“The Lack of Foresight Saga”

05 June 2019, 15:31 pm
Expert Eye by John Shepherd

On May 25th 2019 Partridges was 47 years old.

The opening day in 1972 occurred four years after the Forsyte Saga aired on BBC1 on Sunday evenings and upset clergymen, publicans and grocers by distracting a large viewing public from going to churches and pubs and small shops. It was a different world.

There have of course been many memorable moments in the history of our shop, but equally there have been some difficult times. For example, I believe in seven of the past 47 years we did not actually make a profit. Running a small business is often likened to being on a rollercoaster and no more was this apparent than last year. 2018 was a year that will be remembered for both good and bad reasons for a long time.

Although it got off to a promising start with a record-breaking January up 3.9% over 2017, February to April were down by 1.8%, 1.2%, 10% respectively. Sales were of course mauled comprehensively by the Beast from the East and other background factors were unhelpful, for example, local building works, political and economic uncertainty and increased short term costs. However, from June to December, apart from a slight blip in October, sales rallied helped by the best summer on record and a feel-good Royal Wedding and an enjoyable World Cup. Incredibly Britain climbed to 15th place in the World Happiness Index despite everything else! Yin and yang were having a field day. This spring the picture is looking somewhat brighter than last year. Although January 2019 was 1.7% down, that was in comparison to the best January ever. February was up 6.6% and March up 7.8%. Although we are still in the shadow of background factors in terms of shop sales we have made small but important steps forward. How sustainable this improvement will be still remains to be seen.

Hindsight and foresight (my two favourite sights) of course are wonderful things. Lessons learned looking back would have to include our inability to react as quickly as we should have when faced by compelling reasons. Only when the firing squad of destiny starts assembling opposite do we rush into action. Of course, many of the challenges are essentially not within our control – business rates, rents, pensions and building works. But everything else is entirely within our grasp – sales, margins, customer service, marketing and basic cost controls for example. It is essential to retain a focus on these vital life signs of a business and not get lost in the confusion of information overload that is does no good at all. It is just as important to retain the disciplines as much in good times as in bad. This is an implementation of foresight or indeed common sense. An unnecessary cost is profit lost year after year after year.

So the last 47 years have been a recognition of survival as much as a celebration of success. As some wise person once insightfully said, “There are no final victories or final defeats – just the same old battles fought again and again.” But it can still be a lot of fun. Here’s to the future of speciality food shops everywhere!

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