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.

‘Rev. Billy’ and protests against big business

Protests against big business come in all sizes and shapes. Unfortunately there is little cohesion among those fighting for a future for independent retailers and therefore preservation of culture held by the independent retailers. Disunity helps big business continue to sweep across the landscape, razing independent retailers in their wake.

There are some fascinating campaigns out there but none probably more so than that of Reverend Billy Talen and the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir. They’re part church, part protest group, part performance artists. They certainly get good press when they come to town and protest against the giants of Wal-Mart and others as this story in the Vallejo Times-Herald shows:

“Standard tools of protest don’t always work,” said San Francisco lawyer Mark Wolfe, who described Talen’s demonstration as a “peaceful, non-confrontational” way to spread the message about what Wal-Mart critics see as the company’s unfair labor practices.

Wal-Mart manager George Dias said the protest did not disrupt his store’s operations and he did not ask the group to leave. “They have their rights just like anybody else,” Dias said.

There’s a book What Should I Do If Reverend Billy Is in My Store?,
and a CD Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping, to underscore and support the work of the Reverend. Unorthodox? Yes. Hitting the mark? Yes! From what I can see this guy is fighting the same fight of many – fairness for small business, fairness for labour and a challenge to our focus on consumption and our commitment to global brands. His style is gaining media attention other campaigners can only dream of. His approach seems to make it challenging for businesses like Wal-Mart to counter. Even though he is very in your face, news reports show he gets away with it.

There’s no doubt that the best way for small business to fight back against gloablisation and competition from national chains such as Wal-Mart and (more locally) Woolworths, Coles Myer, Australia Post and others is to compete economically. This means we have to be better in customer service, range and convenience. These are three points of difference we can win in. Big business is more about where they can make the money than customer service – look at what Blockbuster did for range in videos and DVDs and in Australia what Sanity has done for range in music. Consumers should rebel! Too many of small businesses run out of steam before we get there.

Rev. Billy puts wind in our sails and encourages us to try harder. I’m glad he’s around.

Globalisation, Australian communities and Australian small business

Just found a fascinating website milkbar.com.au which is documenting change and the impact of change on a local community – Fitzory in Melbourne Australia. This is an evolving body of work which is considering, among other things, the impact of technology and globalisation on the local community. As the abstract at the website says: “this project is an attempt to historically objectify the process known as globalisation in an inner urban community (in the developed world) using online interactive tools.”

At the website you can view video interviews with Fitzroy residents about the impact of globalisation on their lives and their community – providing valuable documentation for today and the future when others assess this generation’s choices.

In explaining why Mild Bars are important, the website creator quotes Collins, Jock (et.al.) A Shop Full of Dreams: Ethnic Small Business in Australia, Pluto Press, Sydney, 1995:

“The story of ethnic small business in Australia is a remarkable one. Locked out of the opportunity to prosper in the mainstream labour market, many Australian immigrants took the very risky step of opening their own business. The Chinese Restaurant, the Greek milk bar or Italian fruit and vegetable shop gradually became enduring-and endearing-features of contemporary Australian life. As the post war Australian immigration net was cast over a wider area, other newly arrived immigrants followed the small business dream. Australian cities began to be transformed into cosmopolitan communities. The economic success of ethnic small business is a tribute to the hard work and dedication of Australia’s immigrants, sharpened on a strong desire to survive and to create prosperity for their children. Collective family and community resources and networks were mobilised in an effort to make their shop of their dreams an economic success.”

Milk Bars, fruit shops, newsagencies, bakeries, flower shops, butchers, dry cleaners, delicatessens and hair salons are bastions of the local community. We need them if Australia is to retain its identity. They carry our culture for the next generation and the next generation.

Independent retailers need to mobilise their local community, friends, employees, colleagues and suppliers to support their businesses and similar independent businesses just as Australia’s immigrant communities did decades ago. We need to look after our own if we want the independents to be here for the long term.

We’ve been playing in this space for 24 years, helping small businesses compete. It’s a mission we feel passionate about.

Poor form by software companies

I find it obnoxious that a software company sells a computer system to a small business owner for upwards of $7,500 for hardware and software and loads the software with a date bar which triggers 12 months after installation. Sure software companies can do what they want. However, few small business owners will check the detail of a contract to understand they they are only buying access for only a year. It’s a trick because small business owners will ignore support bills until they are locked out and then gladly pay the support fee so the software works and they have access to their data.

IBM helps retailers understand what customers want

IBM recently commissioned a telephone survey of 1,000 American adults age 18 and older. The aim of the survey was to determine shopper attitudes on a range of topics including, not unexpectedly, technology. The report, The customer-centric store, makes for fascinating reading:

What must retailers do to differentiate themselves in the marketplace and regain their focus on the customer? How can retailers create a more pleasurable and highly satisfying shopping experience that will meet the needs and demands of today’s customers? The answer lies in delivering a customer-centric store experience that is supported by customer-centricity embedded throughout the retailer’s organization.

Over the report’s 24 pages, the reader is encouraged to focus on the customer experience. Of course, underscoring this call is the pitch for solutions IBM offers to help. That’s reasonable given their funding of the report. The IBM pitch aside, this report is valuable for independent retailers. It provides an excellent call to action in the pursuit of exceptional customer service. It rightly identifies the customer experience as the key point of difference in this more homogenised and corporate marketplace.

The report talks of four strategic imperatives if a business is to achieve customer centricity and thereby enjoy the commercial rewards which flow from such achievement:

1. Build an organization that defines a shopping experience that evolves with
changing customer expectations

2. Provide a truly convenient shopping experience

3. Develop an integrated view of the customer

4. Deliver a flexible product/service offering

Common sense. But when read in the context of the IBM funded research and with the added insight of the respected authors, this report provides an excellent roadmap for any independent retailer concerned about competition, marketplace change and their future. It’s written in an accessable style.

The key take away for me is that in retail it is about the customer and that everything you do within the business should uphold that view.

Well done IBM. (Note: I’m not a traditional ‘big blue fan’ but I say credit where credit is due.)

Society and independent retailers

I was in the city (Melbourne) Friday night and had a space five minutes so I went to a Starbucks for a coffee. (I’d have gone elsewhere but time was short and Starbucks was the closest to the venue I was attending.) Once inside the store, I could have been anywhere. There was nothing about the experience which was local or Australian. What did I expect?

Brands like Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC and the like exist to provide a common experience across the globe. That’s their appeal to many consumers and landlords. Nothing wrong with that. It’s business. I’d suggest that in a societal sense, though, they add nothing. My Starbucks experience elicited mediocre coffee delivered with barely average service and all for a price higher than the coffee shops where I live and where I work. In those places I get a local connect: conversation, personal service, appreciation and unpredictability – who wants everything to be the same every time?

It is one thing to lament the risk to our culture as a result of growth by groups like Starbucks and another entirely to act on this risk. Independent retailers and other small businesses need to be smarter in supporting each other. We need to be disciplined in this. Otherwise we risk less of us and more Starbucks and who can stomach such mediocre coffee?

Sad story for independent retailers

It’s sad to read the story, Supermarket sale set to spark chain reaction, in The Age today about the fall out of the carve up of the Foodland group.

Yeah the big boys need to get bigger (it’s a size thing) until they are burdened with poor synergy between parts of the business and until their shareholder base is such that they become a target for a predator who can make more money by selling off bits.

When a small independent retailer who closes, consumers lose local service, local people lose jobs and the community lose choice. Big retailers are not known for offering the same variety to consumers independents offer.

Most important, though, is that big businesses do little to enhance the community compared to small business. Independent retailers support our culture, without them Australia becomes just another state.

Newspapers like The Age have to report these events and this is a good report. I’d like to see them do a social analysis piece, projecting life in Australia with national stores only. I am sure we have experts who could discuss the implications for Australia to lose the businesses, chemists, newsagents, butchers, bakers – those independent retailers across our land who every time they serve someone share a bit of what it is to be Australian.

The difference between big business and small business

I flew yesterday from Bundaberg to Brisbane and then on to Melbourne. It was the end of a two day six flight trip. I had a briefcase and an overnight bag. So, this is flight five of the journey, traveling Qantas all the way.

At Bundaberg airport the Qantas employee wanted to weigh by two bags. He then asked me to check one as the combined weight was over 4kg. I explained that I have made flights in the previous 24 hours on exactly the same plane as this flight (a Dash-8) but he said rules are rules. I asked why and he said it would be unfair to others on the plane if I clogged up the overhead locker. I showed him that one bag would go under the seat and to over overhead. He said rules are rules. I explained that I had to connect in Brisbane and that his decision wold mean I have to go outside security to baggage, wait for my slim overnight bag and then back in and onto my connecting flight. You guessed it rules are rules. He seemed to take some delight in saying this. I enquired as to whether the plane was full and he advised not – it was half full. He would not change his mind.

The lady climbing aboard before me had an overnight bag, a large handbag, a plastic shopping bag and a jacket across her arm. Maybe I should travel in drag and see if that helps.

While waiting for my bags in Brisbane, hoping that I my bag was not being used as a means of carrying contraband from Bundaberg to Brisbane, I wondered how I would run the business. Sure I would have rules but I would also empower front line employees to make operational decisions which are sensitive to customer needs and conditions on the day. I would expect my employees would have allowed me to take the bag on. There was room, it was just over the limit, it took up LESS space than some people with one bag on the same flight.

But for Qantas being a big (read inflexible) business they cannot handle such a situation. This bloke had the opportunity to exert himself and he enjoyed it.

Nah, give me small business service and flexibility any day.

Post script: On the Brisbane – Melbourne flight I composed (in my head) a letter to Qantas customer service. I deleted it when I recalled how poor their response was last time I complained to them about poor service.

Software licence: perpetual or annual

One of our point of sale software competitors has released an offer whereby their users purchase a one year licence for their software. The software is apparently coded to lock if the licence is not renewed.

While it’s up to the company to put whatever offer they feel serves the marketplace, it’s critical that the marketplace is fully informed as to the difference between an annual renewable licence and a perpetual licence without annual fee strings.

It concerns me because of the data which builds up in these Point of Sale systems and that this business specific data may be locked away at the expiry of the licence. Further, there does not seem to be an up-front commitment on what the annual licence fee will be. Once you;re relying on this system and it has your data you’ll probably be prepared to pay more than you should.

We’re not talking about this development in our sales pitch but we feel we will need to. Yesterday we had a situation where our package deal price was $2,000 more expensive that this competitor. The only difference was that our system is sold with a perpetual licence and the competitor system has a one year licence. We found ourselves having to explain the difference to first time computer users who wanted to be running their business and not listening to the explanation. If they go with the competitor, the time they will want this information is in a year.

Software, service and support issues aside, this new pricing model has the potential to confuse the small business marketplace and leave messy situations for someone else to clean up.

We’re not heading down this path and if we ever did it would be with very clear paperwork so that the confusion we found yesterday could not arise.

Fringe dwellers

In an article at latimes.com, Tim Robbins is showing his independent streak, is a gem of a quote from Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos.

“Consolidation of media outlets results in more homogenized offerings,” Sarandos said. “And the square footage and limited shelf space of mainline retailers is so valuable that they’re managed closely — stocked with mass-appeal product that squeezes out films like Tim’s. We’re not espousing a political position but providing a platform.”

Bigger means less choice and popularity wins and with this society loses for it’s at the fringe that we are pushed, pulled, shoved and enticed to new views on all manner of things.

If we’re only fed a diet of popular then how boring would be world become?

Independent retailers and small business are vital to our development as a race. They provide more shelf space to those who will enhance humanity. The risks independent retailers take are where a better future lies.

The key is for independent retailers to develop business models which are economically sustainable while at the same time allowing them to be independent.

FAST 3 AWARD UPDATE

Been talking with several clients over the weekend about their entries for our 2005 FAST 3 AWARD – where we reward the 3 fastest growing businesses using our software.

The process of getting the data for contest entry continues to shake information out of the trees and onto the screens of our client base. The latest callers have been asking questions about possible theft; why they are not growing; and, in one case, how to better manage the growth they’re achieving.

This is great stuff. It’s building the type of relationships we crave to have with our client base – working on their businesses using the facilities in our software. In two instances so far the interaction has led to decisions to enhance our software further so it better serves their needs.

Another key learning has been the realisation by some of our clients that they’re competing with themselves. This is a breakthrough. Getting small business people to compare trading periods by department, category and item and seeking understanding from what the reports comparing the trading periods show. Of course we compete with ourselves. This is essential in any business where costs increase faster than our retail price. Sales growth is crucial to profitabilility.

Many new entries this past week. We’re hoping to double the entries this week again.

Details on the contest can be found here.

Underhand sales tactics

We’re looking at new corporate phone systems at present and the sales guy from one company has just sent us through the bug list for the competitor product we are considering. The bug list is an internal document from his competitor. This hot shot sales guy sent the list to us in order that we would give more weight to his product. It’s had the opposite effect. If only he had focussed on the features and benefits of his products and left his competitors alone.

Our Fast 3 contest uncoverers struggling retailers

It’s always a challenge taking a call from a small business owner who reports their business is going backward.

That happened today. Three times.

In each case they were printing the report necessary to compare Jan-Apr 2004 with 2005 so they could enter our Fast 3 Awards. The results in these three cases was bad news rather than good.

That the business owners were surprised was THE surprise. I expected people would be printing even this basic business comparison report every week or two. I do. I want to see how I’m traveling and therefore quickly address less than acceptable growth.

In these cases the response was one of shock. It must be wrong. Okay if it’s not wrong what can I do? Help!

One of the reasons we created the awards is to get our small business retailers engaging with their software on a deeper level and tracking the performance of their businesses. It’s working. These calls and the entries received are proof of that. Great proof. We’re having good business conversations and getting involved where we are allowed to help address challenging situations. Our own team members are learning from the interaction as well.

We’re taking this seriously and plan to build some additional business training for our software users based on the learnings from the awards.

Starbucks and the folly of one size fits all

If you don’t know by now I’m over the one size fits all mentality of so many businesses. I like that I can walk down to local shops which do not have a recognisable national or international logo above their door and choose some products or access some services which are unique to that business. I like that one day service is not as good as the other. Such is life. I like that it’s local. It is unnatural to get the same experience every time or have access to the same product range in every store of the same product category.

Starbucks is in my sights at present because they are continuing their push in Australia when we don’t need them here. We are exceptionally well served with coffee houses, especially in Melbourne. We don’t need this US company coming in with mediocre over priced product.

I was comforted, therefore, in reading this story at MSNBC from 2004 about Java Junction a local drive through coffee shop successfully competing in the very crowded Washington State coffee marketplace.