Desperately seeking….An Alliance !

Marriage is an alliance entered into by a man who can’t sleep with the window shut, and a woman who can’t sleep with the window open.

George Bernard Shaw

And yet……On its own means little, until the middle of the post where it is central to my thoughts , but somehow it looks better at the beginning. Humankind seems a bit indulgent, but begin with it I must …..

Humankind relies upon alliances. Whilst it may not exactly seem like it at the moment, every thread of human of human society relies upon some of alliance. Right back through human history, alliances have been sought to create a benefit, not always, to both parties. Many are sought only to collapse because the weaker of the alliance suddenly discovers that the alliance is not giving them any benefit whatsoever, so they seek other alternatives.

United Nations, European Union , European Free Trade Association , World Trade Organisation, World Health Organisation, FIFA -International Federation of Association Football, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, G7,G20, To name but a few of the more obvious. All created with the common intent of pooling resources and similar ideals to maximise their relevant aims . Well that’s generally the intention, there will be those who would question the effectiveness of some or all. Yet without any alliances there would be little or no impact within the relevant areas .

The commercial world is stuffed full of alliances, some formal, some informal. Many of them are formal for example Road Hauliers Association, our very own European Balloon and Party Council, Association of Plumbing and Heating engineers , and the list goes on to over 8000 in the U.K., are fundamentally groups of competitors. Yet they group together to discuss and resolve issues and problems that they all face on a day to basis .

Business or strategic alliances , mainly two organisations but not uniquely, are more straightforward in their aims but often not long term . A current example of a strategic alliance is Red Bull and GoPro (miniature action cameras). They are both completely different products but their target market is very similar. By working together they are constantly reinforcing the brands while not conflicting sales revenues

Commerce to one side, If you include the likes of sports and social clubs there estimated to be over 50,000 such groupings in the U.K. alone.

Historically, it could be argued that pre Roman Times , true alliances were never formed in that they were generally enforced . The Romans and the likes of Genghis Khan did not seek alliances . But they realised that they would be more successful if they worked with the conquered . The Saxon kings, whilst often in conflict with each other , forged ever changing alliances to stave off the onslaught of the Vikings . European kings and queens spent centuries forging and breaking alliances (usually via marriage) to improve their lot .

Genghis-The Alliance maker ?

And yet….here it comes, we appear to be in the midst of an era when societies are abandoning Alliances . In a time when you would think that you need them all the more , they are being shed like dead skin. First Brexit, then Trump (pushing Nato to arms length, threatening WTO, leaving the Paris Climate agreement, that all now being reversed ). Isolation appears to be the order of the day .

And yet… is it really ? Going back to history (of course you can only go back to history ) alliances have broken up and reinvented time and time again. I think Joseph S and his erstwhile mate Adolf H , must have had few words about their supposed alliance. There is nothing new here. The world, during the last twelve months, has been creating alliances, via research organisations, drug companies, scientists, medical teams to try and combat our current crisis. Well, at least most of the world, and I include the EU & China within most of the world.

Do we need them ? Yes we do. Just imagine a world without alliances . No alliances, no weddings, no divorce lawyers, so sad.

No man(or woman) is an island,

Entire of itself;

Every man is a piece of the continent, 

A part of the main.

John Donne

The parenthesis are, of course, added by me. Whilst Mr Donne would surely have added them if written today . In the 17th Century, were probably more use on an island and brought home for the 3 C’s : Culinary, Cleaning & Conjugals.

Daunt by name…Daunting by nature or just plain Mr Bookseller….

The tall, handsome man strode in to the room, there was a sudden hush…

“Who may you be ?”

“Daunt, James Daunt…”

What James Bond is to spies, James Daunt is to books. Or rather Bond eliminates nasty spies, but Daunt creates an atmosphere for Good Books to survive.

James Daunt, has been a subject of a previous post (https://thepartyblog.org/2019/01/20/undaunted-by-the-big-beast/). Therefore, in short, previously working as a banker for JP Morgan , he opened his first book shop in London in 2012. It grew to a chain of six, which he sold and then was head hunted by the struggling Waterstones,succeeding in turning it around against all odds. Then in 2019 he was asked to go to New York to be CEO of Barnes & Noble, the giant but failing US book retailer Barnes & Noble (now owned by Waterstones).

Now, of course what Agent Daunt does, like all good secret agents, is slaughter a shed load of jobs at Barnes & Noble’s head office. But it is the area in which he does the majority of his nasty work , that is of interest , and that is ‘buying’. Within Waterstones he acted in a similar way. He understands that central buying just does not sit well with the book buying public. Not that they (the book buying public) know anything about central buying. What they do know and like is what is on the shelves. That is the result of the buying returning to the local branches .

What Agent Daunt understands that those with their noses closest to the ground have a lot more idea as to what their customers want. The good people of Southampton have very different reading wants and needs to those in Leeds . That is not to say that the residents of one city are anymore well read than the other. It is just a reflection of regional tastes and interests . Or rather in the case of Barnes & Noble it is the difference between Chicago and Atlanta . The ‘buying’ noses of head office are a long way from the ground.

Once again we return to understanding and responding to your customer base and the wide variations that can exist even within small geographical areas. I keep returning to the ‘future of retailing’ it has to adapt to survive. Simply speaking it is about knowing what your customer wants and making sure you have it. The days are long gone, if they really existed, that one size, or even just the popular sizes fits all.

All major retailers have trend analysts, futurologists, sophisticated data forecasting, AI systems and in some cases experienced and seasoned buyers but that is not enough . They may not be able to have a James Daunt approach. That said if it is about survival and perhaps increased profitability then maybe they would . A best seller novel may bring the punters through the door, but I suspect the margins are very thin , especially with the Amazon behemoth breathing down your neck , and you can’t rely on them as a business model.

M did not rely upon just one agent . M has agents all over the place to generate as much information as possible. What is happening in Moscow is not what is happening in Milan. Bit like Southampton and Leeds. M, with that on the ground intelligence can act in a more targeted manner. So should retailers.

Now to a far more important matter. The image below is seemingly completely irrelevant. Not at all. This little guy is a very important new addition to our household. He will be adding his impartial and apolitical wisdom (hence Aristotle). Patronising comments about doggie talk,or it’s a dogs life… are dogist. They will not be tolerated! His contribution will not always be obvious but it will be incisive, intuitive and above all invaluable.

Aristotle (Ari)

Atque efficaciorem adeo intuitive

The Great British Traditionalist… just voted Turkey for Christmas…Again !

Well stuff ‘em . The turkeys that is. Like many traditions, or what many consider are British traditions, are not that traditional .

Turkeys were brought to England (from Mexico) in the sixteenth century but were not readily eaten at Christmas until the mid 19th Century. It was not until the mid 1950’s did they become common place at the British Christmas dining table. What was more traditional was Boars Head, Goose, Pheasant, Peacock and probably the odd lazy servant.

I think there are 4 types of traditionalists:

  1. Those that think: anything that happened in the past, and doesn’t happen anymore for good reason, was a good thing . Such as bear baiting, sticking kids up chimneys, flogging idle servants, and thinking women having an education was bad for them.
  2. Those that think: that stuff we do now, has been going on for hundreds of years. Turkeys (see above), Red Santa Suits (Coke Cola first dressed him in red to match their bottle labels), Fish and chips (sort of true but fried fish came from Sephardic Jews, in this case from Holland). It may come as a surprise to some that it was not until 1958 that the Presbyterian church in Scotland accepted December the 25th as a public holiday.
  3. Those that think: anything before the mid 1950’s was glorious and wonderful, despite big chunks of the population living in squalor, outside toilets, poor health , comparatively low wages, severe inequality, homosexuality a criminal offence,loads of wars and a stream of other really unpleasant circumstances .
  4. Those who think: of the real traditions , such Morris Dancing for the English (late 15th Century), Scottish tartans (even they have been discovered to be used pre-Roman). The bagpipe tradition goes long past those used in Scotland. Bog snorkelling, cheese rolling, Afternoon Tea and there is, of course , the English Breakfast which can be traced back to the 13th Century. Not least, of course is the Pub . Most of these have fared well overseas , especially Afternoon Tea, English Breakfasts and Pubs. All of which can be found in many towns and cities throughout the world. The one that does struggle is the Christmas Cracker. A British tradition which I know that for many years UK suppliers have struggled to export to the ungrateful world audiences .
Bear Baiting-er not a good thing
Victorian Chimney Sweep-No they weren’t happy !

“To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day.”-Great tradition, despite the look of The Lady of the House

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)

I believe that these categories stand the test in most cultures albeit with rather different examples. The first three tend to be those that trump (accidental, but am happy with such an appropriate verb) loudest and have driven much political thought in recent times. Not that driving political thought is a crime but it is when misleading.

Not only is the word tradition , a misleading political concept , it is often used in very similar ways for marketing, especially in the UK during the Christmas period. Why are Boxing Days Sales a tradition ? No they are not.

a way of behaving or belief that has been established for a long time or the practice of following behaviour and beliefs that have been so established.

Cambridge Dictionary Definition of the word Tradition

Nor is Black Friday, Summer sales, Spring Sales, or referring back to Father Christmas in his jolly red suit. They were, or rather, are marketing ploys. Nothing wrong with them , but there is, if they are vicariously foistered upon an unsuspecting public, as traditions. Father’s day , was invented ( not completely true, but as with Mothers day) was hijacked and promoted in order to sell greetings cards and men’s underwear during the great depression. Nowt wrong with that , you may say. But there is, if it continues for another one hundred years with the main purpose of selling a load of old tat.

In my book, a tradition has to be underpinned by a historical narrative that has created a positive addition to the culture from which it originates .

“The less there is to justify a traditional custom, the harder it is to get rid of it”

Mark Twain

Keyword Search ….if you’re lucky…

2019

Shop online, not bloody likely….

Get something on the internet….naah don’t trust it

Got shops at the bottom of the road , don’t need web shops….

Wind forward to present day ....

What would we do without Internet ?

Bloody good job we can get our stuff online …

With 12 months of home imprisonment, retailing has changed. Having the best part of twenty five years of Amazon & E bay,web sites struggle big time with Keywords.Or rather, they don’ t but we do .Type in electric nail clippers (oh yes big item or so I am told) and the first three on Amazon are manual. Type in Seychelles History and on the first page you will get holiday villas and on the first page of Amazon you will get a book about Shoes and a book about Wildlife in Madagascar .

During the present pandemic online shopping has gone from being 18% of total retail spend to the best part of 40% . The reasons are pretty obvious and as to whether it will remain at this level is debatable. Despite the dramatic increase I suspect the consumer has not become any the more savvy as the odds are against them. Its all about who has the deepest pockets. Most of the major search engines are profit centres. They need to generate revenues. The costs to run search engines , or at very least effective search engines are astronomically high. There are open source search engines, but therein can lie some issues such as security, and who runs it and who polices it. But for the most part we are lumbered with the likes of Google, Bing and a handful of others.

So what’s the beef ? For those whose English is not their first language beef does not mean what we have for Sunday lunch but what are we moaning about (yet another British obsession, or so we are told ). Two things …

  1. Relates to the big players eg Amazon etc…
  2. The smaller web shops.

Lets start with point 2 , as it is a bit more straight forward . If you put a Search Bar on your site, you are suggesting that there products or services on your site that not be that obvious by the menu system. Yet in many sites if you do not search by the exact description as transcribed by the web shop you will not find it. Please think out the box a little . Do not assume the purchaser has a full knowledge of the product or service they are looking . Just take sometime and think through how the consumer may categorise products. They may not realise Lime Green trousers , may described in any other way . So when searching they get no result when you are selling a pair described as Citrus Green. Sorry its your lost sale. As a consumer if find it it very frustrating not be able to find a product I know exist but cant think of the exact description, so end up not making the purchase or buying something else.

Point 1 . Ok you need to make money just stop treating us as complete idiots . Just because you don’t sell swimming goggles don’t think we will buy night vision goggles instead . Well, some might, if they are Ultra Ironman triathletes and they have 100 km to run through a tropical jungle in the middle of the night as well as swimming for eight hours in shark infested waters. Or if you are just plain stupid . But most are neither.

So lets see if we can reach a compromise. Web retailers you supposedly have this enormous benefit of Artificial Intelligence . Please use it intelligently. Act like a good bricks and mortar retailer offer what the customer is really looking for . If they don’t know and AI is as good as it is supposed to be, guide them to products or services which are more relevant. Consumers use your natural inbuilt human intelligence. If you cant find what you are looking for , ask yourself …

Maybe you cant buy it anymore

OR

Try and be a little more descriptive in your searching. Things that hang on your legs to stop them getting cold ..are perhaps not the best words to use when you are looking for winter trousers…..

Seek and ye shall find….

The Bible and various preceding texts…so it must be true

Forecasting Consumer Demand….The Retailer’s Dilemma ….

I am not a Retailer. I could not be a Retailer. I have neither skill set nor temperament . I spend most of my working life talking with retailers and wholesalers, so I know a little of one aspect of retailing , that is the supply end and being a consumer , I know, sometimes what it is I want, the demand end. However, on many occasions , I don’t know what I want, which is the source of the problem.

The biggest retailers have access to data to tell them that their sales of Coca Cola (can’t use the word coke anymore) will peak in two weeks, using history and weather forecasts. They know the sales of baking products are going to explode when the Great British Bake off comes on telly. Sales of beer and pizza will suddenly jump when there is major sporting event on TV. Supermarkets , will know , I suspect , exactly how many loaves of sliced bread they will sell each and every week. But most retailers don’t have that data or sell the sort of product that is that demand reliable.

Twenty years ago, buyers would turn up at trade shows and apart from new product, and then they would be very wary of anything new, as they knew what sold last year would sell next year and taking on new products meant taking a chance; they would order their needs for the year. Actually it wasn’t quite that straight forward but it illustrates the general shape of buying behaviours it was not that long ago.

I sold 2000 widgets last year so I think I will sell 2100 this year (or 1900 depending upon the buyer).

Demand was not pulled it was driven from behind . The retailers (and wholesalers), in most markets, decided what they were going to sell and the consumer had little say in it. An over simplification, perhaps. Nevertheless it was pretty close to the truth. But then it started to change . With the incursion of online retailers and the gradual development of social media ,the consumer was starting to throw its weight. From the online operators offering a far bigger range of product, and sometimes very different product, to the consumer passing on this information via social media.

I believe this is why part of today’s UK Retail High Street is where it is today. There are a lot of tired brands that have received little attention over recent years , notably Arcadia, Debenhams, Edinburgh Woollen Mill……..They sat on their laurels, did not reinvest and lost sight of their customers. The latest Bonmarché supposedly the shop for the over 50’s . Well today’s fifty five year old is a very different beast to that of twenty years ago. Looking at their shop windows you would think you were back in the eighties .

Typical Bonmarché Store Front

It is easy to to mock, to just stand back and say well they are were a lot of old rubbish. What is not easy is predicting what the Buying Public actually wants. A not so perfect example is this current year of 2020. When the first lockdown of the year in the UK began, all thought that’s it for three months . Nothing is going to sell, except toilet rolls and food, as there is nowhere to sell it . Even the mighty Amazon stopped selling non essentials for a few weeks. But no, small web sites found themselves inundated with demand for craft items, games, toys, puzzles, drawing books, home party items. At its peak demand far exceeded supply. Now when the second lockdown occurred, it was a very different scenario . Why ? Because the consumer behaviour was different. As to why, leave that to the social psychologists reports next year.

There is nothing easy about second guessing the consumer and their wants. It is different if you are a major brand . They have the ability and resources to push their demand . The millions that wait outside The Apple stores when a new product is launched, before knowing how the product will perform. The brand, in this case Apple, telling their audience that they want it . But that wont last forever . But they understand this and develop other income streams, which one day will replace those of their physical products. In this case it is making programmes, films, digital music , and cloud computing (Amazon get 50% of their profits from 10% of their revenue ie Cloud computing). Few organisations have had the resources to adopt alternative strategies, or rather they have no plan to do so.

I am often asked What is selling ? What Should I buy ? I can only answer what sold yesterday and really do not have any idea of what will sell tomorrow. This sounds a bit like copping out. It is . There is no easy answer. Of course, within every range of product there is a core of items that the retailer will know they have to have in their store. But going forward that is not enough.

There are retailers that get it right, or rather they get a lot closer. Zara is one of them . they apparently can turn new ranges around in three weeks . The major successful discounters (certainly in the UK ) have open door policies in respect of seeing suppliers. This does not necessarily mean they know more about what the consumer wants, but it does mean from one end of the chain they are lot closer to what trends are coming through, and can act accordingly.

The bottom line is that there has to be radical rethinking by the retail entrepreneurs on how they operate . it maybe something along the lines of literally of more of a shop window. I have seen this happen with two new retailers in my neighbourhood. One is a deli/grocer , the other is a butcher. The attitude is more

This is what we have in the shop, but don’t hesitate to ask if we don’ have what you want or don’t know what you want .

Think Star Trek. Think Dematerialization. Think Spock being transmitted from Mother Ship to Planet Surface.

Rabbit in box is 3d Printer or I can never buy a red rabbit ornament when I want one!

Well maybe not quite but I suggest, that to counter the issue of not knowing what to stock and what your customer might want, the technology is not far away. For many the Store will become more of an idea fulfilment location. A place where you will be able to discuss your needs with knowledgeable staff within that field and walk out with what you want rather than what they want to sell you.

Maybe or maybe not. What I can say without any hesitation, retail cannot and will not stay in its present form. This has nothing to do with Covid, Pandemics, Brexit, Deal or No Deal , it has to do with a rapidly changing consumer. Retail must change and it must change radically.

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