Tower Blog

A blog about smart POS software for independent small businesses.

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Maleny protests about Woolworths have a broad base of support

The protests at Maleny by some local residents and others have generated significant national coverage including this report on the 7.30 Report current affairs TV show on the ABC.

While the residents are fighting to keep their town their town and local business owners are fighting for their businesses, I’d bet that there are plenty of executive in the offices of major suppliers quietly urging the protests on.

Woolworths is a giant as is Coles. Between them they control retail in this country through their supermarket and general merchandise stores.

Each point of growth they achieve is further control they can exert against their suppliers.

Suppliers need a healthy mix between independent and national chain stores.

It seems to me that these concerned suppliers, small businesses and concerned individuals could form a loose backroom alliance to help stop the march of these giants. For example, suppliers could fund skilled advisors to help develop and execute campaigns against Woolworths and Coles in the areas of:

  • Pharmacy integration with supermarkets.
  • Majors moving into towns and drawing other national chains with them and clonising high street.
  • Educating consumers about how the majors exert control on range.
  • Researching real price/service differential between major chains and independent retailers .
  • Funding an awareness campaign about the cultural relevance and importance of independent retailers.
  • .

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    Buy Australian?

    Tasmanian farmers continue on their journey to Canberra to protest McDonald’s move to source more potatoes from a company which is expected to source them from New Zealand. The ABC has the best on going coverage of this story.

    It’s easy to support the farmers and call on McDonalds to reverse their decision. The challenge is how far do we go? The allied push by farmers and those associated with to have supermarkets and other outlets clearly label the country of origin of product is a good step. However, what about our own decisions? Do we spend more on a pack of photocopy paper from Australia as opposed to imported paper which sells for 30% less? There has to be an economic reason for spending more and the photocopy paper example is complex.

    I can’t help but think that governments can play a role here. Certainly on the labeling front. But also in terms of promoting local. gee if they spent as much on that as they do promoting political (policy) initiatives such as health and industrial relations changes maybe more consumers would vote with their pocket book.

    Consumers don’t know why they should buy Australian, especially when it costs more. The message needs to be simple and it needs to illustrate an economic imperative of purchasing product, especially produce, from another country. That campaign might help people also understand the implications of the McDonalds decision.

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    Freeways hurt independent retailers

    We have been analysing shopping basket data for many of our clients, to try and develop current benchmark data for their channel. We’ve poured millions of baskets worth of data into the study to find out what sells with what and through which type of business.

    The results are staggering.

    For their highest selling product category more than 70% of sales include this item only.

    Their highest traffic generator is sold alone more than 70% of the time. Looking back one and two years ago the sold alone percentage was not as high. Over time and as a result of more of the chains getting into the space traditionally occupied by this independent retailer channel, they have become more convenience destinations. Consumers come in to pick up the item rather than to shop the shop.

    Okay, that’s business. It’s also a challenge. To them and to us. We’re working on strategies within our software to help the up sell without them having to ask for it across the counter. We’re focused on systemising the up sell through business practices and strategies using our technology so that they can reduce the sold along percentage and improve the efficiency of the business.

    We have to tear down the freeways and get consumers meandering the aisles again. That means independents need to focus more on making themselves the brand.

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    Gaslight Music closes, Melbourne loses an icon, the world loses an independent business

    For years Gaslight Music on Bourke Street in Melbourne was the place to shop for music. They had a great range and very knowledgeable staff. Last week they closed as the burden of slow sales and tougher competition took their toll.

    Gaslight did more than sell music. They introduces people to music. They led music lovers into a broadening of their music interests. They sold genres. They gave local bands a go. They carried a cultural baton which now falls to the ground. Virgin, HMS, Sanity and the other clone stores don’t know about the cultural baton let alone how to pass it on. Their interest is in music which sells, music on the radio, as opposed to music with deeper roots, carrying blood and full of emotion.

    It was good to spend an hour browsing the Gaslight racks every so often looking for CDs you couldn’t find elsewhere. It was great to wander their aisles, taking in the diverse patrons sharing the space with you. A more diverse crowd in Melbourne you could not find.

    While the death of Gaslight was covered in a story in The Age, it received little attention elsewhere. Do we care about iconic independent businesses closing? It would seem not. Does this mean the clones have won? I hope not.

    We need stores like Gaslight, in all retail fields. Clone stores, chain stores, mean less choice. Less choice means a dilution of our culture and that’s good for no one except the shareholders in the clone store businesses.

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    Is Roger Corbett a danger to Australian society?

    Roger Corbett heads the massive Woolworths company/army. Yesterday they made their move on the town of Maleny in Queensland. A street full of small businesses is at risk from the move. If any one of them closes a small piece of local culture closes with it. Woolworths and companies like it do nothing for the culture of a town or the country.

    In years to come I suspect sociologists will look at giant clone businesses like Woolworths as as bad for our community as the fast food giants like McDonalds have been assessed in recent years in terms of diet. In my view they take more than they give.

    Woolworths are pursuing pharmacies for their supermarkets so there is another small and independent business channel at risk.

    I understand that Corbett needs the growth which comes from moving into towns like Maleny for his share price to rise. His obligation is to his shareholders and not the society in which his business operates.

    Of course consumers will shop at Woolworths. Their advertising pitch will make people believe that they are getting a better deal. I’d argue that the volume of their advertising suggests that the deal is not that great.

    I have a retail business where we carry a category of stationery product where our everyday prices are between 10% and 20% less that Big W. We’re also cheaper than the Coles Officeworks group as well as the government owned Australia Post.

    The difference is that we do not have their advertising budget so we cannot tell the world we are cheaper.

    So here is Corbett allowing his company to beat its chest that they want to get prescriptions sold from his supermarkets because they will be cheaper yet in this common stationery area even their best deal is not better than my small business can do.

    In addition to beating Woolworths on price, my store offers a far superior customer experience, better product knowledge and a local connect.

    If Woolworths continue their push small businesses will have to close and at some point down the track experts in such things will be able to tell us what we have lost as a result of their closing.

    The war being waged by Woolworths against independent small businesses makes Roger Corbett a dangerous man (in terms of our culture) in my view.

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    Finding better coffee in the US

    Delocator is a clever website helping you find an alternative to Starbucks in the US. You enter a zip code and up comes a list of independent coffee houses. What a great way to help people find decent coffee and preserve real culture? We could use this for Australia so we can navigate our way around Gloria Jeans, Starbucks and the other clone chains offering mediocre coffee.

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    Attack of the clones and chips. Vale Let It Be Records, Minneapolis.

    Every city has, or had, one – an independent music store which influenced local music. It was the place you went when you cared about depth of range and about the shopping experience. It was the place you went looking for product because it existed and not because some suit in a far office decreed it was worth of shelf space. It was the space you went because of the community which shopped there, the flyers at the door, the notices on the wall but most of all because of the range.

    Clone music stores, with less range, poorer service and no community connect are replacing these stores. Aided and abetted by music downloads from places like Apple’s iTunes store.

    The latest independent music store to fall is Let It Be Records in Minneapolis. This store from Pulse tells it like it is.

    Not much more to say really other than to observe that whereas we have people who will protest to have a forest or a building preserved for future generations, we are letting these bearers of culture and community be shuttered without a second thought.

    Independent anything, music stores, book shops, newsagents, butchers, bakers, greengrocers, dry cleaners, pharmacies – they ought to be protected as if they are a rainforest. We will care when it is too late I suspect.

    I’ve been to Let It Be Records. The world is lesser for its passing.

    Here in Melbourne our own once iconic Gaslight Records is on the critical list.

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    Vertical is the flavour of the month

    Having scorched their respective traditional patches, Microsoft, Intuit and others are getting mroe heavily involved in the vertical markets occupied by companies like mine. Here’s another story from the folks at Microsoft Watch about their moves.

    Yeah it’s a free market and the customer will decide. Free does not equal fair or balanced. Not when you consider marketing dollars.

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    Microsoft and their plan to compete with small developers like us

    It will be interesting to finally hear what Microsoft has to say for itself about their “Go Vertical” strategy. The Micrsoft developers conference in the US this week should provide more details as reported at Microsoft-Watch.com.

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    ACCC announcement supports independent supermarkets and small business generally

    Good to see the ACCC annnouncement July 4 of a charter to promote competitive sales of independent supermarkets. This has been long overdue. According to the ACCC announcement: Under the Charter, Metcash, Woolworths and Coles will not be able to limit the ability of independent supermarket retailers to seek alternative purchasers for their stores. They will also have to provide independent supermarket owners with written notice of this fact when making an offer to purchase a store.

    The new charter will make it easier for independents to look for other bids for their businesses when they wish to sell. Supporters of the charter, such as Senator Ron Boswell, say this will help independent supermarket owners. He is quoted at SupplyChain review.

    Anything which helps independent small business compete against big business has to be good.

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    On the road again, another reason why small business should ignore the affections of Microsoft

    We have just set the dates for sixteen city tour to meet with our customers. At these sessions we’ll provide free training, answer support questions, preview forthcoming updates and listen to suggestions.

    The sessions are highly interactive and always well attended.

    By the end of this series and the usual supplemental series for more regional areas we will have met with more than 50% of our customer base.

    We do this twice a year.

    We usually have three or four of our people in attendance from me (owner of the business), our software development manager (the God who decides update content) and two of our support experts.

    It’s a grueling schedule yet crucial to our success over the last twenty-four years. We learn plenty from our customers – even those who have been with us for many years. We also get to answer questions which might be too complex for a telephone conversation. But most important is the human contact. We get a sense of where’re we at with these folks and that feedback can help us tweak how we move forward.

    Microsoft does not have such regular face to face and personal contact with its small business customers. Of course not! They have hundreds of millions of customers. How foolish of me to even suggest it.

    Well given that Microsoft is now in my patch and offering small business point of sale solutions and doing so with slick and expensive adver5tising which I cannot match, it is appropriate to compare.

    If Microsoft is serious about serving small business it needs to do so on terms and in a way which is sensitive to small business needs. Not just software needs but also contact needs and the opportunity for face to face human contact.

    If Microsoft wants to compete with companies like mine it should be matching the kind of services we are offering. By doing this Microsoft would demonstrate its commitment to the small business marketplace beyond getting the sale. Each sale we make is a long term relationship and it needs to be treated with respect and care.

    I get great personal joy from meeting with our customers – every time I learn and every time our product/service offering improves as a result.

    The Micrsoft conveyor belt approach to business will win customers with the warm fuzzy and expensive advertising. It will not, unless they change, deliver the depth of relationship and business benefits companies like mine offer.

    Small businesses should stick together and support each other and cut companies the size of Microsoft out of our purchase decisions as much as possible.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

    fhn-magcard.JPG

    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    Independent music store in trouble

    Sad to read of the iconic Gaslight records of Melbourne in trouble. They blame discount chains and internet downloads.

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    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?

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    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.

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