John Shepherd, Partridges: “Foinavon times”

06 January 2023, 16:21 PM
  • John Shepherd, managing director at Partridges, shares his advice on how small independent retailers can succeed in 2023
John Shepherd, Partridges: “Foinavon times”

Foinavon was a racehorse who famously won the Grand National in 1967 at odds of 100 to one.His achievement is obscure to lots of people nowadays as it happened 55 years ago, but perhaps it could serve as a metaphor for speciality food shops as we face the challenges of 2023.

Basically, Foinavon was not an outstanding performer but he was a solid one. He was placed in some races and changed owners a few times. When he was entered into the Grand National in 1967, there were not high hopes for his chances and he was turned down by three jockeys until shortly before the race a jockey finally agreed.

Neither the trainer nor the owner turned up to watch as Foinavon lined up to start the race with 43 other starters and some prominent names of the time in the field.As they approached the 23rd fence on the second circuit, Foinavon was 22nd. At the fence, due to an unexpected event involving a riderless horse, many horses collided, refused, fell or unseated their riders. Foinavon following behind all this slowed down, found a gap and cleared the fence to gain a 30-length advantage with only six fences left and went on to win.

As we speciality food retailers line up for the start of 2023, many of us will be hoping to survive the course with the daunting obstacles of the cost-of-living crisis, energy price hikes, staff shortages, supply issues and national strikes. But as smaller businesses we have the flexibility and ability to slow down, adjust course and manouevre our way through crises. Every new danger presents a different challenge of course, and it is important to be aware some can be fatal, but having got through Covid, Brexit and assorted unprecedented occurrences at least for the present time, there WILL be a way through the avalanche of worries that await us in 2023.

All the major food retailers are facing the same issues but not all have the ability to multitask or evolve so quickly. By this I mean to change course abruptly and throw precedent out of the window. From finding new food and wine suppliers overnight, to listing new products instantly, to updating prices, to asking staff to carry out different roles from one hour to the next, to changing utility suppliers or even adjust opening and closing times when necessary without getting clearance from head office.

Nor do the larger players have the same ability to reach out to customers because the relationship between staff and customers in speciality food shops is on a more personal level. In short. we can reach parts of our local communities that other bigger food retailers cannot reach. And lastly, we can respond to customer feedback instantly and act on suggestions from staff to put things right when necessary.

Here’s hoping we will all be able to produce some Foinavon moments for our small businesses to get through the year.

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