Sugar and Spice and all things nice…..the plight of the small business


It’s been a mad time of late and I’m astounded to look at how much time has passed since my last posting. Apologies for the lack of wordage but hey something had to give and sadly it was the blog!

For those of you who aren’t aware, I do have two jobs – freelance event management and, my online gift shop – it’s been a roller-coaster of 6 weeks to say the least.

As a rule I always decline any freelance throughout November and December but I got a call to work on a gig with Alan Sugar and couldn’t turn it down.

It’s a been a while since the event now but still the knock on is being felt. People who knew that I’d been involved in the delivery and project management are still telling me what they’ve read in the press about Lord Sugar’s lack of understanding, how people were outraged by his words and how he should bow to the weight of the mites of the likes of the FSB and resign.

The experience has thrown up a whole plethora of thought patterns for me. Do people still believe ALL they read in the press? I mean are we truly STILL that gullible? The Daily Mail cited angry scenes of discontent and uproar to the degree that you’d think there’d been fistycuffs and shouting, maniacal scenes of outrage and nigh on anarchy – really NOT so – in any way shape or form. What you saw were countless businesses struggling in the current climate whether it be due to the recession, mismanagement or a failing by their bank to meet their expected backing. And they voiced their concerns and Lord Sugar gave his honest answer and sometimes it wasn’t what people wanted to hear but sometimes hard love is the only solution.

When I was last in business, on the high street, the best piece of advice I was given was – throw the towel in. And it was the hardest decision. My pride was hurt, my self esteem on the floor, my confidence shattered and my thoughts of what I’d do next utterly terrifying.

We are in tough times be under no illusion.

I’ve watched our online sales throughout November and they are good but competition is fierce and Christmas was a long time coming. The recession has doubtless led to a number of suppliers going bust and hence the selection of goods available more limited. In effect more of us are selling the same items and at lower and lower prices with a buying public ever more in search of a bargain but I wonder – at what cost? How can we sustain the endless 50% off sales from the major chains?

I look at stores duplicating their wares on Amazon and wonder how they make a profit. To sell it on the likes of Amazon there’s a monthly fee of around £28 plus a commission fee per sale of around 10-15% plus, in some cases free delivery. That’s hellish high volume traffic to make any decent profit.

I had a great exchange last week with both @retrotogo and @designconscious on twitter where we discussed the classic request “What’s the best price you can do on……?”

We’d all love to turn round and say “Twice what I’m currently asking, that’s MY best price!” but seriously, would you ask the same question at the checkout in Marks & Spencer? Would you argue the cost of a pint or better still, the cost of an orange squash in your local pub? Would you debate the price of a packet of cigs at the newsagents? A litre of fuel at the pumps? Your haircut? The puppy’s latest jabs? The pint from your milkman?

And if not, why not? Why is our industry any different I wonder. Why are people comfortable asking us for a discount but none of those listed above? Are our overheads so totally invisible? Is the online world somehow perceived as the cheap way to do business?

Interestingly 2 years ago I had quite an exchange with a would-be supplier who had a dual pricing system – one for those who had a physical shop and a different one for those retailing in the virtual world. The online wholesale being a much higher cost. Why? Again a notion that we have no overheads. Their argument was that we have a greater footfall. You think? Potential footfall yes, I’ll give them that. But the reality is a bit different. People don’t browse in our experience. They google their desired item, hit the store, buy and leave.

When we had a shop people came in for one thing and left with ten plus the wrapping paper and the gift cards.

I’ll be interested to see what transpires after Christmas – what the UK’s retail sales figures show.

For now, we have a loyal following at newroomsonline for which we are most grateful and we’re thinking how best to diversify in the New Year so as to remain a different offering from many online gift retailers so if you design, make or produce anything which could be defined as giftware, please do contact us, we will look seriously at suggestions, even if we decide you’re not for us.

In the meantime we hope normal blogging service will resume shortly!

Thanks to all of you who subscribe to the newsletter and forward it to friends – we appreciate the help!




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