. I have also set aside large reserves of cash from past profits to guard against doomsday scenarios. We have been able to refund our clients while we wait to recover your money from Airlines in the present hiatus. We have honoured our unique Financial Guarantee even where Airlines have already gone into administration, taking the risk we will get it back ourselves.

Mike Gooley October 2020 Chairman & Founder Trailfinders

It would be a futile exercise to examine any governments responses, as despite warnings over many years there is little evidence that any substantial planning had been done. There is much evidence to illustrate the complete opposite.

Government’s, Institutions and commercial organisations of all types ignore the threat of Chaos, if whatever form it takes , at their own peril. We have a personal responsibility which is limited by resources, wherewithal , and education . For those who are encumbered by these restrictions, are reliant upon the very institutions, whether they are instruments of government, charities or their immediate community, that should have been considering Chaos in whatever form it appears, to come to their rescue.

Lets be quite clear, Chaos creates plenty of winners, albeit far less in numbers than the losers and in the most part far more privileged, a certain type of politician, hedge fund managers, currency traders, and market shorters to name but a few . If we accept we are in the midst of some form of Chaos now there will be those who will be benefit from it and not necessarily in a bad way. For example as some organisations will fail others will be created to take their place. However, somehow attention must be paid to those have suffered through no fault of their own. But history tells us that is unlikely to happen. Its a bit like the annual bush fires that burn all the dying grasslands, to be replaced by fresh growth. It does not take into account the price paid by those who suffer some form of loss, either in terms of wildlife or even personal loss.

In the midst of Chaos, there is always opportunity

Sun Tzu (shame his book is about War)

Simply speaking, I see three groups of approach . Everyone and every organisation will fall into the broad spectrum of anyone of these three. We can see all three variations within our current Chaos.

  • Those that can and should look at ways of mitigating negative impacts of potential Chaos (in whatever form)
  • Those that seek chaos and look for opportunities, for good or bad
  • Those that are unable to do either and look to those in the first category, in the hope that they offer assistance and guidance, when needed.

Sell, Sell, Sell…..Get on with it and Sell…

Be it seeking funding for twenty years of academic research, finding a life long partner (or one night stand) , pitching for investment in your extraordinary new enterprise, going for a job interview, meeting your new in-laws, wanting to be in the ‘crowd’ in your local pub, applying for your favoured university, everybody at some point in their life has to Sell.

Everyone lives by selling something

Robert Louis Stevenson

Most will be unaware, most will not be very good at it, most will have had no guidance in how to, most will have to do it only very occasionally, but for some it will an integral part of their working lives.

It is, at the same time , the most underrated and overrated skill. What confounds me is that in the one area where it is of such overriding importance that the necessary skill sets are completely (or at least to the casual observer) overlooked . Regrettably the referred to Casual Observer is in this case rather important .

Is it beyond the wit and ken of mankind, or at least those who have shops, to realise their primary function is to Sell ? As someone who ‘Professionally’, some may question my abilities within this definition, tries to sell to amongst others, Retailers and at the same time (not quite literally, though I have been known to buy the odd item from a customer ) performs the function of the consumer, I cannot for the life of me , think why some of them try to do their very best, within their shop , not to sell. It is not a new problem, nor is it defined by size. By that I mean both large multiples and single independents .

Only last week, I walked into one prospect, only to be completely underwhelmed by the store itself but but more importantly , the, what (yes I mean what , as he was definitely not a who) I took to be owner, whose body, face or mouth did not budge, the entire time I was in the store . It felt like an eternity , yet it was less than three minutes. And oh yes, it is October, it is a supposed to be a Party Shop and there was not one single Halloween item in store. A couple of days later I was (as a customer) in a large multiple retail shed chain, and I can only say the staff appeared to be serving a prison sentence. Or so it seemed. They, without exception, were a miserable bunch. Now I know this chain to be a very successful operation and that even in the present circumstance the sword of Damocles is not hanging over their heads. But for the members of this team it should have been.

Selling does not come naturally to most. Some have it, some don’t , some can be taught it but some can’t. Yet if part of your working life involves you transmitting ownership of a product or service to a third party, selling is part of that process. If this is something that you find difficult then you as a businessowner should seek those skills. As an employee your employer should provide you with those skills and continually manage them.

I, firmly, believe that with some large organisations it is not always about training and often more about management. If those responsible for selling the company’s goods or services are not valued, and work in a unfavourable environment then no matter how skilled they are , they will not perform. This is very evident in a number of large struggling retailers within the last few years. It is has always been true but when you are faced within very tough trading conditions ,the chickens come home to roost. Though those that suffer the most are invariably the employees.

The Retail Customer can be a real pain, in that they are often rude and pig arrogant. Yet I suspect some of that (not all by a long chalk) comes from years of going to shops and being treated in a not dissimilar way , consequently creating a norm of sorts . The days of being ignored by filing finger nails, talking to colleagues, playing with mobiles, attending to some ‘very much more’ important matter computer in-front of them, have got to go. Or this very rapidly changing Retail environment will shrink even further than it is likely to do in the very near future.

The following Quote is probably not entirely apposite, yet I feel it has a lot of relevance in the context of the previous paragraph . It comes from a US company which is a consultant sales operation. Nine times out of ten I would steer well clear of taking quotes from this sort of organisation however, I think this message is very clear and very relevant. Replace no activity with filing nails, talking to colleagues and checking social media accounts…

“The top salespeople are usually the ones with the most activity; it doesn’t guarantee you will close more deals, but if you have no activity, you won’t be closing any deals.

Chief Sales Officer -Brainshark

I repeat, this is not just about Retailers. It’s about any contact or relationship between one Organisation and the Individual or Organisation with which it is having a transactional relationship. Now, perhaps, more than ever, a ‘Positive Transactional Relationship’ cannot be overstated . And I think that’s what Selling is all about.

Kerb Crawling..The New Business Opportunity!?

Courtesy ‘mac’ Daily Mail

It is one of the world’s oldest professions. It can be highly profitable . It is a very quick and easy way to start a business, if you are prepared to be out there in all weathers.

Selling stuff on the street is common place throughout the world. Whether it is street food in South East Asia through to Street grafters flogging Bargains to unsuspecting consumers throughout towns in the UK , there would be few anywhere in the world who would not have bought something from a street vendor at some time or other. So nothing new there then.

Well there is sort of .. rather sort of new . I first experienced something which I thought at the time was very innovative. During lockdown when restaurants could offer takeaways , a local restaurant offered a Kerb Side service. You ordered and paid via your phone and when you arrived you stayed in your vehicle , sent a text you had arrived and they would come out and put the collection in your boot.

In the US this has gone a stage further. A number of retailers concerned about Covid did not want shoppers back in their shops. Yet they still wanted to trade. Their solution is to make their shop window their Shop Window. so to speak. The principle is the consumer pulls up in front, or is walking on the pavement, and the retail offer is shown clearly in the shop window. The buyer then phones through to the store say what they want, pays for it and hey presto it appears at the front door or is delivered to your boot (Trunk as the Americans would say).

Whilst click and collect at the curb side is not in itself revolutionary , it is when there is a store that informs you and you use the shop window to make your purchase. It favours the smaller stores and those with limited store offering . It also favours small stores that have small stores or rather very shallow but with a long frontage.

Party Store In USA. Courtesy BBC

It helps if you are not on a Red Route (London) or Double yellow lines, that aside if you are actually on pavement there is potential there for many retailers. By restricting your selling space to a window is very restrictive, but the alternative is that less customers or even nobody comes into the store . This is not instead of a website it is another tool. Potentially it would attract the passer-by, especially if they are going somewhere else and think ‘I can order this now and do what I was out to do and collect it on my way back.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL -Stay Forever Store ‘Walk up & Browse’

I have heard from a number of customers that during lockdown they executed a similar plan. They did not make specific use of their windows but they offered a drive by service via social media and in conjunction with their web sites. This is by no means a Retail Panacea but it is another weapon in the armoury (….or ‘tool in the box’ depending upon your mind set).

Whilst having developed during the Pandemic, it is not uncommon for retail innovation to jump to the front of the queue during any crisis, it could be a very useful tool during ‘normality’. It can be thought of metaphorically reaching out to the consumer and looking at ways that make it easier for them to buy from you. Instead of you having to drag them in from the street you are meeting them half way in the Street.

“This is the new abnormal and the consumer wants a different experience,” said Mr. Fawkes of PSFK, the research firm. “If the legacy retailers won’t provide it, new entrants will.”

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The Future Consumer ….

The current UK government will have redesigned the future consumer as a very svelte like creature arriving at our gleaming, but empty, shopping centres in vast swarms of cycling health freaks. Some would have arrived in electric cars but they had not managed to build any charging points. This scenario having evolved from their policies on reducing obesity. Naturally, the whole concept will be inspired by ministerial cars being replaced by high performance racing bikes, or maybe E Bikes.

Reality is a little more complex. Most businesses (involved in selling products to consumers) spend a great deal of time looking at what the retail landscape will look like, what the future trends are, the economic future , spending habits and ways to market. Yet do they actually look at what the consumer will look like (metaphorically speaking) ?

It came as a bit of a surprise when looking for research there is not much going in . Or rather there is , and always has been, a lot on consumer behaviour but not on the holistic consumer. By this I mean, the whole package . That’s is to say behaviour, social interaction, physicality of the individual, thinking process, social awareness , family sizes, cultural approaches , education, spending power, in effect everything goes to make the everyday consumer. Yes there is plenty of research in each and everyone one of these components and I know most major retailers have some form of futurologist within the organisation. However, there seems to be little which really looks at the complete person, In so far as there ever can be such a creature.

Hence I was somewhat, initially pleased, but ultimately disappointed when I recently, read a report by an Organisation called Raconteur.net publishing a report called The Future Consumer. It spoke at length about the future consumer but much of this was based upon the effects of Covid. I would not hesitate to accept that Covid will have had an impact on the Consumer, I am not convinced it is the comprehensive Shape Shifter it is being described as. Yes, it will have moved a additional sector of society into shopping online. Yes, it will have made an impact on the way we work (though once again I am not thinking this will be as long lasting as suggested. See what happens to those working from home during a miserable winter. It focuses on and suggests fairly nebulous plans about connecting to the consumer.

Craig Inglis ,Chair of the Marketing Society Raconteur..the Future Consume. September 2020

There are other influences that go beyond Covid that are just as powerful in shaping the future consumer, Environment, climate, technology, education and wealth to list just a few. Covid has, to a degree, brought forward the timeline. There is no doubt that a section of society that were new to online purchasing during lockdown will remain online. But not all and furthermore they will not buy everything online. Those starved of the retail experience, apart from queuing outside supermarkets, suddenly missed the ability to go to shop.

I am not convinced that the issue of working from from home or rather the desire to work from home is quite as strong as all the pundits claim. Yes, there will be a change but not as big as big as people think(see previous paragraph). Climate and environment is in a very confused state as the consumer edged back to using cars as public transport was deemed unsafe.

Wealth, health and education all being linked. In that those who have a good education, tend to be wealthier and healthier. The sum effect does throw up some light for good independents, in the more affluent areas of society. The consumer has become aware of its good local independents . They have got (or at least some of them) have got used to walking to them and seeing their offer and being surprised (positively mainly , I think) . The combination, perhaps of working more from home, and in walking distance provides opportunities for the good local independent to connect to this ‘new consumer’ and build relationships that will help their business to flourish long in to the future. The less fortunate, invariably have a poorer choice of independent, if there is any choice at all. So no change there then, the less fortunate become even less fortunate.

So many retailers, amongst those some of our biggest have managed to get their predictions of the Future Consumer so wrong. M&S has got to be at the forefront , their decline started way back , probably at least fifteen years. You just need to look at their approach to online, having only just got their food offering up and running , then only a small part of it and then only through a third party (Ocado). Even the big supermarkets grossly misunderstood their customers potential behaviour when the European discounters first came to our shores (Aldi, Lidl). Consequently they are all only playing catch up.

Hands up, this is not an easy game, predicting the future consumer . You could say that there have been few that get it right. Like it or not Amazon is perhaps the one that stands out. Twenty three years ago, Jeff Bezos (technology achievements aside) seemed to know what the consumer would buy into, in the future. But then I am not sure it is rocket science (or even technological science) convenience, consumer confidence, value pricing and above all the consumer experience, are surely precursors to those who wants to retail. There are those who argue, quite rightly, that he (Bezos)does not care about much else, but we are talking about consumer perspective and here he wins hands down.

IKEA is perhaps another. When they first expanded there was plenty of flat pack furniture around but not in the way that IKEA envisaged it. Nor in the environment they created . ‘The plenty’ no longer exist . IKEA enabled the consumer to visualise a new environment and consequently helped in developing a new consumer . The same perhaps could be said about Terence Conran(in the UK) in the sixties and seventies. Not that he sold flat pack furniture but he saw how the furniture consumer was changing . Unfortunately, when he sold the company, the new company did not continue with that vision. But Conran cannot be considered a global shape shifter moreover his influence was on a relatively small sector of the market. I suspect there are few consumers, in the developed world who do not know of Amazon or IKEA. There are, of course, other future proofing brands available. Those non future proofing may not be around for as long as they think.

Whilst gently lambasting Raconteurs research , I did feel the diagram below was helpful in illustrating some of the effects of Covid on the existing consumer and data such as this, needs to be considered when looking for the future consumer

Raconteur..the Future Consume. September 2020

There are no options. Or rather there are two. You do nothing or you at least take the opportunity, especially in the current climate, to look around at the changes you can see happen in front of you and take a view on what may happen. Back to no options. If you do nothing , nothing will happen or rather , as sure as eggs is eggs, things won’t improve there is a very good chance they will only deteriorate. If you look around , make some guided assumptions and act accordingly, you have an opportunity, if not to get ahead of the game at least keep up with it.

Consumers, by definition, include us all

John F Kennedy

That being a truism, we all change, develop and evolve . As we are all consumers the same principle applies . If we wish to sell stuff to ourselves we need to have some idea how we change and develop. If as a retailer you don’t someone else will .

Now, more than ever, retailers have got to look long and hard and what tomorrow’s consumer is like. For those that don’t it will not be difficult to predict their future, however short lived that maybe.

The Numbers that Never Add Up……

There are those who may read this and saying I am talking about Statistics not numbers. There are, of course those who will say I am talking utter tosh. They maybe right but if you start any conversation about statistics, the line would go dead (or it would have done when we telephoned each other with telephones) . Anyway what do you work with in statistics , err numbers…If they think I talk tosh i have no counter argument.

During a time when everyone is trying to seek the truth about anything (not that I think finding the truth is anymore difficult than any other time), there is a tendency to believe that if you are given a number in answer to any question then it must be true. 20 divided by 5 = 4. No argument, it is a truth of ‘sorts’ .

One late winter day in 1971, 50 pennies= approx. 20% of £1, the following day, 50 pennies = 50% of £1. What changed ? The numbers in £1(or decimalisation for those who don’t know or can’t remember). So the number 1 did not change but the bits of it did.

A situation oft related is if you take the average wage of those travelling on a particular bus is say £15000 , and then Bill Gates gets on the bus, the average earnings run into billions . So what sort of average is that when only 1 out of say 40 is anywhere close to the average? Now, before I get thumped by someone saying a statistician would always knock of the extremes in any data set, but most of us aren’t statisticians and even then they often have their own interpretations. But we will come back to that .

Blind conviction in decision making that is based on metrics and figures that don’t actually hold up are running rampant

Simon Dutton .Founder of specialist Data Science, Machine Learning & Analytics Development Company

I am not going to even think of using the Damn lies and statistics as it is cliched and not helpful. The reality is the number on its own is a truth . What you do with that number , in what context , how it is interpreted , how it is used and when it is used are only a few of the many variables that can make that number untrue so to speak. The purveyor of the number is the one who needs be questioned .

Playing Bingo, you can be pretty sure the number is what its says on the ball. If the caller says then umber 66 , then that is exactly what it is a truth, you block out 66 on your card. 66 is deemed a ‘truth’.

For me a very simple everyday commercial example would be ……

That is all well and good my good Sir, but you are offering me a discount of 20%. I need a discount of 40% !

My reply

My very fine Customer, that can of course be arranged . But (whispering to myself) I will have to increase the starting price by 20%.

Here’s another….

Well tell me young man (yes some do address me like that), your 100 bestsellers ….

I am sorry no can do…100 bestsellers does not tell you anything . It only tells you what products we sold the most of , at any given time period, that does make them best sellers. There are loads of reason why we have sold a lot but none of may equal a ‘bestseller’ in the true ,meaning of the word

These maybe very simplistic (but true) , however in some different format or any other this type of discussion. it actually happens, a lot. The general answer is discount off what..Most consumers must be fed up to the back teeth of ‘Sales’ with up to 70% off. As far as best sellers are concerned the real numbers are the products that will sell well for the client to whom you are talking .

Off what ?

Everyday life revolves around numbers, our weight, our height,calories, how much we earn and spend , GDP, how much, how many, when, where, who, what , they involve a number somewhere. So you would think we should get them right but in so much of our lives decisions are made where the number is wrong or rather wrong in any one context.

Government Policy is underwritten by numbers (and of course political ideology) . This is directly from the Office for National Statistics(its that word again)

The average family size for women born in 1942 – for example – was 2.29 children per mother. In contrast, their daughters’ generation – represented by women born in 1969 – had on average 1.91 children per mother. Meanwhile, women born in 1984 had fewer children on average (1.02) by their 30th birthday than women born in 1969 – who had 1.12 children by the same age.

ONS 2019

How many women do you know had 1.12 Children ? Or even 1.02 ? In this context none of those numbers are actually real. If you have people in a room and their respective weights are 50kg,51kg,52.5kg,57.8kg,56.25gk, the average weight would be 53.51kg . Yet no one in that room would be the average weight. Within this simple example lies so many issues with health advice, BMI, Calorie intake, healthy weight and absolutely everything that is based upon an average. A male weighing 120kg and 6ft 2″ tall would be considered overweight and unhealthy but not if he plays in the back row for an International Rugby team.

Currently we are being swamped, daily, by numbers relating to Covid 19. More often than not they are used by politicians and journalists alike to make comparisons. Comparing ‘what’ with ‘what’. One set of data from one nation will be totally incomparable to another, as the way the data is sourced will be completely different from each and every nation. This is true of many national stats. Take GDP for example . Whose is the greater China or Luxembourg? Easy you may say….Luxembourg …well it is is if you evaluate it per head !

Simon Dutton .Founder of specialist Data Science, Machine Learning & Analytics Development Company

Single GDP comparisons are in themselves unprecise as mostly they are expressed in Dollars. Dollars like all currencies fluctuate in value. Therefore that value will change depending on what currency that is relevant to you. Example, if you took the UK GDP of the UK in dollars four weeks ago it would have shown one figure but if you translated it today that would have shown GDP growth because of the weakness of the dollar. Yes , I know we don’t measure it in dollars . But international analysts do. What I am trying to say that it is very easy to manipulate the numbers . Of course the numbers don’t manipulate themselves. Much like algorithms, that extraordinary word that implies data lead intelligence. As we are rapidly finding out these wonder ‘rithms‘ don’t create themselves, the data, that they are made up of, comes from us ‘umans . We decide on the numbers that will go into any algorithm, which is why they are often wrong as we discover on a pretty frequent basis.

10,000 steps a day has become the norm for a healthy body. Where did this number come from. It was entirely arbitrary . A Japanese Company company , on the back of the successful Tokyo Olympics, created the world’s first step counter Manpo-Kei , translated it means Ten Thousand Steps. This fabricated number, from a very successful marketing campaign, became the world’s (including the WHO) daily walking benchmark . It was never based on any science.

Advertisement for Manpo-Kei

The following two graphs (apologies for quality, tried but failed dismally to replicate them rather more professionally.) Show the same numbers in two very different ways. They measure the change in world climate from 1820-2015. The first one shows the temperature change (Fahrenheit) , as does the second (albeit in centigrade) . However, the second only show the change whereas the first is set against an entire temperature range making the changes appear much smaller. Or depending on your point of view the second illustrating it on a much smaller range !

Both illustrations come from the Book ‘The Number Bias’ by Sanne Blauw

Inflation is measured by all Developed Nation Governments , for a whole bunch of reasons, mainly to do with them , and they are all measured differently . In the UK were are really lucky as we have 2, CPI and RPI. What these both are and why both exist is an other story but essentially they are made from what are lightly called ‘baskets’ Probably there are created by ‘basket cases’ (English slang for stupid people) . These baskets are made up from lists of goods and services that we are all supposed to use regularly .

Some of the items are power drills, beers in night club, avocados, raspberries, 65″ TV , women’s gym wear, acoustic guitar, gym equipment and……. To some these may seem very representative of their life but to others will have no relevance what so ever. The inflation number is supposed to be a guide as to what is happening to prices. Yet if you are on the breadline and your rent has just gone up, the bus fare to work(if you have a job) has had a hike, then being told inflation number is only 1% , as fuel has plummeted, as has the price of 65″ TV , is going to mean diddly squat.

So next time a salesperson comes into your business telling you wow i’ve got some great numbers to show you, just be sure exactly who they are great for …

Perfect numbers like perfect men are very rare

René Descartes-Philosopher & Mathematician) (today he would have included women, I think (oh yes, I think, therefore I am….another of his -Descartes that is))

Why don’t we ‘Party in Chains‘ like the rest of the World?

Yes, another unashamed bit of Product Placement

Perhaps the Brits are prudish, a bit reserved , not sure what is involved, think its a bit continental, and we get drunk too quickly.

Now I know the odd non U.K. citizen who may read this, says I know you brits like having a good time and dressing up in chains but that is not the point . Is it more to do with High Street rents, cost of operation, and too much online competition ? Quite simply a Chain of Party Shops does not exist in the UK and it has puzzled me for some time.

Oddly, Covid has helped with my enlightenment. For many years, the U.K. has been considered one the major markets for party products outside North America. Of course part of Northern Europe has ‘Carnival’, Many Spanish speaking nations have some form of Fiesta, Italy has Carnivals and Fiestas , the Brits have long been a nation using any good excuse for a Party.

That all said, the biggest Chain, in the U.K., was never bigger than 5 stores. Several years ago the American franchise chain Partyland established 12 branches, there are now 0. the remains of Partyland became Pure Party which was subsidiary of the Card shop chain Birthdays. I think at it is peak the Pure Party chain was over 40 stores. Unfortunately they were run like card shops. Both have long gone.

In France there are various chains with 20+, in Spain Party Fiesta has 130 (not all in Spain), and Germany with the likes of Karnevalswierts with 10 (1 in Holland) and Dieters with over 30. Needless to say the largest is in North America, Party City with the best part of 1000 stores. In the UK there have attempts by large multiples to try add on ‘party sections’ but all have failed through lack of sales per square foot. I have to add a small footnote here, there is one such operation in the U.K which is within a supermarket chain but from all accounts it is under constant review.

Enlightenment came via Covid lock-down. There are of course major structural issues ,which as already stated, focus heavily on operational costs being especially high in the UK for a retailer of any type, in addition to the effectiveness and impact of UK online operators. What I saw during lock-down and the eventual opening of retail early July was the split between those that had an alternative during lock-down and those that did not. Moreover, the successful operators, generally had a good relationship with their local community and were active on social media.

The common factors did not stop there. On the whole the successful retailers were family owned and run, and were single unit stores. The final piece of the puzzle was that they had a strong Balloon Business.

On the surface there is nothing there, which could not be replicated in multiple locations. Except the ownership, Family owned or single owner operated. It is very evident there is a strong connection between those single owner or family owner operated stores as against multiple stores. If this connection with the community is maintained and nurtured it becomes an integral part of the business. This is really difficult to do within a chain.

So why did lock down become a source of enlightenment ? From hearing some many stories from retailers about how they were pestered (not in a nasty way) by local customers as to when are you opening up…or can we get x,y & z from you somehow. None of this relationship came about because of lock down but highlighted what was already there . The local independent Party Retailer, is a bit like your favourite local Italian restaurant. When the owner goes home to Italy in the summer , the restaurant is never quite the same, until their return. Depending upon the location, the independent party retailers I know ,generally only go away when their locals go away.

For those of you not involved in the Party retailing, and are wondering about this mystique . Thinking Look I run a chain of card/grocery/shoe shops, it is all about good customer service, good management, good staff training… Stop there. Your staff don’t have to get up at 4 0’Clock on a Sunday morning to prepare for someone’s special event that very day . Get it all sorted then drive to wherever it is, lay it all out before the rest of the world has had breakfast. Then, perhaps later that day you might have to go back to collect some of the kit involved . The retort could be our family runs a very successful chain… Yes but your family(or single owner) is not in every store and this is the big difference with the successful Party Store. They have to be .

Yes, you can train teams to do that . But here’s the rub you could not afford to pay them or at least you could not afford to pay them at a rate that would make it the project profitable. The magic word being profitable. It is only profitable if it is you doing it. And yes, you are correct , it is not costed correctly. But that’s where the single ‘independent/ family owner’ comes into play. They need to make a living but profit is not the sole motivation, or even the main driving force.

That, in my opinion, is why there are no real chains and there are not likely to be in the near future unless the structure of the market changes dramatically. I, just, don’t see it happening anytime soon.

To Mask….or Not to Mask? A very serious question.

Unashamed bit of product placement ! This should sort out a bit of protection. This will get the High Street moving (but perhaps not in the way we want). But it would look great on a Zoom (there are other makes of online Video Meetings !) Meeting.

This is not about the rights or wrongs of wearing a mask . If science says that it is of benefit then I accept it. It is not about our personal freedoms or civil liberties, if wearing one protects others then we should. However, why haven’t we been told to wear them 4 months ago. Why was it not made mandatory immediately as opposed to waiting 3 weeks from shop opening? Businesses were already prepared, it is only the consumer who had to get prepared (like go and buy one. That said there is huge confusion as to what sort of mask actually works and what not to do if you do wear one) ). The science evolves so say the Government. Well how come it evolved a darn sight quicker in the rest of the world.

My argument is to look at the reason why they have come up with this late stage retail requirement and its possible impact.

I can think of only 3 possible reasons for the mandatory wearing of masks within stores:

  1. Public safety
  2. Political
  3. Economic

One hopes number one is paramount. Well, as we all know you don’t have to wear them in bars or restaurants; somewhat impractical. However, if there is a risk of infection you are likely to spend a lot longer in a bar or restaurant and even with social distancing more likely to have interaction with strangers, than you are in a shop. The new regs state that store staff don’t have to wear them . If we are to accept the science that the mask is to protect 3rd parties are we to assume that store staff are less likely to have the virus than the store customer ? I don’t think science has made that claim. So I am not convinced that Public safety is number one or if it is then I think this a bit arse about face. Which of course would surprise no one.

If it is number 2 , Then I am perplexed as it can’t see much political gain here. Perhaps there is enough pressure about the Government’s mixed and cockeyed messaging that they thought they should align with popular opinion. Assuming popular opinion believes that it is a good thing.

Number 3 sort of makes sense, if they think that it will give the consumer more confidence to go into shops and spend. I don’t. Yes there are naturally those who are very concerned about their unmasked fellow shoppers. Yet my gut feeling , and subjective research suggests otherwise. Non essential shopping is partly a leisure activity and I am pretty certain it will stop the consumer going for leisure or casual shopping if it involves masks.

It’s the don’t have to , and it is not much fun so I will get it online attitude , that will only push more consumers back onto online and not go into the retail store. There will be, of course, those who will be more confident in a masked up situation, but I still feel they will be far outweighed by thinking I really don’t need to do this. So I wont.

There is a lot of confusion out there with the consumer, and this is not helping and one thing about which I am pretty sure it will not help the retailer.

My Annual Trip to Plagiarism…..

Same time, slightly different subject , same author (plagiarised) , same reason for plagiarism (I couldn’t write it, apart from the content she is far more literate, articulate and coherent than I could ever be ) and as with the last time completely ‘left field’.

This time last year I pasted and copied an article by our Daughter, and I make no apology for doing the same again this year . The subject is different but the context is no less relevant and poignant.

I hope she writes one at the same time next year or my annual plagiarisation, will cease to be that….Annual. She will have her father to answer to, if she doesn’t. As if that would make any difference.

Today would have been London Pride with the now standard parade and celebrations of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer) community. Covid 19, if nothing else, doesn’t discriminate (well it does a bit) and this event has now been cancelled restricted to online celebrations. I rarely post however, like last year, would like to use this day to share my reflections on Pride.

Last year I wrote about my personal experiences and why Pride is still important beyond the, perhaps more light hearted, parade in central London. This year I will be briefer and wanted to touch on the importance of being an ally and what this actually means. I also think this is relevant and intersects with the current spotlight on Black Life Matters (BLM) and racism. I have attached a recent video article (5 mins) from the Guardian on White Fragility and how this forms a barrier to effectively tackling racism.

As a white English person it is my duty and responsibility to listen to this and learn. I may be a Guardian reading social worker (without owning a pair of Birkenstock’s I will add) but that doesn’t mean I’m blemish free of any unconscious prejudice and bias. I’m human after all and it would be worrying if I said I was free of any prejudice. What is important is I dig deep, acknowledge these, own it and then work to tackle them.

To be a true ally it means, that as the person in the position of ‘societal privilege’ (in my case as a person of mainly white British ethnicity and cultural background) the responsibility is on me to not be defensive as the majority and to use that very privilege to break down all embedded racist structures and, ultimately, to remove the privilege I hold to make way for true equality. To be an ally it is not good enough just to say ‘I’m not racist/homophobic’, to display meaningless images on social media as acts of solidarity; to pretend that you don’t see colour or sexuality; or to pretend it doesn’t exist because you haven’t experienced it (it’s likely you won’t when you are in a privileged group).

To be an ally means actively challenging any form of racism/homophobia as you witness it or hear others experiencing it, it means not colluding and ignoring it because it protects your privileged status or because it’s too uncomfortable to challenge, it means asking your BME or LGBTQ friends/family/colleagues about their experiences and what you can do to support them, it means using your privilege to dismantle your privilege, it means having the guts to stand up for others even if it doesn’t always benefit you. If you cant do these things then it is your right – but you are certainly no ally and are part of the problem. I would also ask you to question yourself if you only stand up for one section of people or disadvantaged group and not others why; tackling inequality is not a pick and mix opting only for the one which makes you less uncomfortable maybe.

If you want to be a true ally whether this is against racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, or any other form of prejudice against a disadvantaged or disempowered group of people then take ACTION. ACTION NOT WORDS. Words are meaningless; actions have a purpose and enact change.

Happy Pride Inside 2020 – on being an ally not lip service and the fragility of the privileged.

Today would have been London Pride with the now standard parade and celebrations of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer) community. Covid 19, if nothing else, doesn’t discriminate (well it does a bit) and this event has now been cancelled restricted to online celebrations. I rarely post however, like last year, would like to use this day to share my reflections on Pride.

Last year I wrote about my personal experiences and why Pride is still important beyond the, perhaps more light hearted, parade in central London. This year I will be briefer and wanted to touch on the importance of being an ally and what this actually means. I also think this is relevant and intersects with the current spotlight on Black Life Matters (BLM) and racism. I have attached a recent video article (5 mins) from the Guardian on White Fragility and how this forms a barrier to effectively tackling racism.

As a white English person it is my duty and responsibility to listen to this and learn. I may be a Guardian reading social worker (without owning a pair of Birkenstock’s I will add) but that doesn’t mean I’m blemish free of any unconscious prejudice and bias. I’m human after all and it would be worrying if I said I was free of any prejudice. What is important is I dig deep, acknowledge these, own it and then work to tackle them.

To be a true ally it means, that as the person in the position of ‘societal privilege’ (in my case as a person of mainly white British ethnicity and cultural background) the responsibility is on me to not be defensive as the majority and to use that very privilege to break down all embedded racist structures and, ultimately, to remove the privilege I hold to make way for true equality. To be an ally it is not good enough just to say ‘I’m not racist/homophobic’, to display meaningless images on social media as acts of solidarity; to pretend that you don’t see colour or sexuality; or to pretend it doesn’t exist because you haven’t experienced it (it’s likely you won’t when you are in a privileged group).

To be an ally means actively challenging any form of racism/homophobia as you witness it or hear others experiencing it, it means not colluding and ignoring it because it protects your privileged status or because it’s too uncomfortable to challenge, it means asking your BME or LGBTQ friends/family/colleagues about their experiences and what you can do to support them, it means using your privilege to dismantle your privilege, it means having the guts to stand up for others even if it doesn’t always benefit you. If you cant do these things then it is your right – but you are certainly no ally and are part of the problem. I would also ask you to question yourself if you only stand up for one section of people or disadvantaged group and not others why; tackling inequality is not a pick and mix opting only for the one which makes you less uncomfortable maybe.

If you want to be a true ally whether this is against racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, or any other form of prejudice against a disadvantaged or disempowered group of people then take ACTION. ACTION NOT WORDS. Words are meaningless; actions have a purpose and enact change.

Please listen to this video if you want to be a part of change and challenge – this video refers to racism specifically but you can replace the terminology with LGBTQ and it would have the same relevance. I would welcome or love any comments but please only those that are constructive and feel they are committed to being true allies across the board. If any of this makes you feel uncomfortable or defensive, reflect on why.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2020/jun/26/how-white-fragility-obstructs-the-fight-against-racism-video-explainer

I, me that is, do have a small issue with the Guardian Video , in that it primarily refers to the race issue being about black and white. And if it only were that simple or Black and white . It is far more reaching and infinitely more challenging in its complexity. However, I think our Daughter illustrates this on a number of occasions where she points to the need to highlight any disadvantaged group and not pick and mix.

Private Eye June 2020
Private Eye June 2020

The above 2 cartoons , taken from recent copy of Private Eye , I think highlight 2 key issues . The one on the left , that of there are actions and actual actions. The one on the right , all disadvantaged groups. This are my additions and I hope in no way detract from what my Daughter has written. If only I were that brave .