Posts Tagged ‘retail’

Ideas Are Easy. Implementing Them Is Not

Employees have good ideas

Ideas are easy but be prepared for failure

This week a documentary started called ‘I’m running Sainsbury’s‘ on Channel 4. It was a fascinating insight into how one of Britain’s largest supermarket works and the decisions they have to make on which products to stock and the revelation that three out of four new products fail when they are introduced to the stores.

The series is based around the premise that Sainsbury’s can benefit from making use of their employees ideas to develop the business because they are closer to customers and, therefore, closer to what customers actually want.

In this particular episode, one employee from the Watford store, Becky, had a great idea about enhancing an already good idea from Sainsbury’s which is their ‘Feed Your Family for a Fiver’ campaign which provides a recipe for four the ingredients for which you can buy for £5 or less. Shoppers would have to pick up the leaflet with the recipe and then walk through their local store to pick up the individual ingredients.

Becky’s idea was to put all of the ingredients into one bag which shoppers could just pick up the bag and go, saving them the time they would have spent wandering around the store looking for the individual ingredients.

The documentary followed Becky’s idea from inception to delivery to the commercial decision not to stock it after the trial period. At the early stages of the process, there were some slightly patronising comments from senior managers along the vein of ‘We thought of this already but never got round to implementing it‘, which gave us a glimpse into the realities of how hard it is to get a successful product onto the shelves and keep it there. It was probably a sniff of frustration from the managers in the supermarket’s head office who know the realities of product development.

Nevertheless, Becky carried on with getting her product developed from the stages of creating and picking a suitable recipe, having it tested by Sainsbury’s staff, having it photographed, having the packaging designed, before it went onto the shelves in one supermarket. The targets for the all in one product were set and the staff in the store set about promoting it.

In short, the product missed its target by half for the week and Becky was bitterly disappointed and took it, understandably, personally and let it knock her confidence. I certainly thought it was not a good trial because it was only a week in one store and it was only one recipe which may not have been something the customers would have jumped at to buy and make. I think they should have given in longer and had more than one recipe on the shelves. People like choice, right?

The main point that this documentary displayed is that it is, actually, quite easy to come up with new ideas on how to sell more products, or to think up new products when you compare it to the difficulty of taking that idea or product to market successfully. Ideas should be encouraged in any business or organisation that wants to ‘innovate’. But employees need to have a whole range of skills as well as the forcefulness to push the idea through the stages of taking it from a concept to a reality that people want to buy.

It is highly likely that your idea will fail. But that should not stop you having the ideas and trying to make them a reality. But be prepared for a lot of disappointment when it does not work. The real skill is to realise that you have to have a few failures before you come across a successful idea. Don’t take it personally. Do be prepared to take some risks which could either be financial or personal (i.e. your reputation) and hone your persuasive skills and business skills to get people to back you.


Will talking about eBooks on BBC Radio Lincolnshire


eBooks are starting to sell...

Here is a recent recording from when Will was invited by BBC Radio Lincolnshire’s William Wright to talk about eBooks and the market for them on his drive time ‘techie’ section.

Despite what you may think, eBooks are starting to sell at places like The advent of better reading devices like Sony’s eReader, have made buying them and reading them far easier. Some newspapers are available as subscriptions through these devices too.

However, there are still major hurdles to overcome such as digital rights management and payment models before they become very popular amongst the masses, apart from the fact that reading devices can cost around £300. 


Get Techie To Thrive

qrcode for

Working in and around the technology, publishing and retail world for over 11 years has shown me that most principals that are applied within the individual sectors to grow their business remain the same, but then something always happens that changes the way they work dramatically, forever. This used to happen infrequently in each sector. But now the frequency is increasing. 

For instance, technology was quite happily bumbling along with its massive mainframe computers and along came desktop computing to change the way we thought about computers. Booksellers were happily selling books in their shops and along came Amazon selling books through the web to spoil the chain stores’ party.

But publishing has not really had a major change for years (apart from the Net Book Agreement when price fixing was dropped in 1997). Publishers find, produce and market books. Books might have CD’s attached to them or they might have a companion web site with extra benefits when the book was purchased.

eBooks have been around for ages but they have not been widely popular because they were not very easy to use. But now there is a rush to convert books into eBooks because sales of them have become noticeable  in the accounts. Many booksellers have now started selling direct to their customers rather than through booksellers and online retailers which is quite a change. 

But most publishers have their marketing budgets tied up with the retailers buying the ‘end caps’ of the shelves, placing branded point of sale items onto the floors, or buying space in the windows to promote and sell their titles. A publisher will pay many thousands of pounds on the prime retail space in stores or on an online retailers site for a branded store, for instance. 

And publishers are spending a lot of money and time on converting their books into eBooks in a rush to get them into the eBook stores of the retailers and onto the mobile phones, laptops or eReaders of their customers. For this, the publishers will, no doubt, have to pay for the virtual store space to get their eBooks noticed in the vast eBook libraries of the retailers. Amazon has some 250,000 eBooks already in its store which feels like a lot before the publishers have even got going on converting books into electronic versions. 

Now is the time for publishers to get techie and understand that their moment is here to understand digital technology which can help them identify their niche customers, in ways which an high street retailer can only dream about, to sell not only eBooks but printed books to them. But don’t just advertise your books. Provide your customers with tools and applications which they will find useful to find, read, discuss and question your books.

But don’t just make your books elecronic versions of printed books with no functions or features. And don’t think that eBooks are all going to be read on mobiles or eReaders. Remember that nearly 70% of the population that is online in the UK accesses the internet through a laptop or PC at home or work. Provide them with a desktop tool which you can have built for a fraction of the cost of buying an ‘end cap’ in a store and which will help you connect with your customers not just for a couple of weeks, but for months. 

So, publishers, get techie and be imaginative to thrive because now is the moment when your industry is changing forever. If you don’t have the skills, don’t worry. But do get to know what the technology can do and think of doing things which would have been unthinkable five years ago. And hire some outside help to get it done.

Support Local Business? Why Should I?


A village circular dropped through the door this morning saying ‘Save Our Shop.’ It is not news. The shop has been under pressure for some time to keep going. The owner recently lost his Post Office income when the Royal Mail, in a ludicrous manner, changed the service from one which was based in his shop to one which is an ‘outreach service’ based in his shop for which he just receives a commission on postal work. He has campaigned tirelessly to keep his Post Office income without success. 

Now, according to the circular from the ‘Friends’ of the Post Office, his income has halved over the last six months which has affected his ability to stock the shelves of the shop. Once this happens in a shop, it is a difficult spiral of descent to reverse. Customers enter the village shop to buy a ‘basic’ product but find that it is not there so they go somewhere else to buy it. If this happens on several occasions, then customers don’t bother to come back because they assume their village shop does not stock it anymore.

I don’t like to kick a man when he’s down. Running a business is tough. You can see that he is not a happy man whenever you go into his shop. He looks drawn and tired. But, he does not help himself. When you enter the shop he is usually listening to his MP3 player. The children get short shrift when they buy sweets. It is not a nice atmosphere to be in when you enter the shop. As the circular said, the shop “is the centre of village life.” But that’s the problem. It is not the centre of village life at all and here lies the problem.

The cliche ‘Retail is Detail’ is true. If you run a pub or a shop, the landlord or landlady or shopkeeper are equally as important as the products and environment in the shop or pub. If the landlord lacks ‘people skills’ then people don’t feel welcome. They can put up with the products being slightly more expensive or not quite the right brand if they enjoy the overall experience of going into the pub.

Several years ago in Oxfordshire, our village shop was going through exactly the same descent into closure as the village shop here. The shopkeeper tried to bring more business by offering a pizza service to the village but he shut his shop at 5-30 which was no good for people who wanted a pizza for supper who were just getting back from work. He complained every time you went in there about how bad business was so you felt as though your small purchase of bread, milk and a newspaper was unappreciated. 

However, a mile down the road was a village shop which was more expensive than our village shop and the supermarkets but the owner was so jolly and always asked how your family was that you did not mind paying a bit more for the goods.

But the worst thing about the desperate pleas for business in the parish newsletter and the circular are that people will only respond to them for a short time and only if they see a change for the better in the place. In the long run, the shop needs to market itself more effectively than just appealing for charity. If it is the ‘centre of village’ then it has to feel like a place in which you would like to spend a little time. The shop needs to use the parish newsletter to send out positive news such as special offers to attract customers to the shop and not as a ‘begging bowl.’ But above all, the owner needs to make you feel good about visiting the establishment. 

Nobody is owed a living. People will buy from people they want to buy from. And these days, shoppers are very sophisticated and they have choice. For a business which faces massive competition from national stores, whether it is a shop or a pub, then their main selling point is the people that own and run them. And if customers don’t feel as though they are getting a good service from their local businesses then they will just buy the cheaper option from a faceless national business.