Thursday, 27 December 2012

What would improve this country in 2013? Let's have a rant...

Bombastic Battleaxe has a good old rant:.This is just a brief list of things that I'd like to see happen... Some are big things, some small, some possible, some very difficult:

1. For us in this country, both government and people, to have a realistic understanding of our current place in the world.  We are no longer an internationally significant power, and it is time we gave up posturing on the world stage, and in particular, supporting the world view of the USA.  I acknowledge the manifold virtues of our Brave Troops, (one would get vilified beyond belief if one didn't) but they should not be risking their lives for so little.
     Likewise, we are never going to be a wealthy country again. Our time is past.  It is no use our government telling us that we have to go through short, or even medium-term austerity in order to 'recover'. We need to be taking a hard look at what needs to be done to preserve the fabric of our society into the future, safeguard the vulnerable etc.
2.  No more Page 3 girls in the Sun. For goodness sake, have we not yet got past that?  When did 'feminist' become a dirty word?  It was hard enough being a young girl back in the 60s and 70s. These days, there is even more pressure to have the right shape, the right hair, the right clothes, the right phone - and never a single wisp of body hair.... Sexism is still rife in government, the media, in industry - throughout society - and embraced by the major religions.
3Get rid of these incompetent, money-grabbing private companies who are making millions out of pretending to get work for the jobless. There are not enough jobs available, and the number of low-skilled jobs is falling, and will continue to fall. We choose - rightly - to have a basic welfare safety-net that does not permit our fellow citizens to starve to death on the streets before our eyes, meaning that our menial, low-paid jobs will inevitably be taken by people from other countries who do not have such a safety-net. It would help if people trying to get back into work were not dealt with so stupidly by the benefits system. We need a more flexible system of tapering down benefits for low earners, and it is far too easy to employ people on insecure, short-term, no guaranteed hours contracts. We can't expect people with families to support to put up with conditions like that - of course they will stay on benefits.
     What to do?  Give the work creation money to small enterprises to encourage them to employ more people, restructure the benefits system as above, and above all, do everything possible to skill up the population.
     At the very least, we must ensure that as many people as possible are literate and numerate. It is estimated that around 20% of UK schoolchildren are functionally illiterate and innumerate when they leave school. Despite constant tinkering with the education system, these figures have apparently not changed much in 20 years. I don't know whose fault it is, but it is utterly disgraceful.
4. Stop building on flood plains, stop people paving over their frontages.  Apparently wet weather is here to stay - well, until it gets dry again. I never again want to see some suit from a water company standing in a dried-up reservoir telling us there will have to be a hose-pipe ban, when they have invested absolutely none of their obscene profits into improving water storage, infrastructure, or stopping leaks.
5. Stop hitting on the poor and vulnerable with ill-thought out benefit cuts. Get a fairer tax system. If we do want decent education, an NHS, and to look after the old and vulnerable etc etc. then the money has to come from somewhere, and the better-off have to cough up their share.  We have all been deluded by successive governments into believing that we can have everything we want without paying more tax.  Well, we will have to pay.
     Universal benefits are unsustainable.  No free stuff for better-off pensioners, no child-benefit for better-off mothers etc. Sure, we won't like it, but the good times are over. While we are at it, we need to ensure that the young are saving for their pensions, or society really will collapse.
6. Get the government some decent advisers.  Who on earth are they employing these days? I dislike the Coalition intensely, but it does no-ones credibility any good to utter a load of nonsense one day, and have to change it or retract it the next. Fuel panic and 'jerry-cans in the garage', pasties, grannies, selling off forests, the mess-up around gay marriage - the list goes on. And those are all small things. What about big strategic decisions? Or probable lack of strategy - most 'policy' seems to be addressed to the short-term.
7. Do something about packaging! It is just after Christmas, so my fingers are smarting from wrestling with shrink-wrapped, bubble-packed, heat sealed stuff. There is altogether too much nasty plastic and unnecessary cardboard. It is a waste of resources, and far too much of it is impossible to get into.  How do old people manage? I know this is a small beef compared with the others, but it is so annoying.  Don't get me started on light bulbs...
8. Let something horrible happen to our red-faced, arrogant toff of a Prime Minister, and his nasty, smirking little side-kick, the Chancellor.  I know that won't happen, but one can hope.......

Friday, 14 December 2012

Let's say No to Tesco in Ore

Tesco has applied to open an Express Store in the empty Oddfellows pub in Ore Village. This is a bad business.
Last night we went to the well attended public meeting.  Two people were there from Tesco - one a 'Communications Consultant', and the other a young woman who had been working for Tesco for only six months.  Neither of them put up a remotely convincing performance, and clearly neither had done their homework about the local area.
I have seen places where the addition of a new national chain 'local' store can enhance the quality of shopping and hence the footfall.  Ore is not such a place, for the reasons listed below.
The objections to a Tesco in Ore are clear:
1.  The site is not physically suitable. The old pub is jammed into the 'V' of the junction of the A259 and Fairlight Road, surrounded by double yellow lines, bus stops etc. Deliveries would increase congestion on already very busy roads, and there is no parking provision. Tesco clearly do not expect customers for the new store to arrive by car, but they will try - and park illegally, causing yet more congestion and safety hazards.
2. The community is already very well-served by the existing Ore shops, and by the Co-op. Tesco would sell nothing different or extra.  The Tesco representative said that most Express customers come from within a 500 metre radius of the store - i.e they walk there.  There is only a finite population within 500 metres of Ore Village, and presumably they already use the Ore shops. Logically, then, any trade for the new store will be taken away from existing shops.
3. The 'get out of jail' card of 'creating 20 jobs' has already been played by Tesco. In fact, given that existing stores would either have to lay off staff or close altogether, the net jobs gain would probably be nil.
4. It was conceded that the principal competition for the new store would be the Co-op. However, the Co-op is part of a trusted national chain with high standards of ethics.  Over the years it has built good links with the local community, and above all, it is a good store with an excellent range of goods for its size. It even has a car park, on its flat roof. There is no good reason for allowing Tesco to attack the Co-op through meaningless, cut-throat competition. Also, as a national chain, Tesco is known to have lost its 'edge', and to have taken some poor strategic decisions.  It is not easy to trust what they say.
5. The Tesco representatives were asked what the new store would bring to the community.  All they could come up with was some general flannel about food banks in other stores (using goods donated by customers, I assume), and giving £500.00 to local charities. Even if they had done a shred of research about their proposed catchment area, they would know, for example, that it includes pockets of high social and economic deprivation. It should not have been hard to tailor their flannel accordingly, and showed that for Tesco, commitment to community regeneration does not run deep.
6. Clearly, the local community does not want Tesco. A  petition with nearly 2,000 signatures was handed to the Tesco representative.  It would be interesting to know the population of the stores proposed catchment area.....

However, Tesco does not have to apply for planning permission to use the pub premises, only for minor alterations to the building.  It will be easy for the Planning Committee to accede to Tesco and nod this through.
     Clearly, something has to happen to the empty building, which is now becoming run-down. In the ideal world, it should be a pub again - a community owned cafe-bar?  Or maybe the Library could move into the building?  I know these things cost money, which people do not have....However, Tesco is probably the worst use possible.  It would be better to knock the whole building down and make a car park.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Golden Rules for running a successful small shop

When it comes to shopping, Battleaxe knows her stuff.  In addition to life-long shopping, she also ran a vintage clothes shop in Birmingham, Retro Bizarre.
     This list underpins the choice of the top shops in Hastings and St Leonard's, which appears on Hastings Battleaxe.
1. Advertise opening hours clearly, and stick to them consistently
Make sure opening hours are clearly listed outside the shop, and are consistent with those listed on websites, in local guides etc.  Once hours are listed, stick to them. If staff have to leave the shop unattended during opening hours, avoid the 'Back in five minutes' notice on the door. Instead, the notice should show the time the shop will re-open. If you have changed hours for holiday periods, make sure these changes are advertised clearly and well in advance.
2. Have a sensible pricing strategy
Unless you sell something very necessary and specific, you want to attract browsers into your shop, and to convert browsers into buyers. Enough items in the shop must be at a price that an average browser in the area will readily pay for an impulse buy.. People enjoy buying things, they will feel good about the shop if they do buy something - then they will get to know you and return for more expensive items. We are not talking about running Poundland here, but too much overpriced/expensive stock is a recipe for failure. On the other hand, don't have too much reduced/sale stock constantly on display - people do like a bargain, but it also looks a bit tired and desperate. Make sales infrequent, and special.
3. Control stock
Shops with too little stock on display are daunting, and unappealing to the browser. Too much stock is just as bad.  Too much money is tied up in it, you can't display it properly, and it is confusing for the shopper.  Given too much choice, they often leave with nothing. Vintage shops are often bad at this. If shoppers have to struggle to look through tightly packed rails, clothes get damaged, and people lose heart. Make sure stock on display is renewed/changed round sufficiently often to keep customers interested.
4. Make the shop, and the stock, pleasant and easy for customers to navigate.
If you have a clothes shop, make sure it is warm enough for shoppers to want to try things on.  Have enough mirrors and a comfortable changing space. Display stock so customers can access it.  Make sure everything has a clearly marked price, and for clothes, the size.  Have a seat or two available - and definitely have a 'man creche' if you sell women's clothes. Give people space to browse - for example, don't display cards right by the shop door, or in a narrow passage. Make sure shop, stock and staff are clean, and all smell nice.
5. Ensure staff are 'customer aware'
All customers should be greeted when they enter the shop, and staff should then ascertain if they want something specific, or would prefer to be left to browse. Staff should be knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the stock, friendly, accessible, but not intrusive. Staff should not chat to their colleagues, friends, or on the phone to such an extent that customers feel ignored, or as if they are intruding. Customers like it when staff remember them from previous visits - they will often choose small shops over big chains because of the personal factor.

These things sound simple, and don't cost money. Very often, small shops don't do them. Such shops come and go quickly in areas like Hastings and St Leonard's - the margin between success and failure is small.