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 .

Intu…Now Out Too…or Atishoo…Do all Shopping Centres, as we know them, all fall down?

No they wont.

Or rather not quite.

I think that a little recent historic perspective is of help.

  1. The funding of most major shopping centres (in the UK) in recent years has been, so I am reliably informed, via debt. The debt is raised on the assumption (scientific, it is not-my opinion) on continually increasing rental income. I have always considered that is away with the fairies, but will come back to that.
  2. INTU, whilst established in 1980 did not become INTU until 2013
  3. Much is blamed on the increase in online. Whilst this is of course true , it has been true for a number of years.
  4. During Covid most shopping centres have been getting barely 25% of their rental income.
  5. Intu pointed to this (Covid) as another reason for their failure, yet they lost £2 billion in 2019.
  6. Shopping centres generally have anchors ie Department stores

1,3,4,5, & 6 are all pretty good reasons for shopping centres to disappear.

1- Whilst it may have seemed understandable at one time that there was nothing to stop Retail Rents to continue to climb, surely commercialism, realism , economics and patterns of shopping would suggest maybe not. All economic graphs have curves, for crying out loud. Moreover, historically most multiples bought their freeholds. This started to change 20-25 years ago when they decided to liquidate their assets and grow on leveraged debt. I felt at the time it was short sighted (selling their freehold assets that is ) and I still believe it.

3- Amazon is over 25 years old. This is not an overnight phenomena . What possessed the landlords to not think a change was happening. E bay slightly older ! The percentage of the retail market via online , in the UK, was 17% in 2017, and now is probably nearer 20% . So surely the signs have been there for sometime .

4- Couldn’t have seen this coming but it did (come that is ). No Plan B?

5- Speaks for itself

6- Department stores have been struggling for at least 5 years. Very relevant with the recent announcement that John Lewis is closing its Birmingham Bullring Store (see below). Its tells a lot about Department stores and Shopping Centres.

The big shopping centres and have an inbuilt disadvantage of being like giant cruise ships. They are very difficult to turn around. Whilst the more recent developments attempted to spread their desirability by incorporating more leisure facilities eg Cinemas, restaurants etc, they were and still are, shopping centres. Two years ago(August 2018) I posted about plans for an 8 Million Sq foot shopping centre in Dubai where the experience was the cornerstone. In simple terms it is about the consumer having experiences and via technology, of course, when they do buy they don’t have to pick or carry anything it gets delivered to their home. The technology might be rocket science (do you know your average smart phone has 8 million times the memory of the first space rocket- so its more than rocket science), but the consumer behaviour isn’t. The consumer likes going into a shop to touch and feel but they also like to buy online as it can be cheaper and more convenient. Just stick the two together. Simples as a the word famous and very wise Meerkat would say. ( non UK readers very famous TV advertising star -it is a puppet, a very clever one but still only a puppet)

The light blue line shows the fall in footfall in Shopping Centres to mid 2019

That is not to say this is the only answer, there never is just one answer. As there is no one answer to stop sneezing . Yet I do believe the intensity of the current environment, focuses the mind and the need to make dramatic and creative action. Without which, the consequences will be even more damaging. I think what history (retail history that is) tells us is that when push comes to shove, the retail market eventually reacts and changes. If the big landlords do not respond then they will all fall down.

The latest announcement from John Lewis closing their new Birmingham store, really brings home to the plight of the shopping centre. It is widely accepted that this was on the cards well before Covid. It has been open for five years and I believe it has struggled to ever turn a profit. This is a Shopping Centre(Owned by Hammersons ) that is in the UK’s second City. It is built directly over a brand new Inter City Railway station (New Street), there is a bucket load of parking and yet it struggles.

If any parallel is to be drawn , it is to recognise the symptoms, seek a cure, take the medicine. Just like Covid19.

The Resilience of the Humble Toy Balloon….

Lord and Lady Latex, are titles that have not been bequeathed by Political benefactors, or an obsequious senior Civil Servant but by a friend who has also spent much of their working life within the same industry, and felt that for most of the time he had known Julia and I, we were flogging the odd latex balloon or two. The emphasis being on latex , which is also relevant to the context of this post.

I need to indulge a little and talk briefly about my working past as it will , hopefully, help to illustrate what I am going to say.

Travel back a long way, to a time when Mylar (foil) balloons did not exist , before Balloon Decorating started , pre huge colour ranges, and multiple sizes, to a time when the humble Toy Balloon was considered thus… Just a Toy. I was brought up with them. I was surrounded by them , not literally as I rarely saw one in my youth,almost certainly never in the house, but metaphorically. My parents lived and died Latex Balloons. Sounds quite odd and dark, but it is a lot simpler than that. They were involved in the manufacturing and selling of ‘Toy Balloons’. They was wat put bread on plate , wood in fire and roof over ‘ead…as Dickens may have said but didn’t, unless he had spent a lot of time in Yorkshire and didn’t tell anyone.

Even before working in the business I was often taken to trade fairs (oh yes that was a proper holiday). I participated in the Nuremberg Toy Fair before I left school. What I am trying to say is that I have experienced many an economic cycle and a myriad of unfortunate events that would have otherwise destroyed the market for lesser product.

From the miners strike in the early seventies, the oil crisis mid seventies, and rampant inflation(edging to 26%)recession in the early eighties, recession in the nineties, to the banking crisis and finally our present covid conditions, nothing has dampened the demand for the humble latex balloon. During the Oil crisis in the mid seventies in the UK , there was a three day working week. I can very clearly remember at the years first trade show everyone doubling their orders. During massive inflation , having to increase our prices by over 20% being told by customers they wanted a bigger increase(not really anything to do with the demand for balloons , a rather nuanced commercial input. However, the customer was not concerned that it would stop the consumer buying). The vicious nasty little bug that cowers all before it cannot dampen the enthusiasm for the The Toy Balloon. I would go as far as to say it has only increased it. During this crisis, it would not be out of order to add it to the list(at least in the UK) of toilet rolls, pasta, bicycles, and puppies . Once again it defies all expectations.

In The early Nineties this crept back up to 15%…

Now , I must wave a red flag to any Lockdown Entrepreneurs who are thinking …aah hah There’s a few bob to be made here ….the market is not short of supply . There are plenty of manufacturers and the market is very aggressive. By dint of the product’s durability, it has already gone the distance of attracting entrepreneurs . So back off!

The latex balloon is no longer just a Toy. It is a product with many homes, backgrounds to corporate events , decorating major sporting occasions , weddings, key celebrations, lifestyle enhancer…..the list goes on. Take a peek on Instagram and Pinterest to see how balloons are used now. Consequently, especially in the UK you would rarely find Latex balloons on sale in a Toy Shop. This differs to a degree in the rest of Europe. Twenty five years ago, the go to retail outlet for the humble balloon was a toy shop, but ironically it got too complicated for the toy industry . Ranges grew like Topsy and I think they took the view that to do it properly took too much space. And they were probably right . Yet I still maintain that whilst a single sku of bog standard toy balloons ,may not return as much cash, it will take return far more % profit per square inch than nearly anything else in a toy store.

So what is the allure of this simple object ? It is not without its opponents. Over the years it has had confrontations with the farming lobby, and environmentalists. Even today many think that latex balloons are made of plastic. Clue in title, please err ‘….Latex. There are those that are Balloon Phobic. I have encountered customers who would not step onto an exhibition stand as they are frightened of balloons. Not many, I hasten to add, I can only remember two . But there again I suppose I would not meet them all as they wouldn’t have come anywhere near me .

There are few that would walk into a room full of balloons, and not raise a smile. After a short while that same person, child or adult, would defer to childhood, and want to play with them, even if it is a sophisticated decoration. Maybe because they float or have a life of their own they subconsciously imbue a feeling hope, happiness and maybe even a touch of freedom. I have a sneaky feeling this is a peculiarly UK thing (and North America) . I am not sure this has translated to such a degree into mainland Europe, though I don’t see why it wont. Balloonwise , we are ahead of the game. A customer of mine (who is very close to the action on this one ) said he saw this coming sometime ago. He saw a movement to people playing (in a craft way) but suspected it would take another couple years to go mainstream. In his opinion , Covid has only hastened the timeline.

A toy it may no longer just be. Its development into adulthood has only just fortified its resilience and maintained its humility .

Would you Buy that Doggie Sitting in the Window?

Is this an example of a retail miracle or just rubbish merchandising ?

A very crude bastardisation of the 1952 Novelty song How much is that doggie in the Window ? Sung by Patti Page.

First it was toilet rolls and pasta, now the panic buying has moved onto Bikes and Puppies. In a few months time I can foresee loads of bikes on eBay, hopefully not puppies but there are already signs of profiteering. That, however, is not what this is all about.

As I was queuing to go into the bank (as one does at the time writing) , it was a source of inspiration whilst looking in the window of a locked down independent card shop. Or rather, it wasn’t, as what I saw made me think why would you go into this store ? Yes the store was closed but centre point of the window display (I hesitate to describe it as a window display) was a child’s plush toy dog. The product did not tie in with anything else in store , it looked grubby and as any dog looks in any window, very sad.

There are stores of all shapes and sizes littering retail landscapes, that are, if not full, then stocking a load of product that really should not be there. It does not stop with retail stores as it is true of wholesalers, distributors, importers and manufacturers.

Apple created product that nobody needed, and most experts suggested nobody would (or at least few would ) buy. What Apple managed to do was to create desire and then developed need. There are very few parallels. Therefore distribution channels in all markets should be a lot more ruthless in their ranging . I am not talking here about only having best sellers . If product has a market or serves a purpose, no matter how small, it is not a rational for deleting it. There is the 80/20 rule. This states that you take 80% of your cash from 20% of your range. This does not, however, you dump 80% of your product range. The function of less popular 80% is to enhance and attract the buyer.

It is the product that serves no purpose, has no market value and quite simply has a negative impact upon your business, it should go. Within our industry (Party Market) much revenue is generated by Licensed product eg Disney Characters, Marvel Comics etc. When a successful movie is launched there is often a huge peak for the main character ( Frozen Princess product for example). However that can be very short lived. In the case of Frozen, when the next film came out the consumer only wanted the new designs. The old design becomes dead stock overnight. Now, to be honest, this is a really tough topic because you never really now when ‘The shows over‘ so to speak. That dead stock can drain any profit made when it was hot. Moreover, it is more easily identifiable by the consumer as dead stock.

Certain retailers are more exposed to this issue than others. It is rarely an issue with any grocery outlet as most of the time their stock is limited by sell by dates. Yet they tend to be the exception rather than the rule. Old stock whether defined by its age, fashion , poor sales history or just plain rubbish product does nothing to help a retail store. It has to be taken out of the business and a basket with a hastily printed sheet saying must be cleared, everything 50p is neither a good look nor an effective process.

At a time when we could go into shops, all of us will have experienced that moment when you are thinking what, on earth, is that doing in this shop? or how long has that been here ?

I have just had conversations with a customer , who having been in their current location for three decades has cleared all the stock out of the store and decided that when it can be reopened , everything will be fresh and new . A glimmer of hope , but only a glimmer. I am concerned a lot more will rely on old stock (because of financial constraints), fear of the unknown, or pure and simply going back to their old ways.

A word of caution. If you are in the process of restocking and your supply chain offers the once in a lifetime super deal on certain products. Just ask the question Why? Is it, perhaps, from their metaphorical must be cleared, everything 50p basket ?

In the current climate it is so important . The consumer will not bother going into unattractive stores and they will not be interested in looking at rubbish stock, not that they ever were. But now is the perfect time to look at what you have (and don’t have) and ask yourself

Would I buy that doggie sitting in my window ?