Copy cars or copy cats?

Most suppliers of branded goods pour vast amounts of resources into protecting their brands from counterfeits, knockoffs or poor imitations. Within our industry we are all very aware, of what suppliers are trying to do to mitigate this.

However, the images below suggest, and this is not the first time I have said this , ‘you got no bloody chance ‘

Courtesy of, a U.K. Car Magazine.

I make no apologies about using pictures to paint this story .

This is an example of fake Cartier watch on a web site quite clearly stating it is a fake.

So do we all give up and go home. No, of course not, ‘cos if we did the fakers would have nothing to fake! Whilst we need to be diligent and aware of what is going on and discourage any vendors from selling these counterfeits, but to spend copious amounts of resources in trying to eliminate the fake, we should use those resources to develop, create and innovate and keep ahead of the flattering (there are better invectives) fakers. 

There is another aspect to counterfeiting, about which we need to be a little more circumspect. I don’t walk around with a halo around my head , and on trips, especially to the Far East but not uniquely, I have been tempted to buy the odd counterfeit watch. Its a strange phenomena, that when we leave these shores we think it is a bit of fun , but if we were offered the same item in a pub we would (or some would) exclaim ‘..we wouldn’t touch that with a barge pole..’ . Now I suspect there are very few decision makers  of all types of suppliers, importers and retailers who have not bought the odd counterfeit Gucci handbag, Louis Vuitton case or a Cartier watch for a ‘bit of fun’ in some foreign clime, down some dingy night market. Essentially are our actions any different from that consumer who buys a knock off of our own product that they happen to buy in their home country ?

No they are not.

 None of this a justification for a counterfeit. I am just trying to illustrate how tough it is to fight it from the supply end , and then how tough it is to change consumer psychology.

Retailing is hard….but perhaps all is not lost…

Phillip Day , owner of Edinburgh Woollen Mill , has recently been quoted as saying the retail market is as hard as it has ever been. No doubt retailers  such as M&S , would not disagree, as they go through another shake up , trying to reinvent themselves yet again (I believe part of their problem is that they think they reinvent themselves, whilst in reality they paint over cracks and dint look much different to 20 years ago ). The problems are not confined to the UK , a retail analyst in the USA, birthplace of all things retail, has predicted that at least 50% of all shopping malls in the USA will close within 15-20 years.

Yet, Phillip Day currently goes from one success to another. Having completely restructured and revived the Edinburgh Woollen Mill, he has bought other ailing retailers such as Peacocks, Austin Reed and only last week Jaegers. Interestingly, he, rightly, turned his nose up at BHS, saying that there was nothing that could be done with it. 

Going back to the M&S situation, highlights the problem that many retailers, independent and multiples face( the Arcadia group was over 9% down on like sales at Christmas-might also be something to do with their boss) and that is the need to change and innovate. Yet don’t or can’t . The ‘can’t ‘ is invariably down to lack of funds or creativity. Which is why people like Day succeed as they appear to have both.

If the High Street was doomed why do the likes of Amazon, start to open stores ? Consumers still enjoy the experience of shopping . Retailers need to understand what that ‘enjoyment ‘ entails . The successful shopping centres are those that offer alternative experiences such as cinemas and restaurants. Many retailers feel that these outlets only take spend away from them and all that is left is a ‘browsing consumer ‘ with nothing left to spend . I suspect there is a lot of truth in that belief. However, on the flip side many stores are not much fun either. Poor service levels, low comfort levels ( I confess to not being a great shopper, but surely there can’t be a bigger turn off than over hot  department stores, both in winter and summer, lousy service and product selection) , lack of innovation and bad inventory control both in stock levels and product choice and innovation. Having personal experience of how long the ‘new product buying process’ can take (and that includes independents) , is it no wonder the consumer turns to their screens to buy . 

Another piece of recent research says that the age group 21-34 , still has intentions to spend but not on things but on experiences . Within our own industry i.e. Party, we are part of those ‘experiences ‘ and should be able to capitalise on that spend. In part this means enacting the retail cliche of creating ‘theatre’ . I beleive if a consumer walks into a retail outlet and comes out (even if they don’t buy the first time) and thinks I enjoyed going into that store they will be back and they will spend . Moreover, I firmly believe , they will return to that store before buying online. How can I be so sure? Cos I have seen it happen, and I know enough good retailers to know it works for them.

There are many other issues facing retailers, however, if they don’t get their own basics right, they have no chance and all will be lost.

Oy! you! Yes you know who you are….read this !

Dropped into a recent telephone conversation from an old friend (yes, you do know who you are) , he said…(there’s a clue, he must be male)

When I see your blog on Facebook, I read the first paragraph, and don’t go on any further because I say to myself , I am no longer involved in the business so I don’t need to know any of this 

Well what is ‘this’? Trying reading a bit more this time to find out.

With two months remaining for the current fiscal year to come to an end, the execution of the Finance ministry budget is at 96 per cent, according to Rwamuganza.

 Rwamuganza also said that Rwanda will continue to enhance savings and lending in the long term through treasury bonds.

As of February 2017, Rwanda had issued Treasury Bonds worth over Rwf190 billion since 2008, according to figures from the National Bank of Rwanda.

Rwanda NewTimes May 11th 2017

That has absolutely nothing to do with the Party Industry. So what has it got to do with ? Nothing(unless you are Rwandan) and everything.

We are all , to some degree, guilty of being judgemental. Everyone of us, at sometime makes an assumption about something or someone with very little information to support our beliefs.

All individuals and all societies, no matter where in the world, make judgement calls on the basis that they can’t be bothered, don’t have access to the resources , or just assume there is nothing more to know. It can stretch from Pacific Islanders thinking the Duke of Edinburgh is a god, to a native of these islands,who doesn’t want to travel abroad because they can’t stand foreign  food , yet they probably have a curry once a week ( is that foreign food?). 

Even on a more mundane level, don’t watch news, cos it is always bad….don’t watch telly cos it is rubbish….don’t read books, they’re boring….aubergine? Naah, foreign muck….I can almost guarantee that we will have one conversation, every day, in which either party will make a call on something or someone, which is completely unsubstantiated.

Occasionally, we won’t have access to relevant information (as with the Pacific Islanders!) to make the correct judgment. But that is not what this about . This is questioning our proclivity to making lazy judgements. Regrettably, we all loose out because of this tendency. We don’t eat things , see, hear or read things, engage with particular individuals , go to places, because we can’t be fagged to investigate.

These are a few examples of common ‘judging a book by its cover’ or alternatively, ‘ you don’t know until you tried it’ :Japanese food, Manon des Sources, Mary Beard, The Wire, War and Peace, and of course the French.

Now here a few things I wish I had been judgemental and knew less about…Trump, macaroni (hate it with a passion and I have eaten it a lot , a long time ago ), Richard Branson , Campari (even though it looks nice),  Towie, Lassie, and any biography of anyone alive under 40.

Does it matter ? Yes and sort of no. Yes, because we all miss out making inaccurate decisions and inevitably miss out on somethings that we like. No, because History is littered with horrendous events where decisions have been made on assumptions and little knowledge and there is no reason to think that will change.

So back the Rwanda NewTimes. I have seen this article (or rather I found for my idle mate) and I assume it has no relevance to me but I shan’t take the time to find out. And my friend, well if he did not read on he will not find out he is an idle git.

Chicken or egg…egg or chicken….

The latest retail figures indicate that there has been a fall in retail spending in the last quarter. My personal findings reflect this, in so much as many of the retailers within our industry have experienced a very flat March and April. This, in itself, is a milestone as my findings rarely tally with those of the professional analysts. 

There are many reasons for this, such as creeping inflation, static wages, confidence in the future , Brexit (who said that ?), late Easter, too cold, too hot, wrong type of dry weather, poor English wine harvest, lettuce shortage and the list goes on. With so many influences, it comes as a bit of a surprise that anyone is buying anything .

The fickle finger of flippancy could , rightly, be pointed, fairly and squarely, at me. Whatever the reason, the consumer is not spending. But then why should they. I blogged before on how I think many developed economies are at a point where constantly increasing retail spend will be difficult to achieve as the consumer maybe reaching a point of they don’t need anything more (this, of course, precludes essential spending such as food and replacement clothing).

What to do? One of the basic principles of a good retail business is  controlling cash flow . Consequently, when spending falls you have to scrutinise and manage your stock positions . Scrutinise and Manage being the operative words. It does not mean you don’t buy new product. Without new stock, particularly when you are retailing non essentials, there is an even graver risk of experiencing further declines.

There is an old story about a man who had an apple stall in the market. It went something like this..

An apple sellers son came back from business school and said ‘ dad haven’t you heard there is going to be recession? Buy less stock.’ So the man does. And sure enough the following week his takings are down, so he buys even less stock the next week. Eventually he rings his son ‘ Son, you were right business is so bad I have had to close stall…’

It is a bit of an over simplification but I think it illustrates my point, what comes first the chicken , in this case the apparent recession, or the egg being lack of stock.Even if you reduce your stock levels, there must be new product or else the customer will simply stop coming into the store. There are perfect examples throughout the High Street. One example is  M&S. Though it is more an example of the wrong new product plus it always looks the same and doesn’t appear to have anything new.

BHS and Woolworths were perfect examples of not changing quicker enough. The bigger the ship the harder it is to turn around.  However for independents, if you let your stock get too stale it becomes increasingly difficult (costly) to refresh it. 

As politicians are constantly telling us the immediate future could be bumpy. Possibly after the election, and assuming their are no shocks , confidence may rise, then there maybe a dip , if there is some leak from the press that the EU insists that the negotiations are continued in French. Then another boost as it turns out to be untrue, then its leaked that Trump is planning on draining the Atlantic and so it goes on…but we all still have to trade and be better than our competitors. By offering less of your old stock and nothing new . It is both chicken and egg.

And why am I saying this ? Regrettably, I see a lot of tired old stock both as a consumer and travelling around the U.K. in a ‘professional ‘ capacity. It is not a good look but more importantly it does not augur well for the future of those stores.

Vote, vote, vote again and then a bus comes….

It is the proverbial bus analogy you wait ages for one then they all come together. Ironically buses of late have taken a political hue, as they seem to be the weapon of choice for various political parties . A strange choice when most of us don’t have an particularly good relationship with them. We are either fed up waiting for one, cheesed off stuck behind one or really hacked off because we have just been cut up by one. There again, I suppose it is not dissimilar to our relationship with political parties.

Our new national hobby of regularly popping off to the ballot box is quite tame compared to somewhere like Italy who has had more than 65 governments since 1945.  However ,there is a large chunk of the UK’s population who vote most Saturday nights for someone or something on tv talent shows. 

But what does it mean for all of us ? On a day to day basis, it is six weeks of media political bla bla. Promises, lies, hypothetical tosh and ‘we are better than the others, cos we say so..the NHS is no danger…we will raise/lower your taxes….we love everybody….we will lead you to the promised land…’. However, the consequences of this bun fight, is those who don’t really care , will carry on as before , those who consider the options, will do exactly that, and consider. They are unlikely to make extraneous or unnecessary purchases because of the uncertainties that come with an election especially this one. Ultimately, we are not talking about huge changes but it is the small percentage changes that make the  big differences in running a business in today’s climate.

If we were a nation such as the Italians, or the Belgians who had  no government for nearly two years making little difference, we would probably ignore the political shenanigans. But we are not . We are certainly a nation of the indifferent and the concerned. I am certainly in the ‘concerned ‘ camp, not from the outcome perspective, but from the importance of having a vote to influence any particular outcome. For the ‘ unconcerned ‘ , who may well believe they can’t make any difference whatever they do, this is one opportunity that if you think all politicians are the same , return a spoilt ballot paper. If a chunk of those who regularly don’t vote returned spoilt ballot papers, this could represent a substantial portion of the electorate. A 10% return of spoilt ballot papers would have a seismic impact of politicians of any persuasion. 

Not voting has no impact and no say. But what  really gets me going, is the continuous drivel about what Brexit means to you, your job, your wages, the price of fish , the colour of your passport and whether we will sign a fantastic trade deal with Papua New Guinea. Currently it means nothing to anyone because nobody has the slightest idea what it will be. So please, considering that we have to let politicians bleat for six weeks , just tell us what you would like to do as opposed to what you  claim you will do if your aunt was your uncle .

For the rest of us we have to get on with what we do, assume nothing, and plan with what we know rather than considering the impact of the impact of the  Papua New Guinea trade deal. 

Back to buses… maybe it would make life very difficult without them, but nothing like as difficult if we didn’t have the vote .

Financial Crisis ? Avoid dental floss !

The thieving gits ! The penny pinching, mealy mouthed, underhanded bunch of robbing swines!

An esteemed organ of our virtuous press has just discovered that our nation’s supermarkets are making up their ‘weakening ‘ margins by increasing the margins on items they don’t sell much of. Well, never having been a financial director (or even met or sat next to one, as far as I know) of a supermarket chain , I can see the amazing logic…’let’s look at the products we sell the least off and ramp up the profit margins . That will show them foreign discounters, what’s what!…’

Apparently, under inflationary pressure through  the comparative weakness of sterling, the nations storekeepers are seeking to improve their margins on items such as dental floss, water filters, cashew nuts and fresh trout.

I am no apologist for U.K grocery outlets. Over the years as a supplier I have been at the wrong  end of their very pointy sticks , as I am in no doubt many suppliers will, currently, be feeling a similar sharp end. However, to suggest they are using this tool to rebalance the books is way off kilter. 

Since last June 2016, it was inevitable that inflation had to creep back into the nation’s shopping basket. All multiples will have had forward currency contracts (I have read JD Sports had a contract on sterling/ dollars at $1.45 until the end of this 2017?) as would most prudent suppliers. However, most of these will be coming to their end and the new ones will be at rates around 10% lower. Supermarkets are not charities . They are commercial enterprises designed to create profits for their investors. If they don’t make profits and seem to be developing strategies for constantly increasing profits , they will no longer attract investors and seek to exist. There are alternative business models, such as Cooperatives, but within the U.K. their offer is not deemed especially attractive to the consumer (6.1% share of the 2016).

So if they try to increase their margins by ‘profiteering ‘ on your fresh trout and cashnew nuts rather than fresh bread and milk (but pay their suppliers more!) than so be it. Just for once, this is not the greatest crime they have committed. They are guilty of others but I suspect the ‘fresh trout syndrome’ is purely a reflection of a cost increase that can be relatively easily passed on. The other purported crime is decreasing pack sizes. Well that ain’t nothing new. It has been a technique oft used when supplier and retailer want to maintain a retail price point and both are under cost pressures. Both are examples of the few occasions when suppliers and retailers get bad press trying to do the right thing.

Regrettably, we are all facing a period of inflation beyond our control. Consequently one of the few ways of minimising its effect is to avoid dental floss and fresh trout.

Alphabet  Soup…

Only twenty six letters and they create nearly 200,000 words in the English language alone. From that number many millions of books have been written, all using the same words, the same letters , but in different combinations.

This discussion came about this weekend when seeing another tranche of recipes in the weekend papers . Julia said there are only so many ways you can dress up an omelette. This is , of course true, until tomorrow when another Chef comes with another idea. It might be rubbish but then so are many of those millions of books. That’s not really the point.

Anthony Armstrong Jones (Lord Snowdon) of royalty and picture taking fame once said he would take five hundred photographs to get one good one. So we can assume that several thousand rubbish books need to be written before you find one worth reading. That’s not really the point either.

It is mankind’s ability to be creative that sets us apart. Retail analysts have for years questioned the ability for consumer markets to continue to grow as there is nothing else for the developed market consumer to buy. Well there is currently data to support that argument. However, in 2007 Apple launched the IPhone. It was well received but it was also described as something we don’t need. We still don’t need it but up to July 2016 one billion had been sold .

That’s what makes retailing of any product or service exciting, nobody has any real idea of what the next big thing will be. In spite of any prevailing economic conditions, the IPhone was launched just prior to the financial crash of 2008, something will catch the consumers imagination . More importantly there are huge organisations investing millions of dosh to find that illusive but desirable concept that we, in turn, will part with our hard cash even if we don’t need it. Furthermore, we will queue up in the early hours of the morning to make sure we have before anyone else. What is really curious with technology, is that we are likely to pay more and get an inferior product if we queue to become early adopters. Even with Ryannair, if you buy early you pay less and get an opportunity for a ‘marginally’ better seat.

That is one of society’s dichotomies. It can be extraordinary at creating for the future , but is very poor at learning from the past. ‘Social media’ did not exist twenty years ago. It was not even a vague idea twenty five years ago. However, knowing if you stick your head above the parapet , there is a very good chance you will get an arrow in the eye, has been around for over two thousand years. If you get my drift .

This is a long way from the alphabet. I suppose what I am really driving at is no matter what is around the corner , economically or socially, there will always be opportunities as there is such a huge combination of possibilities. On a micro level, that is our own sphere of influence, it needs a level of creativity (and a bit of luck) to discover your own personal metaphorical ‘IPhone ‘ . Just remember, whatever it is, derives from only twenty six letters and only ten digits (0-9).

We can no longer rely on just knowing what sold well yesterday.

Populism…I think not ….

Both the UK and International media have droned on about the current string of ‘Populism ‘ first started with Brexit and then Trump. I believe this is utter tosh. Well at least the Brexit bit.

The rationale of Trump’s success, as seemingly bonkers as it is, was probably underwritten by Populism. But aligning it with Brexit misses the point, if not a whole load of points.

Let’s be clear how Populism is defined . And it is a clear definition.

the principles and doctrines of any political party asserting that it represents the rank and file of the people.

This is the simplest and most common definition used by a number of dictionaries and reference sources. Ironically, it first came to light in 19 century in the States, with the Peoples Party of the USA

Well that sorts Trump out but for the most part has little to do with Brexit.

I need to declare my position, albeit I have previously posted my opinions some time ago. I voted to remain and I still believe in the EU, despite it being corrupt, undemocratic, and unaccountable, which maybe says a lot more about me! However, we have a democratic vote , which I accept and should get on with making the best of it, 

The UK has been wobbly and unconvinced about the whole ‘European thing ‘ since the day we joined. It is not even marmite ( for the hordes of international readers ‘ love it or hate it ‘). Even the most ardent remainers have had many doubts and questions, concluding with ‘there is no better alternative ‘ or something similar.

Leave , or Brexiteers, had and have many motives, ranging from immigration, sovereignty, distrust of the EU, fed up with some of its, sometimes odd, regulations ,financial inadequacy and complete lack of clarity. Within these motivations there is, of course, a feeling of disassociation from our own politicians. However, this was not the driving factor illustrated by recent ‘by elections’ where the supposed ‘populist ‘ party fared badly and is in complete disarray. If Brexit heralded a populist revival they would be wallowing in success and they are not. The overriding reason for the referendum result  was that the British public wanted to leave the EU.

I would hazard a guess that currently many mainstream European politicians are lumping the Brexit vote in with Trump and perhaps Beppo Grillo in Italy , to try and demean the UK decision as somewhat naive and oddball. If the EU politicians continue to ignore that many EU citizens disagree with many of its processes , but have never been given the opportunity to express themselves then they will only encourage the growth of truly ‘populist ‘ organisations . Then the problem arises with the Populist vacuum being invariably filled by groups who have other spurious agendas which are masked under Populism and you end up with more Trumps.

There appears to be an intentional confusion created with Populism and Nationalism . 10 years ago Le Front National in France and The Party of Freedom in the Netherlands were never described as Populist. They were classified as extreme right wing nationalists. The word Populism has helped masked their,perhaps, more extreme intentions. Pure Populism can be clothed in political clothing from either end of the scale from extreme left to extreme right and anything in between.

That all said , with an ex chancellor of the exchequer having 3 jobs plus that of an MP , with an annual income exceeding that of most people’s life time earnings, and an opposition leader who has no idea why his party’s support is plummeting, the political disconnect in the U.K. will grow. In which case there is an increasing likelihood of a real Populist reaction.

So I suppose that blows my theory out of the water. Well, not really as it has nothing to do with Brexit. 

Chain links….

Much was made in the media of a recent story about Waterstones book shops masquerading under the guise of a local independent.

They have gone into places like Southwold ‘Knightsbridge on the East coast’ painted the shop in the local ‘pastels’ and given it a name such as ‘Southwold Bookshop’ .  Now you are browsing in the warm, friendly and cosy apparently local book shop. Yet it is not.

Well, I say, in the event of most small towns not having a bookshop anymore,

 ‘So what?’

They are not imposing an anonymous national retail chain blandness on the High street. They are restoring a much missed retail outlet. But more importantly they are helping to restore part of the retail community that many of our towns so desperately need.

I am not suggesting that it is ok for Tesco’s to open up loads of ‘Ye Olde Grannies Pantries’ in the hope of conning the locals into their dens of ‘retail’ iniquity . But a bookshop is a very different proposition. Despite the explosion of e-books, the sales of printed books in 2016 rose for the first time in four years. Nevertheless, much of the purchases would have been online. If, for no other reason, there are very few bookshops left. Consequently, new bookshops have to be welcomed no matter how they are clothed.

Perhaps, there is even more significance to this development. Books were one of the first  commodities   to be targeted by online operators . Consequently, book stores were the first to suffer the consequences. This may be an indicator, no matter how small, that the market has discovered it cannot rely entirely online. There are other indicators but I think this has another significance.

Much has been discussed by retailing ‘experts’ about the dying High street, especially in small towns in the U.K. Online sales, rent, rates, and general costs to operate all figure strongly. What has only just been realised is the importance of high street retailing to a local community and by this I don’t mean places to shop. Shops are places where local people meet each other and ‘socialise ‘ in an everyday superficial level. In many situations, especially with the elderly, and those who live alone, it is the only time they get to talk to people on a day to day basis even if it is only to the person on the till. Furthermore   I suggest there is a greater chance a small child who is taken into a bookshop is likely to ask their parents to buy them a book than seeing one on a screen. That can’t be  a bad thing. 

If bookshops, in particular a chain, think there is a commercial need to return to the High Street, then they should applauded not mocked. This is not the first time I have said this but perhaps this a sign of things to come . Entrepreneurs considering ‘shops’ as an entry to market. 

However, there is proviso. If this to happen, people do have to buy something when they are in the shop !

Afro American Automobile Association…..

Or in common Poker parlance ‘four aces’.

Equality of the sexes has a long way to go in the UK. It has come a long way, but there is work ,yet to be done.

However, with the appointment of a female head of the metropolitan police, a second female  Prime Minister, and of course the Queen (even though she has nothing to  do with equality, more to do with the inequality of birth) nevertheless there are three females at the pinnacle of UK society. 

Yet only 7% of the CEO’s of the UK ‘s top 100 companies are female. It is similar figure for the total number of women engineers. Within the STEM  job statistics(science, technology,engineering and maths), the female representation is about 12%. 

Consequently, we have two opposing pictures. At the very pinnacle of power, we have women but just beneath that, the movers and shakers are still predominantly men.

So what ? We are , or indeed have, entered a period of much social and political change. Nobody is very clear in what direction we are going . It is not a new phenomena. During the twentieth century, much changed after both world wars. In the nineteenth century , the industrial revolution quite literally revolutionised for good and bad, much of the world. 

Much of what is happening today has one overriding common factor the main players within this change have been men. I am not arguing whether these changes are good or bad, the point is who are the driving forces. Ironically, one of the ‘players ‘ participating in this change (albeit unintentionally) Hillary Clinton, lost out probably , in part, due to her connection to a male dominated political history.

There are only four heads of government in Europe who are female , if you extend that to the entire world you can add another three. Despite two hundred years of  rapid social change , there are times when it may seem that the underlying forces remain unchanged.

So back to the four aces. We have,maybe, 2 aces and a Queen (after she is only a Queen, and there by dint of birth). If perhaps we had a female head of the judiciary and maybe a female Archbishop , we could lay claim to the full set. And the point would be? Perhaps, there would be a more balanced and less hysterical approach to the way in which we organise society. 

I say ‘perhaps ‘ because we don’t know the outcome. We don’t know the consequence of a more equal gender based hierarchy. Some would say that women who attain power, assume the negative trappings of men, in that ego, vanity and the corruption of power take over. Maybe they do when women are in power on their own, maybe they have to , in order to maintain power. Yet despite this, a hand full of aces has got to be worth a try.

I am sure every poker player gets over excited holding two aces. For the more cautious among us we can see the benefits of holding on for the full set. Whilst politically the aces may not suit all, but as the  other various UK political parties fail to offer female alternatives , we should accept what we have and seek to encourage the rest of our society to embolden other able females to seek out their futures as aces. 

Rightly, we are told to learn from history. With the odd exception, it repeats itself. The one thing history cannot teach as what would be the consequence of an equal society. We have never really had one (occasional small matriarchal communities). Until we do, we won’t know what it can achieve . What we do know , and what cannot be argued is that it would be equal.