Lots of Time + Pent up Energy= Too much Thinking

There are those, close to me, that would add the word muddled in front of Thinking. I refer, of course, to those amongst us who are confined to quarters. Therefore, I am going to use headings to try and be disciplined about Thinking . The following defines my interpretation of the above formula….

Lots of Time

I know it is only a few days into imposed social isolation and the weather has been wonderful (certainly in the UK). But the ‘lots of time bit’ has not dropped yet. So I get up a bit later, maybe 30 minutes. Take an hour plus to read newspaper, instead of 15 minutes. Then comes commercial houseekeeping , emails etc…. followed by coffee break 15 mins. If we are going to the supermarket , we walk (was that wrong?). So its a half an hour there, half hour back, 45 minutes queue , 20 minutes inside (now going by car 4 minute drive, but with the queuing,combined with doing some shopping for elderly neighbours round trip still takes best part of an hour and a half) . So now its Lunchtime -half an hour then exercise , takes between one hour and two, depending on whether it’s walk or bike. With other odds and sods its 4 pm plus, if I am lucky.

Pent up Energy

Err…, see above under exercise and supermarket visit. Oh yes, what is it about walkers. Who are these walkers? Most of whom , in a previous life, it would never have crossed their mind to go for a walk. I have 3 methods of spotting them.

1. When they approach the edge of the pavement there is a look of bewilderment in their eyes as they are not sure what to do.

2. When they have gone about 500 metres there is a look of fear as they are not sure how to get home

3. Those that venture into more open areas and you are at least 30 metres away from them, they do another 10 metre hip swerve, as they have no concept of space or distance.

Here’s a no 4. Invariably they are dressed as ninja daffy ducks. They have scarves around their faces and hoods up, with only their eyes showing and when they walk they actually waddle.

Are they victims of the toilet roll syndrome. ‘everyone seems to be doing this , so s’pose we should as well’

Too Much Thinking

Once again I am going to use headings to try and be a little more disciplined with my thinking. The headings I have selected are ones where I have had some clarity of thought, in addition to restricting it to a reasonable list.

Crime

Now there is an odd one . Why think about crime? Well, primarily, because I thought household burglaries would fall as would street muggings. However, my next train of thought was what would Jonnie Robber (always blokes ) do for cash . But more siginificanlty what would those who commited crime because of the need to pay for their addictions eg Drink or Drugs. They still have a driving need for to feed their addiction, are they just going to stop ? Or just as importantly where are they going to go for funding ? So to speak. An interesting juxtaposition ,is that in the Favelas of Rio the drug lords are enforcing self isolation to protect the population whilst the President derides Covid as just the ‘sniffles’.

“Whoever is caught on the street will learn how to respect the measure. We want the best for the population. If the government is unable to manage, organised crime resolves,” read one message sent to residents of a Rio de Janeiro slum. Financial Times 27 March 2020

Society

Sociey has and is changing , perhaps mainly for the better. However, I am not convinced these changes will be long lasting after the pandemic is over. Many said Brexit changed UK society. Now Brexit is nothing like the situation were are in now . I am not convinced it changed much, it only exposed what was already there. With Covid, having a worlwide impact, in one way brings people together, but my concern is that once it is all over, this togetherness will be forgotten . And what is just as likely is an increasing fear of outsiders .

Consumer Behaviour

Perhaps not so far reaching , and maybe not so important, but it remains significant as it will be all about getting an economy back on its feet. There are a number of factors that come into play, working out how, what and when is a completely different matter. Consumers will have been locked out of their normal patterns of buying behaviour. To a degree, if they really want to buy something (non essentials) they will go online . Is this pushing the consumer further to online ? Not totally convinced as I believe over a period of time some will start to value the experience of going to a retailer and go back to them. The consumer is finding out now that they cant just pop into a local High Street to try a product out before buying online. Hopefully they will understand the function of a Shop.

As for the health of the High Street, it is not going to be good . The weak ones will go including the ‘biggies’. There is nothing to suggest otherwise . On the positive side, there will be opportunties for the good independents. The local consumer , on the whole, is trying to help the independent where it can . Currently, this relates to local grocery stores, restaurants offering take aways, pharmacists and newsagents. There will be many out there who have never actually been into their local shops, who may now understand their function.

Once we are let out of our homes , will we rush out to the High Street ? Simple answer, is ‘Yes’. I am quite sure there will be a very short Retail boom. However, will this last ? Here, I am not so sure. I suspect there will be those who were already questionning their ‘consuming activities’ and think I did without that for weeks/days/months on end. Do I really need it ? I feel that it will impact further, on the consumers demand for things.

Banks

I need someone to tell me how is that when the bank rate is virtually zero, and the government is covering 80% of commercial loans, that lending rates are going up . I don’t want to knock the banks as they are critical in the current climate and don’t need knocking down, but this has to be addressed.

There is so much more thinking to be done……and probably lots of time to do it.

Law of Supply and Demand…..(or how to make the page bleed)

Under normal circumstances, the laws of supply are one of the fundamentals in microeconomics determining price levels within a market place.

We are not, however, in normal times . When Covid 19 first raised its ugly head (do viruses have heads ? Microbiologists essay question) early February, for me anyway, the questions started to arise concerning supply chains from China .

The intials concerns were are we going to get stuff …and when ? Thus intimating there maybe shortages. There was no hint of any price increases, apart from higher shipping costs if manufacturers such as Land Rover started to air freight parts. This rapidly changed to panic buying of product buying of product such as Toilet Rolls and sanitisers. Again no price risers. Or rather not by reputable traders, you cannot take idiots and profiteers as part of the Laws of Supply and Demand. They are, essentially, the laws of the black market. Move on rapidly again and we have economic concern of no demand (apart from food, medicine and Netflix subs), perhaps ‘takeaways’. Lack of demand and prices fall. Rather they should, but with few exceptions (oil) this is not necessarily the case. I think the implication here , is that the retailer is taking the view if nobody is coming into my shop, what is the point of dropping my prices and taking even less money. What they are doing , or at least some, they are offering additional services such as free local delivery.

Now I am not an economist. Hang on a mo…I am. I am the proud owner of a mediocre Economics A Level, achieved after much hardship in the early seventies. Hardship as I was forced to write the papers with an ‘Osmoroid Pen’ (image below). As to those close to me will know I am not known for my copperplate handwriting. I would be proud to lay claim to my eloquent academic prose seemingly making the pages bleed with detailed analysis. But I cant . They bled because the ink ran all over the paper. Julia, also, adds I was just plain lazy.

Osmiroid Pen Set – with explanations for those that have never seen a cartridge pen ! Or ‘How I make a page bleed’

I can also lay claim to knowing Adam Smith, not the Adam Smith(he died in 1790), but that’s not the point. It enhances my mediocre ‘A’ Level by association. Instead of claiming I am from the school of Adam Smith Economics, I can say that I did Economics, at a School where there was an Adam Smith. I digress…I go back to ….. I am not an economist but the Laws of Supply and Demand do not generally involve Moral and Ethical influences. They do involve human behaviour but currently , and I really do mean the ‘immediate’ now , as things are changing so fast, the moral and ethical factors are, I believe, having an impact upon the Laws of Supply and Demand.

There is, now a third unknown . Most of the time these laws operate in democratic capitalist societies. What we are now, temporarily, experiencing is the suspension of capitalism with massive state intervention (certainly in the UK) and that is with a right of centre, libertarian conservative Government. As to how this all pans out Socially, politically and economically, is anybody’s guess. Plus when the gates start to open, atthe end of the of all this , will the Laws go into overdrive or will everyone be so grateful that they are actually selling something they will forego market forces ?

Footnote: I said things are changing very fast and within the last 24 hours The Sunday Times have said that Tesco has but prices up on a number of products. This isnt quite as clear as that as they have said in the main they have removed Mutli Buys to avoid ‘over buying’. At this stage I have some sympathy with that rational as I don’t beleive Tesco would be stupid enough to take advantage of the current situation . Here is another statistic that has been banded about. Approximately 25% of the nation’s calorific intake comes from restaurants, Cafes , fast food joints and take aways. The vast majority of this intake is now being transferred into the supermarkets. It takes time and money to re-adjust to this shift . Consequently it is not just a spike in Demand it is also a shift of the pattern within that demand.

Atishoo, Atishoo! We all fall down…

Ring-a-ring o’ roses,A pocket full of posies,A-tishoo! A-tishoo!We all fall down.

For those of who you who don’t know this nursery rhyme, either because your parents were highly protective and didn’t want you facing stories about pestilence and disease, or that you are from overseas , it was apparently referring the plague that swept Europe on many occasions starting in the 13th Century.

Doubts are cast upon this interpretation as the rhyme did not appear until the mid 19th Century. Yet the myth remains. None of this really relates to my post. Moreover, I am not convincing myself that I should be writing about it all apart from it gnawing away at my inner most thoughts. It, being Covid 19, Coronavirus, the ‘Crisis’ or whatever either title our esteemed media chooses to call it depending upon their focus for the day.

I don’t want to go down the line of listing the annual death tolls of car accidents(approximately 1800 in the U.K.),murders (approx 15,000 in the USA), and approximately 12,000 people died in Spain of infectious diseases in 2016. But do we stop driving, visiting the States or holidaying in Spain ?

The next 2 images are taken from The Times, 29/02/20, Essay by their Science Editor on the Coronavirus.

I am in no way denigrating the significance of the current virus outbreak. People have and will continue to die as a consequence of being infected. But this does not equate to some of the irrationality that is being displayed . Because of my job , I spend a lot of time on the car . I listen to a lot of radio and some of the calls I find completely bonkers. This may come as no surprise as many who ring ‘phone ins’ are bonkers. The following examples are bang on the nail , so I may have not got the quote word perfect but the sentiment does not differ.

Caller.…I was going to visit my daughter in Madrid .

Host.…why there are no infected carriers currently in Madrid

Caller…that’s not the point …..

Caller…I have cancelled a flight to visit my daughter in Bali

Host….but there are no reported cases in Bali…

Caller…yes but it’s in Asia

Enough of all this . I think everyone will have come across similar stories andhave their own opinions to the validity of people’s decision making processes.

It is a major problem, if no other reason than we are constantly being told it is . Still doesn’t explain why the world has been deprived of its stock of toilet rolls. But I would really like someone to explain to me what role of the worlds central banks intend to play. Interest rates have been reduced, funding has been promised, extended tax deferments,quantitive easing suggested and whole load of other pretty complex tools, yet to the small business what help is any of that.

If the consumer cannot go out or will not go out to buy, if they can’t go on holiday or travel , if they can’t earn their wages, if they loose their jobs, if there is no product or service to sell , wont go to restaurants, festivals, movies, and sporting events, all these proposals will just become deferred debt . When the time comes for that debt to be repaid, they will have no money to pay it, as their businesses will have gone pop.

So after the sneezing, and we have all fallen over , wiped ourselves down , got up, everything will be well in the garden. It may well be the case but may I suggest that after we have all become practised hand hygienists , we go easy on those toilet rolls…

Retail …has it anywhere to go?

partybus

Just occassionally, I read, hear, see a bit of news which for a fleeting second, says to me

bloody ‘ell, I said that would happen two years ago

And just fleetingly, I think ….I am Bloody good at this, should I have been a predictive analyst…or written a book like ‘Future Shock-Alvin Toffler 1970’ ….until rapid realization dumps me back to ground level , when I think about the hundreds of other predictions that I got, and still get, wrong.

So I am very wary of so called ‘experts’ in their field making predictions, when in my experience, they make as many bloomers. Yet, I have just read an article by Mary Portas, not someone I always agree with, but the essence of what she says resonating with some thoughts of my own, I felt they are worth examining .Without blowing my own trumpet, actually I will, one example she discusses , I highlighted and wrote about a couple of years ago (July 2018, to be exact) but will come back to that later.

I make no apologies for cutting and pasting Mary’s article , but it would be a waste of time just paraphrasing…..

It’s a new economy that businesses have to get used to, one that’s built on a new value system. If you look at the past 30 years, consumerism has been peaking and the whole infrastructure of retailers has been around who is the biggest, the fastest, the cheapest. It’s all been down to operations rather than an understanding of how people are living.

Big retailers will give you many reasons why the high street is failing and this won’t be among them. The first reason they give is the internet, the second is the economic climate, that most people are strapped for cash, and the third has been the uncertainty of Brexit.

Of course, all of these play a part, but the biggest reason has been that we’ve changed our value system as people. What we’ve come to realise as a society is that the tenets of capitalism, that ‘more equals better’, is not going to be better for us as people or for our planet.

The bit here I don’t agree with is the last sentence. Certainly, there is a proportion of society that I would agree with,but for the majority(who have a disposable income )I think it just a little more straightforward do I need more stuff?

However, the next short quote, I am in total agreement…

The businesses that can connect with people as people, not merely consumers, will start generating a whole new way of shopping.

 

A great example is Eat 17: a couple of lads from Walthamstow [north-east London] saw the local Spar and thought, “We can do something with this.” They realised there was not much money in the area, so they kept the low-priced stuff, but they also started to work with small, independent producers. They get their sausages from the local butcher and they get the local florist to deliver. And they’ve created this brilliant supermarket. There’s a space where people can sit and eat too, instead of a dodgy cafe, they get the greatest street food vendors to come.

Now areas like Walthamstow will pick up and you’ll suddenly notice that a chain shop has come in because Eat 17 has created the footfall. They’ve created the place to go.

 

….These are the new anchors of the high street. Instead of “Oh, we have to get a Marks & Spencer or a Debenhams in here”, the new anchors won’t even be all retail, they could be a yoga studio, a crèche, community spaces with a socialising function. So yes, we’re going to have less retail, but we’re going to have better retail and better places to connect.

 

Eat17, was the core of my post back in July 2018. But I have seen it happen more recently and in other areas. In my own local shopping parade , there is a new deli, owned by a Dutch guy, who in one year has done exactly what Portas is talking about. I am not sure they are in this order but he certainly focuses on the following tenets….

What is the triple bottom line and why is it important?

The triple bottom line is people, planet, profit, in that order. Put your people first, because the planet will continue without us, but if we want to be on it, we need to change. We need to understand how we’re eating, how we’re travelling and how we’re buying. Put people first and it will be us that can make that change happen. And this means both people in your business and people outside your business. Not consumers or staff: People.

Result is success and other local retailers taking note.

Mary Portas, goes on to say that the likes of House of Fraser failed and Marks & Spencer’s are struggling as they contact to operate on the premise that the stores were places for moving stock. That, clearly, is no longer the case. It is much more difficult for the High Street multiple to engage with the consumer in the same way that the independent can. Which is why , for the first time for a long,long time that the Independent has an opportunity to be one step ahead.

Having just spent a week at a trade show talking to retailers, it is very evident that the creative and forwarding looking retailer is beginning to understand this . Only a couple of weeks ago the High Street of the year(as awarded by the greatbritishhighstreet.co.uk, a Government initiative) was a small town in the Valleys in South Wales, Treorchy. An area not normally associated with retail innovation. It was achieved by a large number of independent Retailers working and engaging with their local consumers.

As to my own industry, ie party, the signs are clearly there. Without change there is nowhere for the retailer to go….At the same time the supply chain needs to understand where they want to be and how they want to get there.

‘DiscoCounting’ ….or Disco Duncing ?

Lousy title . Corny, clichéd, and crap. But surely it’s got to be better than An analysis of the effectiveness of discount pricing strategies within the U.K. retail sector. If it isn’t you will have stopped reading this post by now, if you have managed to get this far. Yet, feedback suggests otherwise. At least 50% of my readership say otherwise. I know that Julia (the 50%) reads right through to the end. Put that in your pipe and smoke it (old English phrase for..my husband can’t do wrong).

There is nothing new in retail discounting. The first Woolworths was a Five Cent store. Marks and Spencer’s were originally Penny stores. When Jack Cohen (Tesco) started selling groceries, it was surplus stock. Throughout the decades many retail discounters have come and gone . In the U.K. the original Kwik Save supermarkets, expanded exponentially. During the seventies and eighties, various discount operators flourished then vanished , such as The House of Holland, Bewise, and many others. Today, there are those that thrive. The big daddy of them all is, of course , Walmart in the USA . Now still the worlds largest retailer. Throughout Europe, there are many successful discount retailers , Action and Hema in the Netherlands, Aldi , Schwarz and Penny Markt in Germany, and Carrefour in France, to name but a few. Within the U.K. there are some of our most profitable retailers eg B&M Stores, Home and Bargain. These all prove , to a degree, that it is and can be very effective form of retailing. Primark for example have just released another set of very impressive Christmas figures.But that’s not my argument. This are professional discounters who have built their business model on discounted prices .

Currently, every other retailer (well, not quite every) believes that the panacea to all retail ills is discounting. It ain’t and never will . Please somebody tell if I’m wrong but there are fundamental issues with discounting that undermines most retail models. If we assume that the discount being offered is real and true discount, ie not some bit of old tat or clearance you have bought in just to offer at an artificial discount. There are three immediate affects …

Loss of profit margin in percentage terms.

Loss of cash margin in real terms.

Simple example of selling something at £4 instead of £5=25% lost profit margin, and £1 less taken through the till. There is the hope that you may sell two items instead of one, but unless the customer needs or wants two , it maybe just forlorn hope. But if they do buy two it puts of a possible repeat purchase, which may have been at the real price.

Most importantly, is the loss of consumer confidence. By that I mean the consumer no longer believes in the discounted price, worse still , the real price . I, firmly, believe that is where we are today. The year is littered with sales. Black Friday, winter sale, summer sale, Boxing Day sale, blue cross sale (Debenhams- done them a lot of good), easter sale, Christmas sale, end of season sale, bumper sale, clearance sale, the list is endless . Even if the discounts are real, there are so many that the punter knows to hang on as there will be a sale around the corner.

Here’s another. Consumer inflation over recent years has been notoriously low. Retailers costs are the complete opposite . To pursue pricing policies which reduce your margins unless you have been able to combat those costs, is sheer lunacy.

Discounting is effective in clearing unwanted stock. However, today the danger lies in the fact that there is often good reason for it being ‘unwanted’. Bad buying, change in fashion or simply there is better available elsewhere, and maybe even at a better price. Within my own market, product that is past its want by date has in practice no value . When Frozen 2 was released, Frozen 1 merchandise could be barely given away . The reality is that old stock is bad stock.

Retail History repeatedly illustrates that discounting is only ever a short term tactic. Today it is rarely even defensive. The change in retailing has been rapid and dramatic (I do not refer to the effect of online operations). The change in consumer behaviour is equally dramatic (again disregarding onliners ). Any non discount retailer that uses discounts as a means to continuous survival, will not survive.

Disco dancing may have made Travolta into superstar, but it’s alliteration for retailers will take them to the back of the class, with the rest of the dunces.

You should be dancing , yeah, you should be dancing ,yeah

But not discocounting.

You think it’s all over….But what about “Planed Board with slightly rounded long sides” ?

Well it is now. Or so we are told. Well another General Election is. And probably the EU withdrawal agreement. Oh and another decade, plus Christmas for another twelve months. So it’s a bit more than just ‘it’s‘. Get it, it’s all over ….

But it isn’t . It’s only just started . The devil is in the detail, and there is a devilish amount of detail. I don’t just want to rant on about Brexit negotiations, all negotiations are detailed and complex . Flogging party stuff, like what we do , should be pretty straightforward. Like..

Morning ‘Guv’ ‘ere’s my bit of red, white, and blue bunting (please note this subtle tale of patriotism) is ten metres long and costs ‘nuppence’ . ‘Ow much would you like ?

‘Guv’ replies ‘sod off’ or ‘ send me bucket loads ‘.

But it isn’t , Straightforward that is. In some cases it has taken five years to get to the ‘bucket loads’ bit.

So when it comes to something like trade negotiations. There is just a little more detail. The following is an extract from a paper relating to some negotiating over various grey areas within tariff classifications.

Tariff classification of Planed board with slightly rounded long sides (TAXUD/3177523/2019)

Classification as “wood sawn or chipped lengthwise, sliced or peeled, whether or not planed” under heading 4407? Or classification as “wood … continuously shaped (tongued, grooved, rebated, chamfered, v jointed, beaded, moulded, rounded or the like) along any of its edges, ends or faces, whether or not planed” under heading 4409?

 

This particular extract is one paragraph out of a page and a half on this one product, from a document over one hundred and fifty pages covering a load of incidentals about stuff of which is little known by man nor beast. The point being, this is just a tiny window into the enormous complexity that is commonly referred to as international trade talks.

I don’t want to rant on about the U.K. Government’s up and coming trade talks with the EU plus the ninety odd countries that it needs just to replace existing agreements. There is no point as it now just has to be done . I just feel when I read this ‘simple’ extract, it was a perfect illustration of the complexities of any negotiations. With tariff codes, for those that don’t know there is a product title number then below this there are series of sub sets . Simples !

The HS (Harmonised System) comprises approximately 5,300 article/product descriptions that appear as headings and subheadings, arranged in 99 chapters, grouped in 21 sections

Now that’s only products, it does not include services, nor intellectual property, data and load of constituent parts to various market places. What is more it only identifies a description of a product , and has nothing to do with any product standard. But I feel a rant coming , so I shall move on.

Many commercial negotiations seem on the surface, to be unnecessarily complex. Yet, particularly in larger organisations, there are many ‘Ts’ to be crossed and ‘Is’ dotted. For example, and this is a gross oversimplification and generalisation, you may have a product accepted at the lowest level within an organisation. This, then,may go to committee or at very least senior manager to approve. The next step is for it to be accepted by the merchandising department. This is to make sure it fits in store, both physically and philosophically. Then, after that, come logistics. They ensure that it can be distributed effectively throughout the estate. If this is all ok, Quality control will ensure it meets all relevant legal and ethical standards. Within this process there will some involvement from finance, to ensure that there are the resources to take this product. And that is by no means the end of the story. The organisation will at some point have to decide if it worth going through all this for just one product. The answer to that is generally ‘No’. Consequently, if you are fortunate enough to get a range selected, there will be appropriate form filling for every individual item, to satisfy every department in that chain .

Easy peezey, it is not. Oven ready it is not. Straightforward it is not. So when politicians, journalists, media types, so called experts, plus a big chunk of our population, rant on about any negotiation should be very simple and straightforward, need think again or at the very least consider the issues concerning planed board, with slightly rounded long sides….

Christmas…is it good for your ‘elf?

sickelf2

Christmas is an artificial Construct

I aways wanted to write that since I was a wee child and bumped from a key role in my school’s nativity play. Well probably not true, but I was given lead role, a few years later, as Basildon Bond, 0013. Result… and probably the reason I have such a jaundiced view of Christmas.

Churches and Children listen up, I am not saying Christmas doesn’t exist or it is bad for you, this is about, not being good for your ‘elf or your ‘welf’.

Since Victorian times, Christmas has become the ultimate consumer event of the retailers’ year. In recent times, this has extended beyond societies of mainly Christian based populations to virtually any society, of no matter what faith, as long as that society has the wherewithal to spend some money in order to experience and enjoy the ‘non’ religious aspects of let’s spend a load of money for no particular reason time of year . For crying out loud , the whole traditional Father Christmas image is  an artifical construct (got it in again) by  the marketeers of Coca Cola in the 1930’s.

For many years the Christmas season, often defined as the last three months of the year, has been the period where most within the retail sector, manufacturers, importers, distributors and of course the retailer themselves, have made their money . The rest of the years trading covered their cost base , and loosely speaking, the last quarter was the time when real profits were to be had. Within the last twenty years that has started to change . Retailing has become so aggressive, margins so pressurised that without good Christmas trading , the shear existence of those within the chain is threatened.

This is not healthy. All retailing is subject to event based peaks and troughs, whether it Christmas, Valentines Day, Easter, Mothers Day, Fathers Day, Halloween, summer sales, Boxing Day Sales, and now Black Friday. Apart from perhaps the catering and travel industry I can not think of any other market sector that has created such a bumpy annual trading period. In a weird sort of way all those events have, historically, been latched(or in some cases such as Valentines and Mother’s Day created) onto by the retailing fraternity in order to boost their business. Yet, the consequence is now the mad scramble to sell stock at any price. Perhaps a slight exaggeration, but relying on the success of such seasonality can only add to a retailer’s misery.

An example of using a season to smoothen annual trading is unusual but not unknown. A number of years ago Garden Centres, understanding that during winter they had a load of unused space and came up with the idea that they would be the perfect outlet for Christmas decorations as they had the space to display the products at their best . The consequence of this action is that they now dominate the Christmas decoration market. Conversely, the toy industry, in about the late eighties, so concerned about the size of the end of year peak at Christmas attempted a campaign to get parents to give a gift of a toy at Easter. Needless to say it was not a success. Paradoxically ,the party industry which, as Christmas is supposed to be party time, does not perform especially well at Christmas, but has become very reliant on Halloween. If it’s a poor year for Halloween, it is an especially poor year for Party retailers. Turn the clock back a few years, Christmas was the time Party Retailers revelled in it literally . Wind forward and Party Retailers become fearful of a bad Halloween and do little business at Christmas(New year is ok).

There is no magic wand to smoothing out big spikes in Retail. Yet, I have one client who started about five years ago and refused to buy product related to any major event . His business model was to make the operation profitable on everyday business. Within a couple of years he had achieved that . Any additional business created by these spikes was icing on the cake and as a consequence the core business is a lot ‘elfier’ for it (apart from all the icing -which can be very bad for your teeth).

I am not a grinch (perhaps a bit of one) but the Christmas for retailers and consumer alike, juts seems to be a load of stress. Stress in buying stuff they don’t whether is right for  those they are buying for and more often don’t really have the spare cash to afford. Then a load more cash is spent on far too much food, much of which does not get eaten. And that, that does get consumed , is because everyone overeats. No it ain’t ‘elfy, it makes you less ‘welfy’….And the Elf in the image ? By the look on his face , I think he is skiving, cos he is fed up with fat block with a beard in a red suit bossing him around. Oh and the Elves…No, they are real. They are just a transmogrication of the poor buggers stressing around in their white vans trying get that last present delivered on Christmas Eve, you were too stressed and forgot to order, for your nearest and dearest….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Perceive …or Not to Perceive ?

Related image

When Willy the Bard first wrote those (not exactly) words, he probably did not think they would be bastardised in such a frivolous manner . Well, get with the project Mr Willy , if you are listening, time moves on…

Neither would he have tolerated plagiarism, well once again move on , it’s all the rage. so that what I am going to do . I will ‘plagiarise'(felt a Gloria Gaynor song coming on, but soon stopped as I can only ever remember first lines), myself or an article written by myself for a trade publication,a couple of years ago. So much of what we see, hear or do is subject to perception.

‘….what we believe is based upon our perceptions….what we perceive depends upon what we look for….what we believe determines what we take to be true…what we take to be true be our reality…. ‘

Gary Zukav (American spiritual teacher, former Vietnam special ops vet and advisor to the American security services)

I return to it , not Gary, ‘cos I don’t know him, but perception itself as it invades every aspect of our lives and never more so.

You get up, go to the bathroom, and, invariably, stare into a mirror. What do you see? In my case , it is a ‘gormless dork’. Should Julia be passing by she might see an extraordinary specimen, she might not, but at that moment in time it is down to how she perceives me. Throughout the day everything you do will be affected by perception. So how is that entire sections, commercial, personal, religious, play, health and everything else from cradle to grave, of society seem to ignore that. A very simple example is you go into a rubbish shop ( not one selling rubbish, and not one I ‘perceive’ as being rubbish, but a bloody awful shop, plenty around just look) and think what is there about this place that the owner thinks makes it an attractive environment for a consumer to come in and buy stuff. Only this weekend we were both in Brick Lane , East London. In this street there is a very famous Beigel shop. There are actually two, only two doors away from each other . One was empty, the other had punters , literally, queing into the street. I am not suggesting one is especially bad , indeed reviews say there is little difference, and that they are owned by the same family members. The only apparent differences are the colour of the signage,  one is one hundred years older and one is open 24/7 but at 2 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon that if pretty irrelevent. My suspicion at this stage was thatthe queue created a perception that this was the best shop ??

We are plagued by the phrase ‘fake news’ but essentially most of it is about how each of us perceives a piece of information. Of course organisations of all shapes and sizes know this and manipulate that information to convince us about the message they wish to convey. Whether it be the mighty Apple, Coke Cola, BMW, Macdonalds, through every democratic political party ( even dictators use perception manipulation, its just they are less bothered about it), the worlds major faiths through to your next door neighbour (who you think are a really nice family ‘cos that’s what they want you to think, but behind the scenes they are criminal masterminds).

How was it for you….?

A pretty simple question, with potentially a pretty simple answer . Yet it is one those questions that carries a whole load of baggage and pitfalls. Does the questioner want a truthful answer …?

Hi Alf, its been a great summers day , hasn’t it ? Blue sky all day, birds singing…

Nah Liz, I got burnt in the sun, my fault, but then I tripped over some idiots bike in the park and broke my wrist on the footpath….so it ain’t been that great…just remembered I got fired ….

At this time of year, within our industry,immediately post Halloween , the question on every one’s lips is how was it for you (or rather for everyone else)?

Well the answer is not so straight forward ‘cos it was different for most. There are local issues that have affected some in completely different ways. For example one customer had a very good Halloween because a competitor had closed but another not so good as major road works hampered their customer flow , so it was ok but not great. But for some ‘it were great’.

Marks & Spencer’s have recorded their eighth year of falling clothing sales and consequent decline in profitability. Yet over a similar period, selling presumably similar product (clothing) Seasalt has recorded ten years of annual growth exceeding 20%.

Their gross profit increased last year from 55-57% and their net profit was five times higher than last year at £2.5 million. Their total turnover was £66 million and they have been going since 1981. So they may not as large or as long established as Marks , but they are not the the new kids on the block either. They have and are experiencing the same high street retail as everyone else, but they would have a very different answer to the the same question. Oh, and just one other thing , they dont only sell clothing but their focus is women’s clothing , Mark’s biggest problem. Come to think of it , so do Primark, so do Next and they are doing quite well, if asked how’s it for you….

It’s a question , I am regularly asked but think about, before opening my big ‘gob’. I think about who is asking and what do they genuinely want to hear. If they are having a really tough time, especially through reasons beyond their control I don’t really think they want to hear how wonderful everyone is doing (rarely quite that straightforward). On the other hand, if I figure that they are having a tough time and would want to know if others are having a better time then they may get some inspiration, motivation or just ideas that will help change the course of their business, I tell ’em.

So my theory on the post heading is….If you ask the question, consider whether you will get a truthful answer, and whether you want a truthful answer. If you are asked the question, ‘sod the questioner’, give the answer you want to give .

Happy?….who says so?

happy

A mind boggling, bonkers piece of recent research proposes that ‘Brits’ were happier in the 1880’s. How does it know? Well because they read loads of books, no,not the happy fun loving Brits of the 1880’s, but the researchers . And not really them but computers,or rather we must assume that as the claim was made that the research was conducted by going through 8 million books and 65 million articles, from that period analysing the words used that may construe a state of ‘happiness’ (14,000 to be precise). I know computers are super fast and they can work how many calories martians need to survive, without knowing what they look like. But I am not convinced they can interpet that amount of data without quantifying the quality and origins of the written pieces.

You have to question the methodology.  Infant mortality was around 15%, extreme poverty was still pretty rife, women did not have the vote, yes from the 1880’s improvements were starting to filter through to everyday life but it was hardly a bunch of roses for the average family. Whilst literacy was around the 70% mark,its hard to imagine the Smith family sitting down on a Sunday afternoon (oh yes no telly then, don’t you know …no not even X Box’s) pouring over a pile of books or the Sunday papers.

More to the point who funds this type of research and why ? More recently I read some research coming out of the Economic Research Unit (Unit not the famous Group as in ERG. I believe that Economic and Research has little to do with the ERG), where one of the economists suggested that if UK retailers embraced Halloween in the same way as the US then UK Retail would be a lot more buoyant. If I remember correctly they said something like ….if more retailers stocked Halloween, novelties, cards  ( what Halloween cards? flipping ‘eck-my words), decorations and dress up stuff…. What are these people smoking when they write this stuff.

Only this week more amazing research has come out showing that an interview is decided within the first seven words the interviewee has spoken. The study was carried out with the interviewers not knowing the background or seeing the cv of the person they were interviewing . So the candidate who drops their ‘h’s ‘, talks with a west indian patois, interlaced with a heavy geordie accent,  with a  background of having spent ten years in medical research, developed a cure for brain cancer, climbed everest, given numerous presentations to the UN and has written 23 best selling novels under a pen name(so they dont recognise his name) in his spare time , has little chance of getting the job ‘cos they don’t know anything about them and can’t understand a word they are saying.

I know the media only publishes this stuff as fillers,but ultimately they get funded by someone, and someone else (plus the first someone) will make use of the results. Its a bit like the Coffee is good from you one week , bad for you another, no alcohol is better for you  then the following week and half bottle of whsky a day will stop you going bald. you pick the one that suits you best and take the consequences.

Worse still it feeds into the fake news narrative. Not that this type of research is fake news per se. But taken in isolation and out of context , it most certainly is. Why is society littered with ‘fad diets’ ? Because a bit of research has just shown that by eating the grass in the park twice a week will help you loose ten kilos, make you faster, fitter, more intelligent and more attractive to the local farmers cattle. No, of course , it hasn’t really, just trying to illustrate the idiocy of some the apparent data that the media is so keen to dispense.

So it’s nearly one hundred and forty years since we, in the U.K., were happy. Not so, says research published in The Times, only last week. Apparently, despite all the political and social discord, we are , mostly, all pretty happy now ?? See chart below if you doubt me(perish the thought now!) and this was additional research published in , no less than, the Financial Times , in May .