“2019 and all that”

16 October 2019, 09:27 am
Expert Eye by John Shepherd

"Over the past 47 years, and since Partridges first started trading, the year 2018 has proven to be one of the worst!"

It was Ye Rocky Shoppe Horror Picture Show. Bad weather at the start of the year, rising business rates, rents and auto enrolment contributions coupled with local building works, pension fund shortfalls, bad weather and continuing political uncertainty were the background factors. It was hard to think how it could get any worse and although some trading elements have improved such as weather and building works, some like rates and pension contributions are not likely to get better anytime soon.

Incredibly we now pay £1,000 a week in business rates with no sign of our appeal being looked into in the near future. Also the threat of a no-deal Brexit would introduce tariffs of around 22% on average to our European imports, as far as we can make out, and as for pension contributions it’s all about bond yields – so these are all areas outside our immediate control. However – as John Major used to say – “no pain, no gain,” and after a period of shock and outrage last year and kicking the metaphorical cat we slowly got our act together and did something about it.

The Christmas quarter ended up better than our expectations and the effort we made focusing on smaller cost areas has started to bear fruit – for the time being. Although the febrile nature of consumer confidence at the present time means that any form of complacency would be fatal. Somewhat surprisingly 2019 has actually shown some bounce and hopefully not of the metaphorical dead cat variety – we need him to kick when things go wrong (metaphorically speaking). In terms of trading performance January was actually down by 1.5% in 2019. February up by 6.3%, March up by 7.6%, April up by 6.2%, May up by 0.1% (thank goodness I bought that doughnut), June up by 2.9% and July up by 5.8%.

As I write this at the end of August, we are actually up 8.5% compared to August 2018 – admittedly with one extra Saturday of trade this year. These figures are being compared to the poor figures of 2018, of course, but overall for the year we are about 4% up in sales and around 2% up in customers. It is difficult to know exactly why 2019 has been such an improvement for us on 2018. Many factors play a part. A recent article on the BBC News website highlighted research showing that longevity in humans is strongly linked to a positive mental outlook. This is likely to be the case for businesses as well and independent food shops in particular. Although, adopting a positive mental attitude is easier said than done, especially when facing a barrage of bad news that you have no control over.

This is actually one of the main reasons I enjoy going to the Speciality & Fine Food Fair each September. To recharge the emotional batteries and experience the creative energy of so many producers of great food. And hopefully transfer some of it into our shop. Just before the rollercoaster of Christmas begins. Fingers crossed for the rest of 2019!

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