The arrogance of big business and the con of discounting

I was looking through a catalog from a competitor (of my retail business) yesterday and found some items at a price which surprised me as they were considerably lower than our cost price. Same brand and model. The low prices were wrapped in text suggesting that everything is the store was just as keenly priced.

I checked the store and the savings were genuine. But on those items only.

Okay I understand the concept of loss leadership.

I doubt this is loss leadership. My understanding is that this is big business arrogance – demanding rebates and special offers from suppliers in order for their brand to continue to be carried in the national chain of stores. In return for continued stocking they provide an exceptional price which allows the store to offer the price.

Okay, that’s business.

If you price compared this store every day of the year I bet you’d find the products in my small independent retail store and the independent retail stores my software company serves loiwer overall. This group does not “SELL FOR LESS” as they claim.

Sure I don’t match their exceptional deals. What I do match is the day in day out pricing and service obligation.

Sadly, independent small retailers don’t have the money to advertise this message to consumers.

Why this independent software company owns a retail (non software) business in its vertical marketplace

For almost 25 years we have been developing software for Australian newsagents. Nine years ago we bought one of these newsagent businesses. We still own it today. It’s a busy business in a shopping centre here in Melbourne. I bought the newsagency so we could put into practice what we tell our 1,300 newsagent clients to do. I also bought it to get close to what our users experience.

This week we have been experiencing the benefit of being a user of our software even more so than usual.

One of the challenges newsagents face is lack of stock. With supply quantities for magazines tightly controlled it is not uncommon for newsagents to sell out of the top 10 or 15 titles well in advance of the next issue arriving.

This has bothered me for some time … primarily because of the frustration I experience in my own newsagency when we’re out of stock. I estimate this lack of stock in my business is costing us around $25,000 in lost sales a year.

Our suppliers have sales data but not the day by day data necessary to measure the likely impact of an increase in supply. So I needed to build a business case, one so compelling that the increase in sales was proved by the data I could present.

While our software has good reporting tools, it was missing the ability to report on what is called sales decay in the magazine sales world. That is, the rapid fall off of sales from the on sale date through to the off sale date. We created the report, checked with the magazine companies to ensure it would suit their needs and then released in for trial to our user community with a background to the business case they can make with the results achieved by the report.

The report has uncovered sales patterns which challenge convention in the case of a couple of magazine titles. This is important new data which will help the small business newsagents. It’s helping in my business.

Had I not owned a newsagency I would not have seen the need for this report. Newsagents certainly have not asked for it. Nor have magazine distributors. Both sides talk (too much some say) about the need for certain business outcomes. It’s only when we sat down and deeply analysed this specific situation of sell outs that we uncovered a patch of turn which was not covered by existing newsagent reporting tools.

The Magazine Decay Report is now an important tool in my business both in terms of understanding sales patterns and leveraging more equitable supply from by magazine distributors.

This new report gives us a competitive advantage for a while.

Corporate social responsibility in this small business

We have appointed a Social Responsibility Officer, someone to be an additional conscience as we try and pursue a more socially responsible road in all we do here. It’s a tough road and we’re feeling our way – not that we were irresponsible in the past.

I have been searching the Net for advice from others talking about social responsibility. It bothers me that social responsibility has become systemised like the Total Quality movement of the 1980s. It’s like: do this course, sit this exam and you have the social responsibility seal of approval; or, sit on this community committee, give a reasonable amount publicly, get the certificate and you get the seal of approval.

What we are trying to do goes beyond such a systemised, dare I say, corporate, approach. Since this business has one shareholder and is relatively small (40 employees) we have the luxury of being able to make decisions from a personal, human, perspective. So when we consider social responsibility this is the perspective which matters to us: how we judge the decisions in the context of our social, justice and related beliefs.

A good (small) example is the treatment of people. In big business the production line approach is common in pursuit of the common customer experience. Their attitude is that you determine the customer experience through regulation and discipline. In my business the approach is flexible, allowing individuals to be themselves. We encourage creativity. Sure we maintain a clear focus on the customer experience, however, each person has flexibility in how that is delivered. Rules and regulations are kept to a minimum. I’d suggest that in big business you are more likely to see the stifling of creativity and individuality.

I don’t want to be responsible for stifling creativity. The personal individual experience is better for our people and for our customers. It is also better for the community. There is more likely to be a passing on of stories and experiences than in a clone like regulated big business experience.

So, part of our social responsibility is to allow people to be themselves with a watchful eye on the goals of the business.

We’re working on a social responsibility manifesto so that we can better explain what it means to us and those we interact with.

Dell Hell … the power of the (Jeff Jarvis) blog

Jeff Jarvis writes to Michael Dell, via Jarvis’ blog, and strongly makes his case for Dell to fix their now serious customer service issues.

Had Dell responded to Jarvis’ please for help through the usual dell channels none of the blog entries would have been necessary. The people at Dell have made this problem far more public and far more serious for their company than they needed to. All they had to do was to deliver on their customer service promise. Duh!

Once Jarvis did blog about it Dell could have jumped in then. But, no.

The lesson for all companies, not just hardware companies or software companies like mine is use the processes you have in place for customer contact and customer service, listen to the complaints and respond. Denial achieves nothing.

Well done Jeff Jarvis. There is a lesson for consumers on speaking up and a lesson for us in business to listen!

If you’re in business read all of Jarvis’ blog entries on this. Learn. In a few minutes yet get a semester of business learning.

A coffee experience

I have recently had two coffee purchasing experiences. Each involved buying three cups of coffee.

Independent coffee shop: Usual choices. Efficient order taking. Friendly smile. No up-sell pressure. Discount automatically provided.

Starbucks: Too many choices – I just wanted a coffee. Up-sell offered. Frustrated look on employee. Regular price charged.

Okay I am biased. I’ll copy that. However, this time I went into each store deliberately to assess the experience. In Starbucks I sensed that the employee was counting through the steps of the sale. You know, the production line approach. Whereas at the coffee shop there was a bit of conversation. At Starbucks there was pressure to move through the sale at a certain speed, as if a clock was on. At the coffee shop, even though it was a little frustrating, there were in no hurry.

The coffee was almost the same quality so it was the experiences (cultural and social) which separated the two in my mind.

The locally owned shop was a far better experience for me. For others it will be different. Some people like the sameness of the Starbucks experience. Others like that they can do “starbucks” as it’s more socially acceptable than a local coffee shop – such is the power of marketing I guess.

My point is that as consumers we ought to be fighting the drone retail experience. It is killing a generation. All these school leavers working ion the huge corporations learning their eight to ten steps for each sale and not being allowed to express themselves in their work place. It’s so sad. These corporations stifle individuality in pursuit of the common experience.

Beyond the generation being homogenised the community and our culture are being homogenised as well.


This is why our retail chains and global brands need to get smaller and not bigger. It’s why local is more important than national and international. It’s why pharmacists need to dispense prescription medication and not supermarkets.

Retail is personal. Every experience is different and needs to be driven by the needs of the consumer. Supermarkets, companies like Starbucks and their global ilk don’t get that in my view.

Sales decay

We’ve been researching sales decay for limited shelf life product in order to determine best practice for reporting this – especially in the small business sector in which we play. Our interest is because sales decay, for products with a seven day shelf life like magazines, is something about which there is plenty of talk but little in the way of facts.

The rule of thumb is that you need to have sold 80% of your stock by the end of day three to achieve a sell out and that, in fact, you’ll sell 50% day 1, 20% day 2 and 10% day 3.

In one of our key marketplaces we’ve found people making decisions based on what they think about sales decay as opposed to what they know. In fact, they know nothing.

There is early research indicating that enough of what people think is wrong for there to be value in new research. This early research is allowing us to compare similar businesses in different circumstances and thereby uncover opportunities.

Hence our interest in decay.

It’s surprising to me that that not much effort is being expended by independent software companies in the small business sector in reporting on sales decay.

It seems that by analysing decay trends we might be able to help our clients find new opportunities to slow the decay.


This report makes for fascinating reading, especially this recommendation:

Recommendation 3

The Committee recommends the establishment of an independent Retail Industry Ombudsman through which small business can bring complaints or queries relating to the retailing sector for speedy resolution. The Committee believes that the Retail Industry Ombudsman should consider, among other things, the application of the Retail Industry Code of Conduct (Recommendation 5) in his or her deliberations.

Where complaints received by the Retail Industry Ombudsman raise issues that fall within the jurisdiction of another established body, such as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, those complaints should be referred to such bodies for further investigation.

The Committee recommends that the Retail Industry Ombudsman be appointed and funded by the Government.

The Committee recommends that the Retail Industry Ombudsman be required to produce a bi-annual report to the Parliament in order to increase transparency in the retailing industry.

While the recently established Retail Grocery Industry Ombudsman is a welcome move, it does not provide small business non grocery retailers a place to take their issues.

Back in 1999 the parliamentary committee expressed concern about the challenges facing independent small business retailers and made a series of recommendations to support their future. The lack of action by the Federal Government on the recommendations of the committee demonstrates a lack of support for small business.

The aggressive pursuit of competition policy has come at a cost to small business and the community which will only be measured when it is too late.

Loyalty programs, cards, schemes

At the counter of a major department store yesterday I was offered one of their new loyalty cards. “But I already have xxx” I said. “You can use this too.” was the answer.

This national chain is introducing another loyalty card but this one is branded specifically to their brand of stores as opposed to the other card which operates across the group.

The employees behind the counter overly excited about the benefits of joining – especially the financial rewards.

Always a sucker for a new loyalty scheme I eagerly signed up.

At home I pulled out the card and the paperwork it came with and set abut reading the fine print. Boy is there some fine print.

This is a department store remember. Fashion is a key product category. The best they are offering is a 1% rebate for purchases. That is the best. At worst it is as low as .3%.

Having felt that they were not really rewarding me for loyalty I’ve done a quick comparison to smaller stores in the fashion space. The best I can do in terms of a loyalty scheme is 10% off and that’s without too much effort.

So if a smaller group of stores can offer 10% and this monolithic group can only offer 1% I no longer feel that valued.

All of this is on my mind because we’re enhancing the loyalty facilities in our software and I wanted to ensure I better understood how retailers use the schemes and how they work and don’t work for consumers.

It seems there are three games at play here: real wards for loyalty; smoke and mirrors rewards to keep the punters happy; and, enough rewards to get punters in so that we can see what they buy. Cynical? Yes! Accutate? Yes!

Of course from a consumer perspective it’s the real rewards offering which works the best. While we will not be dictating how users of our software implement, we will certainly provide the opportunity to deliver real rewards if that is what they wish to do.

Corporate Social Responsibility

I was surprised to read the names of some companies on the RepuTex Social Responsibility Investment index as reported in the Herald Sun.

The Reputex release says: “The RepuTex SRI Index comprises 44 companies from the S&P/ASX 300 Index that have achieved a RepuTex Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) rating of “A” (satisfactory) or higher. The constituent companies are spread across a broad range of industry sectors.”

From what I can see from information at the RepuTex website, the criteria for gaining a good Corporate Social Responsibility rating is less than clear. For example, there is no indication of community involvement in the assessment. I would have thought that a CSR assessment is as much about assessment by others including the community as it might be about policies and business measurement data.

Small business can own this space of being responsible business owners and operators. Because we’re local, because the owner is closer to the community. Because decisions in large corporations must put the shareholder above all else by virture of their obligations.

Social Responsibility Officer

Further to this post, we have appointed someone as our Social Responsibility Officer – and immediately upon doing so realised that it’s a journey without end and without a roadmap for if we are to be serious about this the ‘officer’ has to have freedom to play across all areas of the business.

So we begin by defining why we have the position and what it’s about. Before we can do that, we have to make sure that those involved are all on the same page in terms of knowledge views. Once person’s sustainability is another person’s squalor – or any other comparison you might care to make.

Our goal in walking this path is to be true to ourselves. It’s one thing to have views of the impact of one size fits all retail, global brands, environmentally sustainable business decisions and social responsibility and another thing altogether to walk that road, head knowing that you have been true to yourself.

One argument often put, including by this writer, is that small business is more socially responsible than big business. It’s time for this business and other small businesses to demonstrate that in a more practical way.

Big box retail worries for independent retailers and communities in Tasmania

The Mercury newspaper carries a story about plans for a new homemaker centre on the outskirts of Launceston. While the story covers the plans for the centre and the growth of big box retailing in general in Tasmania, it does not go far enough in reporting on the impact of this style of retailing on cities the size of Launceston. There is plenty of research in the UK and the US about the impact on independent retailers, those they employ and surrounding communities which the story could have pointed to.

It’s been over six years since there was a parliamentary enquiry in Australia into related matters and given the distance traveled since then it’s time for another. However given the last of results from the last enquiry one wonders about the value of such an enquiry.

Social responsibility in business

Businesses are required by law or regulation or obligation to have fire wardens, safety officers, employee advocates, first aid officers … indeed all manner of ‘officers’.

But not social responsibility officers.

Now this is not a position I would like to encode in or burden with regulation as such however it is necessary if we are to be serious about being culturally, economically and environmentally responsible.

If we’re going to complain about the global brands of McDonalds, Starbucks, KFC and others sucking the cultural lifeblood from our veins then we in small business need to take active steps to ensure that our business decisions are socially responsible. Not as a marketing ploy but because it’s what we believe in.

I am using the term socially responsible to include culturally, economically and environmentally responsible.

We need to live the difference and not just talk about it. This way we can understand the value for us of being independent and local. It will help us articulate the value better when we are competing with a global brand.

So, we’re looking to appoint (anoint) someone internally as our social responsibility officer.

How do you encode humanity into the sales process?

While the global and national retail brands (Starbucks, McDonalds, Borders, K-Mart, Woolworths etc) pursue a common consumer experience and drill train their employees accordingly, too many independent retailers ignore the perfect opportunity to leverage their point of difference.

Missing from to many sales counter interactions in independently owned retail outlets is a touch of humanity, something beyond have a good day. My experience is that too many independents are chasing the big players and creating a me too experience. In my mind this makes it easier for consumers to compare the independent book shop or CD store or coffee shop with the global branded store.

We need to find a way to encode being local and being independent in our consumer interaction without it feeling regulated and required. It’s a challenge. We’ve looked at it from a technology perspective to see how we might facilitate a more human sales experience. We have some ideas and will play with these (and I’m not about to give another free kick to our competitors here). The reality, though, is that you don’t encode more humanity, you can’t. It happens because you want it and because it’s natural. Because you have time and because you enjoy the human interaction.

Being local and independent to my mind means providing less of a corporate experience. This means more local products; a greater local community connect; happier employees; more hand written signs in store; maybe no uniform; and, real communication with consumers.

The challenge of economic rationalism in the magazine supply chain

For 24 years my software company has worked with newsagents. For the last nine of those years I’ve owned a newsagency as well. Newsagencies in Australia are the classical small business. Independently owned, very local and each one different. Newsagencies sell around 50% of all magazines.

Since 1999 the sale and distribution of newspapers and magazines has been deregulated. With deregulation has come greater focus by publishers on the supply chain. There is less room to move today, meaning that selling out in a smaller volume store is okay in their eyes – and I understand that. However, a sell our only serves to starve the newsagent.

We have started researching the impact of sell outs on our newsagent clients.

The graph at the top of this post represents the average per day sales on a weekly title for four months in 2005 (black) compared to the same four months in 2004 (red).

Following several months of sell outs in 2004 they achieved a modest supply increase and you can see from the 2005 figures, in black, that the result was more sales earlier in the week. By mid week they only had five of six copies left.

While it is natural for the sales of a seven day title to slow later in its shelf life, if we look at the weeks where they were inadvertently oversupplied we see stronger than average sales on days 5, 6 and 7. This unscientific and preliminary research suggests that there are significant sales to be achieved by at least some newsagents being supplied in sufficient quantities.

Our involvement in this is in pursuit of hard evidence which we hope will help our client base build their businesses. While we help with marketing strategies and the like, we also see value in building cases to take to suppliers in an effort to alter their scale out decisions – such as the approach for weekly magazines.

We’re not there yet but we do have a sense that the mission is valuable for our client base and therefore valuable for us.

Podcasts to help train younger employees

Our playing with podcasts has led us to realise another valuable use for this technology – that of training young employees of businesses using our software.

Many employees in the independent retailer marketplace we serve are casual – working a few hours each week.

Keeping them up to date with changes in the technology can be challenging so we’re going to produce several training sessions which they can listen to at their leisure. Since some training is better delivered face to face or at least in front of a computer screen. However, if that’s not possible or practical, this approach might at least impart some valuable information.

Our plan is to create the training and make it available from our website. This way users of our software can point employees to the relevant materials without having to host themselves.

The key is to keep the sessions short and informative and to use technologies they are comfortable with in delivering the training.

The goal is to have employees making better and more accurate use of the software – serving their businesses better. A side benefit ought to be enjoyment form the learning process.

Preparing to podcast

We have been playing here with microphones and other devices to see if we can leverage the podcast opportunity to create useful audio. It’s interesting seeing how people react to hearing about what we do compared to reading about it. The engagement is very different and far more personal.

Our plan is to tread warily and see whether we can more effectively reach our existing client base first.

While we have a well established user meeting structure – getting to 60 or 70 cities a year – we feel a need to create a more human connect with people who don’t call our help desk but who would like to know more than they read off the page.

We’re planning several podcasts to introduce new features, discuss the business growth strategies supported by our software and to provide some reasoning behind more complex functions in our software. Given that many of our users are not computer buffs and only use our software out of necessity, we feel that a more human approach to interaction might enhance the customer experience.

Once we have launched these three podcasts we’ll watch the response and use this as a guide to do more or shelve the project.

We anticipate launching our first podcast next week.

The challenge is getting people to talk comfortably and naturally and without waffling!


Beyond developing software for independent retailers, a key mission for Tower Systems is to get our users actively engaging with the software for the benefit of their businesses. This is hard work because we’re dealing with small business owners with diverse backgrounds and varying levels of business experience.

We have found that even basic business measurement is not being undertakes. So, we created the FAST 3 AWARDS to recognise the three fastest growing businesses in our user base.

To enter our clients had to produce and analyse one of our management reports and then register via our website.

We are thrilled to be able to announce the winners of our 2005 FAST 3 AWARDS – recognising fast growing newsagencies.

Based on the double digit sales growth achieved between January and May of 2005 compared to the same period in 2004, the winners are:

• Kingscliff Newsagency.

• Bingara Newsagency.

• Glendale Newsagency.

Each of these business has achieved well above industry benchmark growth year on year. They have achieved it in the core categories and as a result of their own marketing and management efforts. They have not relied on centre developments or external factors to grow their business. Brilliant!

Growth is critical to our independent businesses and we salute these three newsagencies for their stellar achievements. Their use of technology to measure their businesses helps makes for better business outcomes.

We know from our research that businesses measuring their own performance are more likely to grow. Hence our focus on motivating our client base to more actively and consistently measure.

Little Boxes … and they all look just the same

I’m reading several studies related to what I’d call the clonisation of retail and the impact on suburban and rural towns. Fascinating, frustrating, depressing and inspiring all at once. The damage to our culture by clone businesses and the stifling of creativity is considerable – as measured by these respected independent researchers. Indeed the challenge is so serious that the UK Parliament has agreed to a study of the clonisation of retail.

The reading reminded me of this song which I always thought had been written by US folk singer (and hero) Pete Seger. It turns out that it was written by Malvina Reynolds. It connects with our pursuit of this one size fits all retail landscape and the loss we will suffer if it is achieved.

Malvina Reynolds © 1963

Little boxes on the hill side, little boxes made of ticky-tacky.
Little boxes, little boxes, little boxes all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky, and they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses all go to the university
Where they all get put in boxes, little boxes, all the same.
And there’s doctors and there’s lawyers, and there’s business executives
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course and drink their martini dry
And they all have pretty children and the children go to school
And the children go to summer camp and then to the university
Where they all get put in boxes and they all come out the same.

And the boys go into business and marry and raise a family
And they all get put in boxes, little boxes all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same.

(I have a live recording of Seger singing this song from the sixties.)

We should be inspired to be different and to pursue this difference in a way which respects our community and which is enconomically and environmentally sustainable.

Working the system, the legacy of Vizard

The many many articles published in Australia over the last few weeks about the business dealings of Steve Vizard have made me wonder about how some people get the deals, the special deals, which give them an advantage.

Vizard’s opportunistic philanthropy bothers me and the politicians now saying he’ll never serve on a board again are, in some cases, the people who put him there in the first place.

But that’s a topic for another time.

Thinking about this reminded me of millions of dollars successive Victorian Governments have put into software businesses in this state over the last 20 years.

They have given money away as if it was coming from a bottomless pit – particularly in the late 1980s and 1990s. What’s to show for it?

I’d bet that most of the investments have disappeared with little or no return to the stakeholders – the taxpayers of the state. While one cannot guarantee the success of low cost loans, grants and other incentives, there ought to be some accountability, some reporting back to the community and others in the sector about how wise the investments proved to be.

Some people seem to be able to unlock government assistance more than others and this is what bothers me the most.

This is why the Vizard matter needs full and complete investigation. People need faith restored in the system of grants, good works and government related networking. In this small town of Melbourne we need to clean out the boardrooms and committee rooms and install fresh blood of unconnected people. It’s time for us to see people we don’t recognise representing us in these areas.

We, the people of this state, have a right to be skeptical of the motives of the usual players who take these positions of public service. We have been duped one too many times.

Clone Town Britain Study

The Clone Town Britain report is the culmination of an extensive study by the respected new economics foundation. Published a few weeks ago, Clone Town Britain makes for sobering reading about the economic and social cost of clone retailing. It balances this with strategies for responding to the challenge and provides several US and UK examples.

The report is written in an accessible style. The findings are backed by solid evidence with excellent references for further research.

The risk of clone, one size fits all, retailing is significant in any economy but I suspect more so here in Australia given our size and our own cultural cringe.

I am looking for similar studies here in Australia since the challenge is just as great here. My interest in this is that my software company only works with independently owned small retailers and has done for 24 years.

The smarter they are the faster they grow

In assessing the entrants for our 2005 TOWER SYSTEMS FAST 3 AWARDS I reckon we’re able to prove that the smarter independent retailers are in running their businesses the faster they grow and the more they grow. By smarter I mean how much they use the technology to understand and drive their business. Of course, this is an indicator of greater business acumen and entrepreneurship. However, the extent of use of technology is easy to measure by looking at the quality of data and how it is managed within the structure of the software.

A learning for us from this process comes from the different ways people embrace our point of sale and business management technology. And from the learnings will flow changes in the way we drive the use of our technology.

To have some users of our software, of several years standing, express that they did not know they could do even some basic reporting with our system came as a shock -given the messages in our training, our newsletters and through other forums of communication with our client base.

We’re finding some people who put in the technology because they think they have to but without an understanding that like any tool they have to drive it.

Okay so that’s not a huge surprise.

What is a surprise is that the FAST 3 AWARDS are shaking some of these people out of the trees. And that’s great! It’s an unintended consequence of the awards and we’re enjoying the engagement.

Pharmacists fighting back across the counter

Pharmacy customers are being given a flyer with their purchase which outlines their case against the Woolworths push to have pharmacies operating within their supermarkets.

Of course any battle like this is about perception and perception is built by spin. While pharmacists have been slow to mount their case, this flyer serves the purpose well.

The flyer notes that Woolworths is a big seller of cigarettes and then asks how committed the company is to public health. It then notes that treating smoke related illnesses costs 20 billion dollars a year.


In another win for pharmacists the flyer says that Woolworths claims that it will sell medicines cheaper. The Pharmacists claim that 60% of all pharmacy sold medicines are “fixed in place ” by government. [While I note this is a win to the pharmacists their claim is spin since they have a dispensing fee which they can adjust. They would have been better served being clearer in their claim.]

For me this is a matter of how big the government wants big business to get. The answer to that ought to be not much bigger – particularly in the case of Woolworths and Coles/Myer. Their dominance in retail is a barrier to new entrants and a barrier to new suppliers.

Keeping the current pharmacy arrangements in place keeps them in check.

The challenges of social responsibility and whether we can afford it

While the residents of Maleny in Queensland continue to protest against Woolworths moving into their town and Tasmanian farmers continue their tractor trek to Canberra protesting the McDonalds decision which is expected to see half their potato requirements imported, matters of local interest versus globalisation continue to get media coverage.

It is easy to see the reports and get into a lather about the decisions by the suits in their head offices to move in on a small town or to cut the contracts with Australian farmers. It is another thing altogether to respond personally. By respond, I mean looking at each purchase and making sure it is in the best interests of Australia environmentally, culturally and economically. That is an extremely hard road to travel.

On the one hand I write here often about the importance of small business for carrying forward the culture of a town or country, our role in living and employing locally, our focus on eschewing the one size fits all clone mentality. On the other hand, when I consider the day to day decisions of this and other small businesses, I soon see that I am not doing enough in practicing what I preach.

This is our social responsibility. To be true to ourselves not only in calling for others to treat our independently owned small businesses in a certain way but to operate ourselves in that way in every decision we take. This means the stock we purchase, our employment policies, recycling and community support.

It is easy to present publicly as socially responsible. It is another thing altogether to live that way through every decision.

We’re going to experiment here and appoint someone within our company to consider our social responsibility. They will review each area of our business and recommend what we can do to become a better Australian citizen. We’ll then cost this and see how sustainable taking that approach is.

Clone towns

An excellent article, Attack of the clone towns, at on the clonisation of High Street UK.

While there is healthy debate in the UK about clonisation, there seems to be little media attention here in Australia. Yet the changes are taking place, even in the small towns.

With every independent retail business closure a town or city loses a piece of local culture. It also loses choice and an independent voice.

The Federal Government ought to use its resources to research the social and economic impact of clone retailers. It’s time we found out the cost of this ‘progress’ and who the key beneficiaries are.

There was a time when we greeted the giant US retail chains as they established themselves here. We saw their arrival as a marker of progress.

The cloning of Australia and the obligation of business

The Lion King is coming to Melbourne. It opens this Thursday. Yipee!

I bet that in one night the Lion King will do more in ticket sales than all new Australian Musicals will have done a year.

I don’t begrudge Disney and the folks behind the Lion King their success. Good luck to them. However, it puzzles my why we are so prepared to receive such blended and culturally neutered material when our country is rich with new musicals which give breath to Australian stories and Australian voices.

The cultural cringe is alive and well and opening in a theatre in Melbourne this week, fresh from a sell out long season in Sydney.

The Lion King to me represents another form of the clonisation of the world – a world where we want to see logos everywhere rather than business shingles we have not seen before. Logos represent less risk to investors so it is logos (like the Lion King) which win out. And success begets success.

Theatrical producers and investors have an obligation to tell Australian stories in Australian voices. No, hang on, they have an obligation to ensure maximum return. Well given the worldwide might of Disney and their ilk, The Lion King was always going to be a juggernaut here.

If producers will not accept a social obligation to support local productions then who will? Is this something the government could assist with – in the interests of keeping Australia Australia? I guess the Free Trade Agreement would have something to say about that.

The risk for us with these massive import musicals (and TV shows and rock bands etc) is that our voice fades further with the arrival of each one and soon we forget what it is to be Australian. Our malls look like American malls. Our food tastes like American food. Our TV is their TV. Our stories are their stories. We’re cloned.

And we wake up, look in the mirror and don’t recognise ourselves anymore.