The British high street loses more shops

The decline of our high streets continues with more big brands going under: Countrywide Farmers (agricultural merchants), Prezzo (a restaurant chain), Toy R Us, Maplin (electronics) and New Look, a huge fashion retailer.

Our continued thirst for online sales is being cited as the predominant cause and I can’t argue with that. We have come to expect everything now: I order online, it arrives within 24/48 hours. Not every high street retailer can compete with that. Big companies that have deliveries every day maybe and those that are prepared to send out individual orders via mail to shops, yes, they can compete.

But if your company will only send a customer request via your next scheduled delivery, then no, competitive advantage lost because the customer will walk out the shop, get on their smartphone, order it there and then, and bam!, it arrives 24/48 hours later on your doorstep.

That purchase is not attributed to the P&L of the shop but the internet arm of the business.

Couple this with high leasehold rents per square foot and high wage bills, particularly since the national minimum wage came into being which is due for another increase in april this year (I’m not complaining about that to be honest), and you have a need for doom aversion tactics.

I postulised many years ago that the face of retail would change where shops would become a showroom, a walk in catalogue you could browse. You wouldn’t actually buy goods and walk out with them in a bag, you’d look at what was on offer, then purchase from an in-store computer which would deliver either direct to your home or the store for collection within 24/48hrs.

Life seems to be all about destinations these days so the high street needs to be a destination, not just a place to go shopping. Hence the rise of the coffee shop. But for people like me who loathe shopping, don’t drink coffee (or tea or milk or anything but water), the high street has got to do something to entice me there.

If customers are just going into a store to browse with every intention of buying online later, then retailers need to do something to get and keep them in store. I’m not going to suggest that all stores have coffee shops in them but a fashion retailer could have monthly fashion shows to highlight their new products, demonstrations on how to dress for your shape and how to put together a flattering capsule wardrobe from their product range.

An electronics store could run short demonstrations on internet security. A garden centre could run courses on container gardening for those with small outdoor spaces but who still would like to grow food at home.  A health food store could give talks on supplements and health foods for particular illnesses. The list goes on.

I hope the high street doesn’t continue to decline, that the government and other powers that be step in with practical solutions to revitalise it. We are living in a time of greatest creativity so let’s harness some of that to think outside the box and get creative with the high street.





Did I make the right move?

In November 2009 I made the decision to move. This wasn’t going to be a down the road move, this was going to be away from an area I had known all my life, all 40+ years of it.

I was living in a town that my grandparents had lived in, where my father had grown up which was all of 5 miles from where I grew up and my parents had lived. The house I had bought as a 25 year old I had then owned for 19 years.

My daughter had been born whilst living there, we had had and lost pets whilst living there, I had suffered severe and at times suicidal depression whilst living there. I had home educated my daughter there, been well off financially briefly and almost broke during those years.

When my daughter was 2, we had moved out of the house for a few months, back in with my parents, whilst the house was ripped to bits. That was a trying time and I don’t recommend moving back in with parents when you left home many years previously and then have a family of your own.

There were a lot of memories in that house. So the decision to move wasn’t taken lightly. But both my parents had died, my relationship had come to an end and my daughter was reaching the end of her home education, ready to start college.

Initially I wanted to move north, to Yorkshire, but the stroppy teenager I now had wasn’t having any of that. So we moved south west, as a compromise. The plan was to go to Devon but for various reasons we ended up in Somerset where she went to college and we settled down to make a life for ourselves. Us, the dog, the cat and 2 horses.

Leaving the house wasn’t the heartache I thought it was going to be but then again, life hadn’t been going well for a while before so I was glad to be heading to pastures new. Leaving the nieghbours I had known for just shy of 20 years turned out to be much harder. Tears flowed in some cases and most were very very sad to see us leave.

Since moving down here 7.5years go, I have lived in 8 different homes with a period of almost 6 months abroad in amongst that. One might say that I’ve not settled. And I really haven’t. I haven’t found anywhere that truly feels like home.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love Somerset, it is a beautiful county, as is Devon and Dorset around us. Whilst I love that Somerset is made up of so many little towns and large villages with small populations there are some downsides.

I grew up in a city then moved to a large town between two cities, surrounded by excellent road and rail links. Derbyshire is the most landlocked county in the country but is also pretty much equidistant to N, S, E & W.

If I couldn’t get what I needed in our town, within 20 mins I could be in an out of town retail park which had exactly what I wanted. Here isn’t the same and I have come to rely more and more heavily on internet shopping. Don’t get me wrong, I loathe shopping but there are times when you want what you want NOW and by that I mean you want to nip to the shops to pick it up. The internet is fabulous but there is something to be said for brick and mortar retail.

I also miss the great road infrastructure and public transport which is appalling here. Where I live in particular it’s terrible but save for living in Taunton, public transport in the county isn’t brilliant and it’s quite expensive.

I have been back to my home town since moving down here; it was 2 years after we moved that I had to return to the general area so of course I detoured to my old street and town. My first reaction was “oh dear lord how did I live here so long!” and on my return to Somerset later that day, I was thrilled to be surrounded by so much countryside and not the noise of the city.

Since then though I have spent time in cities and even 3 days in Paris, during which my daughter said I seemed my most relaxed since moving, made me stop and think. Yes Paris is noisy, as is any big city, but I loved there being a metro station on every corner or a bus stop with regular cheap buses which go everywhere you might even think about going. I loved having the shops on hand too. Same with London.

I often think about our house and miss it more than I probably should though I suspect this is very much a view through rose tinted glasses. I know for sure that I wouldn’t want to move back there. But it does make me think.

Did I move too hastily, did I think it through sufficiently? Did I believe that moving would delete the past and give us the fresh new start away from the sadness and everything else we were supposedly leaving behind?

We really didn’t know Somerset at all when we chose to move here; it was a place we drove through on the motorway towards Cornwall to visit friends. Hand on heart I can honestly say that if we’d spent time here, we probably wouldn’t have moved here. I think we would have moved to another city within the midlands and not down to the rural south west.

Which is all food for thought. I’ve known for a while, quite a long while if I’m honest, that it is time to move on from here and back to a city. Where that will be who knows. As much as I love being in the countryside, it’s a joy to visit but perhaps not for me to live in. And maybe, as I get older, being in a city with good public transport, shops, facilities, healthcare etc is a better option.


It snowed, the locals panicked

So thursday it began to snow along with strong winds. My front garden:WP_20180301_001

The street outside:


Friday it turned into a blizzard but even so, it was manageable. The roads weren’t great, lots of people couldn’t get their cars out of drives and so there were a large number of staff who called work unable to come in from the surrounding towns and villages.

I only have to walk to work. Not a problem, it only took a little longer than usual but I’m not the steadiest on my feet on flat ground in dry weather. I half expected to be falling on my backside. Thankfully, the universe was on my side.

We had snow drifts in the front garden:


and the big bush round the side of the house was laden with snow, making it look and feel very much like christmas.


There were many cancellations in the hotel which turned out to be a blessing in disguise as our laundry delivery couldn’t get here which meant no clean bedding! Any rooms not already booked were blocked out of service until clean laundry arrived monday.

But what stunned me is the reaction of people. Anyone would think a few inches of snow equalled armageddon! The shops were bought out of bread and milk! Even now, when the snow has all melted, people are still buying out all deliveries of bread and milk the moment it lands on the supermarket shelves. I’ve not had any for three days now because I’m simply not quick enough to get to the shops before the hoards.

Admittedly we don’t get this kind of arctic weather down here very often but even so, the reaction has been quite extreme. How would the locals cope if they lived in Sweden for example. Doesn’t bare thinking about.

Russia, you can keep your weather thanks

It is absolutely baltic here right now. There has been a few weeks of cold nights but the last few days when a weather front from Russia has invaded our little island, has given us sub zero temps and a bitter wind chill factor. We simply don’t get this kind of weather normally, and certainly not down here in the south west of england.

My walk to work is 5 minutes, very conveniently. I leave my lovely warm centrally heated house to step out into the freezing cold only to walk into a lovely warm centrally heated hotel not long later. The trouble is, that short walk is enough to chill you to the bone.

Snow has been predicted for the next few days. I love snow and after the first fall, there is a silence and peace that befalls the world. Not so much fun when it begins to turn to grey mucky slush.

When my daughter was little and we lived in the Midlands (right in the centre of the UK), if we had snow fall after she had gone to sleep, I used to go wake her up. She’d get her wellies on over her pj’s, thick woolly jumper, coat hat and scarf and off we would go to the park across the road. We just wanted to be the first footprints in the new snow.

We would make snow angels, snow men, throw snowballs at each other. The dog  would run scooping up snow in his mouth and only stop when he had ice balls between the pads on his paws. It was such fun!

Sadly though, my closeness to work means my boss won’t accept the plea that I’m snowed in and can’t get there 😆

Fingers crossed I wake up to a white out.

When drinking to excess becomes dangerous

Working in a hotel with a large and active bar that is a hub for not only locals but also holiday makers, you really do see some sights. This weekend has been an adult weekend, one of the really busy ones as it was 80’s themed. Guests at the holiday camp were out in force today.

Including a group of lads who were ‘encouraging’ (pretty much bullying) their friend into drinking to excess. And by excess I mean this young man should have been taken to hospital really. He messed himself, he couldn’t stand up as his legs would not hold him, his eyes were rolling in his head.

Eventually he threw up all over the public pavement opposite us and his ‘friends’ had to carry him back to the holiday camp. I would not class these people as friends, that is not the behaviour of people who like and care about you.

What made it worse was they left him in his room on his own and came back to the pub! They were refused entry.

If people want to spend their money on drink then go for it. It’s not my place to dictate what people do with their own time and money. But I cannot see how drinking that much, or indeed forcing others to drink that much, is fun.

It’s downright dangerous.  This kind of binge drinking ends in tears.

How much are we as a business to blame for his well being? We contributed and despite being very busy today inside the pub, we probably should have monitored the outside too a little more closely.

But that said, each of us are responsible for our own actions. That young man could have stopped drinking at any point, he didn’t have to keep drinking even though his friends were encouraging him. His mates should have used some common sense seeing that he clearly couldn’t take it.

Here’s hoping he’s ok.


Back in retail and training management again

I have been very quiet for the last few months since being made redundant last july. It took me five weeks to secure employment, part time only, doing something completely different: hotel receptionist. This isn’t a job that stretches me or challenges me in any way. I go in, do my job and go home. Stress free. No thinking about work the moment I put my coat on. And to be honest I’ve really enjoyed that.

However, as much as I can survive on part time wages, they only cover the necessities of life. No treating myself. So, fortuitously I got offered a part time job in a shop on the sea front through someone I know. It’s an aspect of retailI I don’t know anything about as we are selling mostly gifts and toys, candy and confectionary, beach products eg buckets/spades, sun hats, beach chairs etc. We also sell cider and quite a lot of it.

The owner would like me to take on the role of manager but I have refused because that would mean giving up my hotel job which I like very much. Plus, the retail job is only full time over the summer months; during the winter it is only financially viable to open at weekends and he closes for a whole month in january. I need my hotel job to sustain me over the winter months. Which means that I am available to work between 16-24 hours a week in the shop to complement my 24hours a week in the hotel.

A young girl of 20 has been appointed manager; she is familiar with the shop having worked there before but her management skills are lacking and there is lots about retail she doesn’t know. Now I do not profess to be an expert but I have worked in retail for large companies for decades, giving me a fair amount of knowledge to pass on.

Today she got a taste of that. After looking round the shop yesterday with a critical eye, my brain spent the evening doing it’s usual – playing a game of ‘shop chess’. My staff at the clothing store were used to this; they recognised the stance I had in the middle of the shop, arms folded, mentally shuffling the shop around!

This morning I put my plan into action. I can only do one section of the shop at a time because quite frankly it has not been shown much love over the last two or three years, so it all needs changing. After purchases at the wholesalers for sweets and candy, that’s what I focused on. It looked fantastic when we’d finished but the new manager doesn’t understand certain principles which I had to pass onto her.

1. P & P: price and presentation. If goods are at the right price they will sell but a huge part of their appeal will also be the presentation. There needs to be a consistency to the presentation of products, it should flow ours did not, it was inconsistent and disjointed. Shelves should be full and always faced up ie products brought forwards. No one wants to bend over to reach what they want at the back of the shelf, shoppers are essentially lazy and often won’t buy an item if it requires too much effort. Empty shelves also do not give a good impression.

2. Psychology of retail. I don’t know if any of you have any knowledge of this (and mine is not expansive by any means) but shelves in supermarkets are set out so that the primary products – the big sellers (and the ones the manufacturers have paid good money for placement) – are always found at eye height. The middle 3-4 shelves of a unit are the biggest sellers; those on the bottom aren’t and those where you have to raise your eyes/head to view them aren’t either. Goods need to make an impact when customers walk in so in our shop, the long gondola shelving unit right opposite the door is now full with all our best sellers, presented well. They flew out the door today.

3. Constant change. This is one of the basics of all retail. It never stands still. As a retailer you are always assessing sales and particularly in relation to location changes within a store. This is what KPIs are all about. So if my changes don’t improve sales of these key products, we need to look at why and what we can do about it. To be honest though, you don’t need figures on a piece of paper to tell you what sells well; if you spend enough time on your shop floor, you will just know.

And some management nuggets of wisdom

4. Organisation. Know what you are doing ahead of time:
Day: spend the last half hour to an hour of each day planning for the following day whilst it is fresh in your mind
Week: know what ordering you need to do, on what days for which suppliers. Know when deliveries will come in which might mean an extra pair of hands required.
Month/Year: with adult weekends (at Butlins here), school holidays, bank holidays, local events and notable dates ie mothers day, have these diarised so you can order specific related goods and have sufficient staff to cover at busy times

5. Know your staff. I’ve talked about this before but knowing what their capabilities are means giving them jobs to do they will be successful at. Having a good team with a range of ages, experience and aptitudes will mean a more successful cohesive team, leading to greater profitability.

It has been a busy day with lots of physical hard work and much learning for this young manageress. She will get there with my help and I hope by the end of the summer she is shining, confident in her own abilities and won’t need me to guide her. For my part, well I will have earned more money (big bonus!!), learnt another retail environment that is new to me, will have been busy so no chance to get bored and made new friends. Win win.

My parental halo is glowing

Isn’t it just lovely when people compliment your children?

My friend saw my daughter last night in her place of work and commented on how friendly, confident and bubbly she was. What a delightful lovely girl, she said.

Well yes, I have to agree. She really is. And I will say right here and now, I adore her and worship the ground she walks on (and she knows it!).

In part, I have my parents to thank for how she has turned out. I analysed everything they did wrong and vowed not to be the same with my child. So instead of berating and belitting in public, as they did me, I was always supportive, encouraging, praising where due and not admonishing for the sake of it. I never allowed her to feel a failure, which I felt the whole time; rather, we would look at any situation that didn’t turn out as planned and work out what she could do differently next time to get the outcome she desired.

Surprise surprise, it worked.

I also never allowed her to be shy or clingy to me. As a rather tall child – she’s now 5ft 11″ – I encouraged her to embrace her height, never to apologise for it or feel negative about it. Rather she must be proud of her height, proud of who she is and not let others’ opinions have an effect because they have the problem, not her. She grew up understanding that whatever negativity anyone threw at her, it was always a reflection of how they felt about themselves and not directly her issue.

Fortunately, I home educated her and I say fortunately because that allowed us to focus on her aptitudes and abilities and not be forced to study subjects for which she had no interest or aptitude. When you are given that kind of freedom, and I do believe it’s freedom, to discover who you are and what you’re good at resulting more success than failure, you have a better foundation in life. It’s my belief that school seems to focus on failings rather that success in so many ways.

But I don’t believe I can take all the credit for who she is today. She has chosen to take on board all the life lessons I’ve imparted, to readily learn all the wisdom and knowledge I’ve shared to become the amazing young woman she is. If you saw us together you would say, as my friend did today, how very alike we are and it’s true; when we live together, you can almost see us blending to become one person!

I can tell you though, quite categorically, that she is very much her own person. Parenting is hard and sometimes you wonder if they will ever listen to you. But now I can quietly observe that yes, she took it all on board, she was listening to me and has built on that to become the independant confident woman I see.

And that, amongst so many other reasons that I just cannot articulate, is why I love her with every fibre of my being. If there is only one legacy from my life, she is it and it’s a pretty good legacy. I’ve spent a lot of my life feeling a failure (thanks parents!)  but I know that I shine at parenting.


Job hunting – the trials and tribulations

Obviously I have polished my CV which, by my own admittance, looks pretty good and I have experience in many areas, all transferable skills from one arena to another. What I am not that good at though is covering letters, never have been. I’ve improved slightly over the years but still, not good at selling myself on paper. If you can get me into an interview I’m home, in my natural environment person-to-person.

What I don’t understand is this: jobs are listed on the various job boards, you upload a CV and tweak it to make it look good (because they never transpose well from your document to their pre-designed layout) and then hit the apply button; they then send you an email asking you to complete an application form! Why didn’t they just do that in the first place?

This happened to me yet again yesterday and all the information is there, on my CV but no, they want you to complete this online form that takes about 45mins (in that instance). What a palava.

I’ve done my bit being a store manager now, I just don’t want to do it again. There is far too much pressure within most businesses, it’s all about the bottom line and achieving/exceeding KPIs whilst slicing staff costs to the minimum. Working everyone harder and longer without the pay and, very often, the appreciation. No thanks

I’m happy to be an ordinary bod, go in do my job go home. Don’t even mind being an asst manager, I just don’t want the ultimate responsibility, I don’t want the stress.

So here’s another problem. I am an ENTP and we have very low boredom thresholds. Very low. Usually by 3 months in I’ve learnt the job and by 6 months I’m bored and antsy. At this point I want the next challenge; in fact, I probably started looking for it around the  3-4 month mark. This quote from Prelude Character Analysis is pretty accurate:

One reason why ENTPs find it difficult to keep on track is that their boredom threshold is so low that before the project is up and running they are thinking about the next one. They also hate commitment and feeling ‘shut in,’ and so they look for easy escape routes and will take one if things become stultifying. For the ENTP the chase is the prize and they will be long gone before it gets too serious.

Oh how true. On the plus though

ENTPs are creative, fresh and interested in such a variety of things, indeed whatever takes their interest at that moment, preferably the new, the novel, the exciting. They are excellent at reading people and situations and possess a wide range of views, interests and knowledge. This may, of course, be at the expense of depth, in that the ENTP will want to quickly move on to new pursuits, often before ‘completing the course.’ They are unconventional, sporadic, work with amazing bursts of energy with an enthusiasm that can be almost tangible.

So we have redeeming features 😉  I’ve never truly found an environment that gives me that ability to use my creativity and solution finding abilities (at which I am very good). Clearly I’m looking in the wrong place but I don’t know where is the right place.

Until then, I shall aim for mediocre, again, so that it pays the bills and keep filling in these stupid application forms even though they have my CV already.

Taking steps forwards

I viewed a little shop earlier in the week and by little I do  mean little. It’s no bigger than my bedroom. Nor does it have any stockroom or kitchen, just a loo. And it’s off the high street.

All that said, it was a usable space and I could have got quite a lot in there. Not having a stockroom means not overspending on stock, thus budgeting better; let’s face it, delivery these days is almost instant from most suppliers so you really don’t need to keep too much stock on hand unless you have a huge turnover.

Location is an issue even though there are well used restaurants and other shops adjacent and the road does lead to a school and residential area. Locals would know it was there but tourists are notoriously lazy – if it’s not right under their noses on the walk up from the holiday camp to the pub, they won’t go look for it. So that bothered me.

The estate agent was less than helpful. She arrived late, opened the door and then just stood there. If I hadn’t asked any questions at all, she wouldn’t have said a thing. So much for customer service. When I could elicit some conversation from her, she informs that I would have to put in a proposal to the landlord that would need to be drawn up with a solicitor, outlining how long I wanted the lease for, what I wanted to sell, any changes internally I might like to make and of course, the very basics, could I afford it.

The following day, I receive a rather curt phone call from the estate agents asking if I have a proposal sorted (in less than 24hours?? I don’t think so) because they have one that the landlord will be happy with. In other words, too late missy.

So that’s that then.

I have begun applying for jobs in order to pay for life in general but also a coaching course. However, this idea of a little shop is still there in my mind but it has to be on the high street and I cannot see any current retailers giving up their stores any time soon. But you never know.

A note on CV’s and Covering letters:
I am really not good at selling myself on paper. If you get me into an interview I’m great but although my CV looks good, my covering letters always look lack lustre. Doesn’t matter how many times I’ve tried to make them better, I’m just really crap at them and I don’t know why it should be so. Writing is something I love to do, just not about me I guess.

Devastation and grief at losing your job

The last few weeks have been hell. Very stressful and anxiety inducing indeed. One minute we have investment in the company, then we don’t; then two bidders come along wanting to buy at least half the shops, then they are outbid by one person who wants to buy 90% of the shops. Then that falls through. Then we have someone else in the wings who wants to buy the entire company. And the courts pull the plug.

During all this time we are sat in our shops with diminishing stock, bored out of our brains and not getting paid on time or in full (but getting it eventually).

Within the space of two hours friday afternoon, our worlds fell apart. We went from a saviour for all of us to a conference call instructing us to shut the shops immediately, we are no longer trading.  The speediness with which this was implemented left us all with no real time to process it.

I feel grief at losing my work family, devastated at the loss of my job, unadulterated anger at senior management for running a brilliant company into the ground and ruining it for approx 1000 people.

After spending the weekend feeling utterly emotionally and mentally exhausted resulting in a lot of sleeping, here I am, monday morning with nothing to do. I should be going to work, doing the paperwork, counting money and getting the shop ready to open. I should be catching up with my assistant manager and having a good old chinwag as we always do monday morning.

I feel lost, without purpose.

Somehow, I don’t know how, but I usually land on my feet one way or another. Obviously I need to find another job and honestly, it doesn’t have to be a managers job, as long as it pays the rent and other necessities of life, I will be happy.

But I am left with a quandary: with all endings comes beginnings, that is the way of life.

So, do I stay in retail and if so, do I take on a small shop of my own (can’t afford to take on my old shop, its too expensive sadly) or do I just look for any old job to see me through the summer?

Or is this not just an end to our shop, it is the Universe saying time to move on from retail and do something else entirely.

I am toying with the idea of coaching, specifically small business coaching and life coaching. In fact I have been toying with the idea for a number of years but haven’t done anything about it. Maybe now is the time?

Today though, I am still in shock at the abruptness of the ending of our company whilst trying to release several weeks of anxiety and stress. I need to get my head back in the game before I can make any decisions.