Intensive care for independent retailers

For some reason it’s a call we’re received more in the last six months than for several years. It’s the call from a small independent retailer asking for our help because their business is in trouble. Sometimes it is clients calling and other times it’s not. All the calls follow the same track. “We just can’t seem to get out of the ditch.”

The shame in their voices is heartbreaking.

The callers are usually relatively new to their businesses – under two years in most cases. They’re had successful careers elsewhere and have bought the business for independence and to bring to their own business what they have been paid salaries to do elsewhere. In many cases they’ve been going to call someone for help for weeks and even months. So by the time I get the call things are desperate.

I’m no business turnaround expert. Far from it. It’s my 24 years in the newsagency business and that my software company serves about 1,300 newsagents as customers which gets them calling me.

Right now I’m aware of 14 of these businesses in what I would call intensive care. The work we do can vary from providing advice through to physically getting into the business and making changes to boost sales and or cut costs.

There are several factors causing the problems this year more so that others: a tougher than usual retail climate; years of drought; tougher supplier policies; greater competition; and, ignorance about business.

It’s this last factor which causes the most damage. Poor or ill considered business decisions which the owner does not have the capacity to weather. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in business and still do almost daily. The best ones are those you discover for yourself and learn the most from. The problem with some businesses is that there is a considerable lag from the making of the mistake to discovery and the inability of the business to cover the cost of the mistake.

For a business to make our intensive care list and encourage our help it needs an owner who understands the problem, is open and who is prepared to make tough decisions. It’s tough though because not matter what you do sometimes some small businesses cannot compete against the might of the major chains.

We take this situation very seriously. An independent retailer failing not only impacts the owners and customers of that business, it also impacts on their suppliers and other independent businesses in their space.

The Federal Government ought to be researching the plight if small business and independent retailers. Professional research would, I suspect, uncover serious problems which if not addressed could wipe out the savings of hundreds and even thousands of families.

While big business had been successful in using competition policy to get access to products and services outside their reach, small business has lost the economic fundamentals which kept them alive.

The answer is not handouts or subsidies. The answer is in smarter business support by government and the community. It is also pressure on big business to be fairer in its dealings with these small businesses.

In the meantime, we’ll keep working on the intensive care group. One learning for us is the creating of some basic measurements our clients can use to check their health – in a non business way because as soon as we put it in a report or make it a function of our software they’re think the computer does it all and that they don’t need to engage.

Independent retailers beat big business in loyalty stakes (more)

I was standing in line at the supermarket last night and thinking about customer loyalty schemes again. If my calculating are right the Coles Myer FlyBys loyalty program (tag line – make it count) provides me with benefits equal to about .6% of every dollar spent.

Later I bought petrol using the Coles discount fuel coupon I got from the supermarket. After that purchase I checked prices at three non supermarket affiliated outlets and discovered, as you would expect, that I could have easily saved three cents a litre – making the Coles four cents saving just one cent per litre. This is a discount of .8% – around the same as the FlyBys benefit.

At my local coffee shop if I buy five coffees the sixth is free. For $15.00 in spending I get a tangible benefit equal to 20%.

In my retail newsagency after buying 11 magazines (at any price) you get your 12th magazine (to $10.00 in value) free. Than equates to a benefit of between 9% and 23% depending on the cover price of the magazines purchased. (The average value equals 10% discount.)

At my local butcher if I buy four sausages (fresh made on the premises) I get a fifth at no cost. A 20% discount.

At the local baker if I buy four muffins I get another two for no extra cost. 33% discount.

If I buy meat, bread items and magazines at a Coles, the very best I can do, if my sums are right, is .6%. Not even 1% but .6%.

When they use the tag line make it count I now understand what they mean. Use flybys so they can count what you buy, with what and when.

Independent retailers have a perfect opportunity in the loyalty stakes to demonstrate their real value to consumers. A bit of comparative advertising never went astray.

Independent retailers demonstrate loyalty every day through personal service. National and global chain retailers can’t match this so they come up with gimmicks that fake loyalty and fake good service. And I guess they do this because they know that enough consumers will be hoodwinked.

Loyalty programs are on my mind at present because we’re (at my software company) playing in this space wise to finesse our offering. However, I don’t want to provide tools which will deliver discounts without tangible benefits for users of our software. Like in my own retail business for example. We can see the benefits to us of our magazine promotion. It’s paying for itself every day. But that takes discipline to measure it’s performance so closely. Others may not be as vigilant.

There is no point in giving something away if you get the business anyway. I’ve seen too many software packages which put loyalty facilities in without the appropriate business case and small business users end up giving away more than they need to or should.

While I’m not sure where we will end up, I am sure that it will be economically viable for our small business colleagues and more valuable to consumers than anything the major retail chains offer.

My preference is for quick gratification programs where you early the reward quickly and where the benefit is genuinely valuable to the consumer.

I think I’ll send my FlyBys card back to Coles and stick with the independents.

Independent retailers blitz big business in the loyalty reward stakes

Standing in line at the supermarket yesterday it amazed me how many people had their loyalty card out ready to be swiped. I could almost see the glint in their eye about the benefits they’ll get from the points they earn from their trolley of purchases.

I reckon it’s a con.

While they shop for hours on end to get enough points to redeem a DVD or even a night at a hotel, the retailer gets instant rewards by matching each shopper against what’s in their basket. They know the shoppers name, age, gender, family situation, address and other data about them and theirs.

The data being gathered against each consumer is worth more than is being paid for it by the retailer in the form of points and it’s time someone did an expose on what a rort these loyalty schemes are.

I prefer the coffee shop approach. Get a card, get is stamped for each coffee purchased and after a few days you get a free coffee. Way more valuable. It’s what I’d call a true loyalty reward program. Not some data grab dressed up as a loyalty scheme.

This is just another example of independent retailers offering more value to consumers. Real value.

I should acknowledge that I have some experience with this as a retailer. We use a simple loyalty scheme in my shop (a newsagency) for magazine purchases. Compare this to the flybys loyalty scheme at Coles supermarkets and you’ll see that ours is considerably more valuable.

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Even though we’re an IT company (as well as retailers) we have deliberately made this card manual. Our research indicated that consumers like to see how their “bank” is building. It works. Our magazine sales are way above industry average growth.

Eating your own

We have about 1,300 clients is a particular retail channel and that represents more than half the number of retailers in the channel with what would be considered event remotely current technology.

A few weeks back a company working the same channel but servicing a different (non point of sale/scanning) need decided they had to install software on the hardware running our system. This was unusual since their systems usually ran on separate hardware.

So, their technicians head out and start installing this software unbeknownst to us. The result was a wave of calls to our help desk. It took us some time to track down the problem. It turns out that the software they were installing required drivers for which conflicted with the way our software ran.

After a few days we developed a work around so our application (the main application for the technology) and their application could co-exist.

That worked fine for a week or two until more problems cropped up when their technicians started making other changes without reference to us.

Wew eventually sorted that out.

Then, this past week – about sixs weeks after this all started – some of our clients were told by an employee of this other company that our customer service was appalling. The person concerned made the comment because we refused further assistance to a client who had serious problems as a result of work done on site by their technician. The result was sever impact on the usability of our software. We had gone to extraordinary lengths for this site, putting in hours at no cost to fix problems not caused by us. When we said enough is enough the representative of the company which caused the problem became quite feral, hurling abuse at our people.

I’ve been thinking about this in the context of media reports of how much doctors look out for each other – keeping criticisms private. The same is true in the legal fraternity. No so with IT companies it seems.

Our experience this past six weeks has been most disappointing. We’ve been kept in the dark on serious changes to the configuration of hardware running our software as the main application; kept in the dark about crucial information which might have helped resolve the problems caused; and, abused (unreasonably) when we drew the line of free help we were providing.

It’s been a very testing time for us and more so for our clients. To have their businesses disrupted in this way is most disappointing not only because of the economic and emotional impact but also because of regardless of the facts, some blame will be directed at us by our clients.

The whole sorry mess could have been avoided by greater openness and testing of their proposed changes.

IT companies could learn from other professions in how to deal with each other.

Microsoft, McDonalds, Starbucks and our community

McDonalds changes potato supply contracts and is likely to now source half its potato requirements outside Australia. Starbucks (and their ilk) are pushing the better coffee makers (the independents) out of high street and mall locations across Australia. Woolworths wants to grab prescription business from chemists. Microsoft are pushing their Point of Sale software on small business and competing with companies like mine.

Small and independent businesses provide local jobs, locally attuned service, unpredictability (which is to be cherished) and a vital economic role.

Small and independent businesses would not put Tasmanian potato growers out of work. Nor would they control the apple crop as we see happening elsewhere as a result of global corporation control. Nor would they seek undue influence over children at an influential age.

But despite all of this and all of these honorable benefits, small business cannot match big business because we’re weak at working together against the global giants.

The only lesson the global giants will learn from one is the lesson we mete out at the register.

Small business owners, their employees, families and customers should all buy local, keep the jobs local and maintain local culture. We should eschew the once size fits all world of the clone global companies. Our lives will be better for it.

Clonisation of Australia’s shopping malls and high streets is not good for the country.

Dell customer focus under attack

Ah, the power of the blog.

The respected journalist Jeff Jarvis yesterday, in a post headed Dell lies. Dell sucks, shares his tail of woe following the delivery of a new Dell laptop and subsequent problems with its operation. His post is best summed up by this quote:

But what really irks me is that they say if they sent someone to my home — which I paid for — he wouldn’t have the parts, so I might as well just send the machine in and lose it for 7-10 days — plus the time going through this crap.

Within less than 48 hours of the post, 85 comments have been made, many continue the negative theme. Some posts by Mac lovers and others by Mac haters. As you would expect. One post by a Dell employee valiantly trying to support the company.

Based on the known facts, Dell have demonstrated through their treatment of Jarvis that their claims re customer service could use some work. They should have jumped on this problem immediately and eliminated the opportunity for a problem – regardless of who the client is.

In the blogoshpere word of keystroke is stronger and faster and more wide reaching than word of mouth.

McLibel, globalisation and independent retailers

Good to see the McLibel film on the SBS network last night.

Good not only because of the story itself – a long running defamation case brought by McDonalds against Helen Steel and Dave Morris about flyers they were handing out – but because of the questions it raises about giant global businesses and their value for communities.

While McDonalds is the key focus of campaigns at places like McSpotlight.org, independent retailers should be leveraging their customer traffic with their own united global message about the importance of independent businesses on social, economic and cultural grounds.

This is like the anti smoking campaigns of the 60s and even the 70s. People don’t understand and we’re not doing a good job in getting our message out there. The world may not realise that it does not want a cloned retail landscape until it is too late.

Independent retailers ought to be spearheading this campaign and doing so aggressively. This is survival we’re talking about. Too many small businesses are closing and with each closing we lose a bit more of our local differences. I want to be able to buy eight different types of potatoes. Companies like McDonalds and their buying power make this less likely.

Global businesses are bad for jobs, bad for culture, bad for prices and bad for small economies.

Local businesses support community and culture. They hire locally. Profits are spent locally.

I care because my software company serves only independent retailers. It’s a choice I made 24 years ago and one I am proud of today.

It begins with us. We need to support local businesses above national and global businesses – with mission like zeal.

4,000,000 shopping baskets

We have been neck deep in shopping basket data from 60 small business users of our software. The data, 4,000,000 transactions worth, is helping us to develop some industry benchmarks on basket penetration by category

We were lured into this analysis by a question from a supplier to the channel. Once thing led to another and soon we were wading deep in data and creating several new reports to analyse basket data from several angles.

We’re seeing significant differences between rural, high street and shopping mall businesses. That’s to be expected though. The more significant difference is between the businesses themselves. We’ve ranked basket penetration across several categories and this helps us understand and compare businesses. So, we’ve taken this understanding and talked with several of the businesses involved to explain what we think the data means. The feedback from those businesses has been excellent … it’s beyond the traditional software company role but one we’re enjoying and learning from.

To see that one product category is in more than 50% of all baskets leaving the business channel and that in 60% of those cases it’s a single product sale. That’s a dangerously skewed business which needs to look at blance.

McDonalds, small business and Tasmanian potatoes

McDonalds continues to receive a beating in the press about their decision to switch suppliers for some potatoes they source and that this switch will most likely lead to potatoes being sourced offshore.

The only pressure McDonalds will understand will be that applied at their cash register.

It’s the same with the McDonalds desire to sell milk and newspapers. Every sale drawn away from an independent retailer pushes that retailer closer to extinction and delivers to McDonalds more power and we’ll realise the mistake of this when it is too late.

Governments around the world ought to protect the remaining independent and small businesses. This protection could take the form of subsidies, operational assistance and tax breaks so that in economic terms these standard bearers of community and culture can survive and keep our countries as unique as they are.

Chemists win against Woolworths, for now

Great to see that the government has extended the rules banning supermarkets from operating pharmacies. The extension is for only six months though. In that six months chemists ought to mobilise consumer and their employees. Pressure the government for a longer extension and prove it’s the right move by providing exceptional service.

Competitions work at encouraging engagement of small business with software

We’ve now run our second contest with our client base in an effort to have then engage with our software on a deeper level. It’s working. They are using parts of our software many were ignoring and this is leading to more business questions – that’s the goal of our strategy.

While in many respects how our users use our software is none of our business. I don’t want to be that detached. Having created the software and got it out to many small and independent retailers across Australia and New Zealand I want to ensure that our client base is engaging with the software and benefiting from the knowledge it provides access to.

So, there will be more competitions and more engagement.

The POS software company / independent retailer relationship

You have to wonder sometimes where the border is in your relationship with users of your software. In my business, given that all of our clients are independent small retailers we get involved in all manner of situations – mainly at their request and in pursuit of resolution of business challenges they face.

Sometimes, though, we find ourselves having to decide whether to intervene. That in itself is usually okay since we are intervening in what I’d call a safe and professional way. Other times we have to decide to intervene where there the stakes are much higher. Like discovering theft by a business partner or discovering that the way the technology is being used is appalling.

We don’t shy away from interventions and with every one we learn more about how to do what has to be done.

I have a situation here which has taken a big chunk of this week. It involves family members at best being stupid and at worst acting criminally to the detriment of another family member. Our job is to determine the scope of the problem, gather evidence and bring the two parties together and let them know. For the offenders this will be the first they have heard about the situation.

Our goal in this instance is to turn the business around and, I suspect, help prepare it for sale.

While we could have stepped back after discovering the problems or even not got involved it’s not how we operate. I’d rather see a small business, like a newsagency, close for reasons other than stupidity or criminality. And every small business which closes in dubious circumstances besmirches the name of that channel and makes it harder for others to get financing and other necessary supports for their businesses. A business collapsing for dubious reasons has many unintended consequences for others in the channel.

This is all on my mind today as I watch Microsoft crawl around the world with their point of sale software for small business.

I wonder if they will engage with small business in the way we do and whether they will intervene if they feel they can help turnaround a bad situation?

News by press release, chemists losing their battle with the Woolworths PR juggernaut

Chemists might as well give up. Now that Ray Martin’s A Current Affair (9 Network, 15/6) is on the side of Woolworths and big business it won’t be long before the government steps in for the benefit of consumers. ACA is not alone is swallowing the Woolworths PR spin on this. While the story has been relatively quiet over recent weeks – since they launched their push in April – it has picked up pace this week. There have been stories in The Australian and the smiling Roger Corbett (Woolworths CEO) beaming at us on ACA last night.

If you believe Woolworths this is about price, consumer convenience and competition. Rubbish. This is about the money they can make off the traffic. By handling prescriptions in their stores Woolworths know consumers will spend while they wait. It’s those sales they really want. They would not chase this if there was not a buck in it.

How the journalists at ACA can allow themselves to be deluded by the big business PR push without doing serious investigation. The examples used in the ACA price comparison were useless. They did not account for the added services from the pharmacist nor was it a scientific price comparison. They chose a limited number of items, did not tell us where they came from and moved through at a great rate so they could maintain focus on the core of the story – that consumers would be better off is independent small businesses lost to the giants like Woolworths.

Supermarkets are big enough. We need to take a leaf out of the UK parliament book and research this clonisation of retail Australia.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe health Minister Tony Abbott will show that government is able to deliver a something for small and independent businesses. If they do I suspect it will because of a preference for negotiating with representatives of small business over the likes of Corbett and his colleagues who are used to getting more of their own way.

Chemists, newsagents, butchers, greengrocers, dry cleaners, florists and others ought to get together and fight this and similar battles.

I care because my business has been built over 24 years serving independent small business retailers. They are our only customers.

Small is the new big

Jeff Jarvis has an inspiring post at his Buzz Machine blog about how new technology and a lower cost to access this technology is empowering small business, independent retailers and individuals to compete on a more level playing field with big business.

His blog is full of evidence supporting his thesis that small is the new big. It’s a must read.

The key for bricks and mortar independent retailers is to leverage the new tools to enable them to compete with their bricks and mortar big business competitors. This means being faster, smarter, better. It means shedding the overhead work.

McDonalds and DVD rental: you want a movie with that?

Wired is reporting that McDonalds is expanding the trial of DVD rental in its US fast food outlets. Customers will be able to rent in one location and return in another.

With more vehicles being fitted with DVD players it’s a natural progression for people on the road – food and a movie.

It’s this leveraging of a disciplined national network where independent retailers are most challenged to compete.

UK inquiry into cloning of the retail landscape: Australia should follow their lead and support independent retailers

“My colleagues and I have become aware of the increasing concerns of our constituents, independent retailers and academics alike regarding the loss of diversity and amenity within the retail sector. Constituents have raised their fears about the breakdown of town and country life of which the retail industry is an integral part. This inquiry will look at the broad spectrum of criteria for a thriving high street and the role this plays in the community.” Jim Dowd, Chair of the All Party Small Shops Group.

The UK Parliament’s All Party Small Shops Group is to investigate trends in the UK retail market in an effort to address consumer concerns about greater centralisation – the big getting bigger. The inquiry will invite evidence from retailers, consumers, and government and enforcement bodies.

We need a similar inquiry in Australia.

The announcement of the inquiry has met with strong support if this comment piece by Terry Murden in The Scotsman is anything to go off. In his piece is a comment which fits with my blog comment when writing about McDonalds, potatoes and Tasmania:

“It is a delicate issue for those who might support the broad outline of the campaign while knowing they contribute to the problem themselves by doing their weekly shop at the hypermarket. It is also a problem for those who believe we should champion the growth of British companies. Tesco is one of the best we have got and in chief executive Sir Terry Leahy we have a genuine world-class retailer.”

I agree. On the one hand we want our businesses, regardless of size, to be successful. One the other hand we need commercial opportunities at all levels including small and micro business. Yet with the big getting bigger there are fewer of the small and micro businesses, less choice, and a tighter job market as the big pursue profits at all costs.

The UK inquiry is a good step in understanding what the consumers in the UK want and what the impact of possible change will be on High Street. The challenge will be for independent retailers to make appropriate and considered submissions to the inquiry.

At the heart of the inquiry is the question of whether consumers want to ensure the clone approach to retail which big business seems attracted to. Indeed, at The Independent, the headline for their story in the inquiry says it all: MPs open inquiry into ‘Clone Britain’. “Colonisation of high street by national brands prompts examination of future for local shopping.”

The inquiry has wide support: 50 MPs, consumer groups and a bunch of industry groups such as the National Federation of Retail Newsagents – they have issued a press release supporting the inquiry.

Back here in Australia we ought to lobby our Federal Minister for Small Business, Fran Bailey, to support a similar inquiry. Even though the government does not have a good track record for responding to the findings of such an inquiry, it has been many years since an inquiry was held into related matters.

Lobbying of the government to stop further cloning of the Australian retail landscape is something small business owners, consumer groups and industry associations ought to be pursuing with vigor.

McDonalds sneezes and a state catches cold

The power of big business over small was demonstrated again this past week with the news that the giant McDonalds group is now to source some of its potato requirements from New Zealand. There is no supply nor quality problem with Australian potatoes. This decision is about money. Potato farms across Tasmania will be hit hard if media reports are accurate.

There any many angles to this story but the media is currently concentrating on the impact on Australian farmers. The ‘goliath’ McDonalds against the ‘david’ farmers. Predictable stuff.

This is a consumer story. Consumers create the demand in McDonalds stores by ordering fries. It is their choices which have led to the closure of many locally owned fish and chip and other mum and dad fast food stores. Okay, so these independents could not compete with the glitzy McDonalds when it arrived here all those decades ago. Some would say their closure came about as a result of competition. True enough. But here we are a couple of decades on and McDonalds control what is grown, where and what the market price is.

Who wants a fast food chain to have that control in Australia? Surely it is not good for competition.

We need to educate consumers about their role. It’s the same as the plastic bag campaign and that’s working so why not a campaign about the cost associated with supporting global brands. Global organisations are wrecking havoc on independent businesses and local communities. They are sucking money out of the country and jobs off he land. They pursue a one size fits all world which crushes creativity and pursues profit above all else.

McDonalds aren’t the only bad guys – it’s just that they are in the news because of the hurt they are inflicting in Tasmania at the moment. Starbucks are known for similar harm in the coffee world. Wal-Mart in general merchandise.

There is a mission here for small and independent business to educate the world and promote the importance and value they offer communities across the country.

Every purchase a consumer makes affects communities like the Tasmanian potato farmers. This is what the stories in the press ought to be about.

If we starve McDonalds of oxygen (sales) we fix the problem.

If we care about jobs and independence then small is beautiful. Independent businesses working together while remaining independent leverage the strength necessary to beat McDonalds at their own game. But, to repeat myself, it begins at the cash register. We have to change consumer behavior.

Is point of sale technology misunderstood by small business

Take this pill and everything will be okay. That’s you’re told. You do what you’re told, you take the pill and your worries do go away. In some cases the pill is right for the condition and it fixes what ails you. In other cases the pill is not right yet you’re fixed anyway – it acts as a placebo.

Too many small business owners flock to point of sale and inventory management technology to fix problems with their business. Many think that by paying the money and putting the technology on the counter they will get the benefit they need and want.

Most don’t get the benefit.

Point of sale technology is not a pill you take. It’s a process, a daily commitment to performance, adhering to standards and to using the results of the technology – the reports which contain gold about the business.

One of the things I do in my business is analyse how our users are actually using the technology. I’ve been doing this week. It is most disappointing and even depressing to find people wasting time even turning the technology on. Every computer company has users like this. We’re not passive when we find it. We stage an intervention.

We call the owner and talk about the mistakes being made and the cost on the business of the mistakes and the damage to data in the system. We visit the store and retrain employees. We measure again to see that the new processes are being followed with discipline. It’s a free service.

We’re not the only computer company delivering such hands on intervention in this situation. However, not enough do this. At our end of the marketplace most software suppliers are small businesses themselves. They ought to be messianic in their approach to this. Wanting every store using their technology to be a beacon of success as a result of the use of the technology.

The risk of the approach is that your users tell you its none of your business. However, it’s a risk worth taking. I’ve seen too many theft situations and business downturns discovered by our approach. This makes it worthwhile.

Putting technology, any technology, into a business does not, of itself, achieve anything. It’s what the owner, employees and technology supplier cooperatively achieve in using the technology which delivers the difference for the business. It’s a daily challenge which more people need to engage in.

Big brands worried about big business

So some big brands are concerned that the supermarket giants might be harmful for their commercial health. Or so Lara Sinclair says in her story, Brands in secret war on chains, in The Australian yesterday. The report claims some major brands are getting together to combat the growth in house brands by Coles and Woolworths. They are looking for other ways to get their brands in front of consumers. This report in The Australian is interesting because of the battle between big brands and the two giants and also because of the opportunity for independent retailers who usually like dealing with brands.

“The move is the first sign of a coherent fight back from packaged goods companies faced with moves by Woolworths and Coles to reduce the number of brands they carry to make room for new, premium-priced, house-brand product ranges.

In some packaged goods categories, only the top one or two brands will survive the cull. Companies are expecting to increase spending on media advertising or co-operative marketing budgets spent with the retailer – such as catalogues and in-store promotions – to keep their brands on shelves.”

Independent retailers like brands because the brands themselves carry consumer awareness which the independent stores themselves cannot easily create. Maybe these major brands would do well to support the independent sector and in return independents could find more creative ways of supporting the major brands which support them.

On the one hand the Coles and Woolworths retail giants offer buying power and logistics benefits. On the other hand, though, they create a risk of taking your market with a house brand product along with the cost of discounts and rebates of a level beyond what the independents pursue.

Smarter use of technology by independents can help them present a better value proposition to national brands.

Also, the concern of the big brands is an opportunity for some independent channel to consider moving outside their traditional categories to provide a home for the brands.

No one wants to make the first moves

It’s like the dance hall is packed, the air is heavy with anticipation, cool music is playing and the lights are appropriately dim … but no one is on the floor dancing. In the shadows you can see the faces glancing at each other looking to see if someone will go first.

Yep, such is the frustration of a new software update. Even though we’ve got a good track record for stable well tested updates, there is always a delay waiting for the early adopters to do their stuff.

Our update has been in the field for three working days now and while we’re taking calls indicating that it is being installed, the uptake is slow. That no problems have been reported so far is encouraging but it won’t get dancers on the floor.

Tomorrow we’re going to announce a competition for the early adopters. We’re giving away a year of software support for one client who installs the update within the next five eight days. We’re confident of the update and keen for our client base to be enjoying the benefits delivered in the update – hence the opportunity of reward.

It will be interesting to see if the possibility of a carrot works.

Got to go – they’re playing my song.

Open doors or closed doors

We’ve never closed off any part of our website from anyone. But with the level of content increasing at a significant rate and that this content can be of value to even those not using our software, we’re considering making chunks of the site private – reflecting the vlaue we place in partnership with us. On the other side of the coin there are those saying that we need to remain completely open so that those not partnerwing with us can see what the Tower difference is.

As to which side will win the battle is unsure at this stage. It’s an issue now because of several valuable research projects we’re about to release reports on.

For me, the oppenness demonstrated in a company’s website is indicative of the openness of the company itself. Okay, so you know which way I am leaning. (That’s a challenge who want to close off parts of our website.)

McDonalds sells newspapers, hurts small business

In a rare cross promotion of my other blog, I am incensed at the push by McDonalds to sell newspapers. This move will harm Australia’s 4,600 independently owned small business newsagents. Maybe not right away but eventually. It’s a small step against the newsagent channel which the publishers created in the 1800s and which has been a standard bearer of Australian culture and community ever since.

Boycott McDonalds.

National Independents Day in the UK a success for small business

“The crisis affecting small high street firms is being buried beneath the misleading success stories of the likes of Tesco and Ebay which are hijacking coverage in the business and retail media. The harsh reality is that the success of supermarkets and out of town shopping centres comes at a terrible price. Small shops are dying on their feet as a result of the anti competitive practises of the big chains such as running loss leaders (see notes to editors). Moreover business rates disproportionately hit small firms much harder than big chains.” Forum of Private Business Chief Executive Nick Goulding

The 25,000 business members of the Forum of Private Business (FPB) was one of many groups to praise the National Independents Day – held June 1 across the UK. And you can see why. With upwards of 20,000 independents closing since 1997, groups like the FPB are concerned at the impact not only economically but socially. You can read the full FBP National Independents Day press release here.

The National Federation of Retail Newsagents, representing 25,000 independent businesses, are also major supporters of and participants in National Independents Day.

“My Shop is Your Shop has been strongly backed by the NFRN, who represent more independent retailers than any other organisation, has actively encouraged members to take part in the scheme. What unites them all is the invaluable service they provide to the local communities of which they are a central part. Through this national promotion, aimed at driving sales and community support, independent retailers should be able to make National Independents Day a great success.” Peter Wagg, NFRN National President.

The full NFRN press release can be found here.

The campaign resulted is increased store traffic and a focus in the media on independents such as this article in The Evening Telegraph.

Independent retailers in Australia ought to consider a similar campaign.

Newsagents, chemists, bakers, greengrocers, butchers, fuel retailers – they could ALL band together and celebrate independence and the Australian culture we preserve and pass on in every transaction every day.

We could offer bonuses to customers to draw them in. We could provide solid statistics to the media so they are educated. And we could educate politicians that independents retailers need more that promises at election time to fight the good fight against the likes of Starbucks, Woolworths, Coles and Australia Post.

Independent retailers have strong opinions about lack of support from government and unfair behavior by national chain competitors yet they rarely do anything about it. What happened in the UK on June 1 should be the encouragement we need to run a campaign in Australia.

Collectively, independent retailers in Australia have more power than our competitors. It’s time for us to use this to our advantage and to the advantage of Australian consumers.

Maybe the Federal Government could start the ball rolling by putting up initial funding for the campaign and providing some organizational resources.