You get the high street you deserve…

There have been big high street casualties before – it’s still a surprise not to see a Woolworths on the high street. Recently Jessops (the camera people) have gone into administration in January, now so have Blockbuster and so have HMV. Following Comet’s failure at the end of last year it’s a huge impact on the high street and a devastating impact on all the experienced people working in these stores. While many economists can talk dispassionately about “effective business models” and “slow to respond to market changes” analysis, maybe there is a more worrying trend, that is also more personal, showing up here.

Repeatedly consumers are proudly boasting that they see an item in high street shops and then buy it elsewhere – saving money and often (or even exclusively) purchasing online. It might seem economic suicide not to adopt this model – I mean we all like saving money in these hard times. But for many years I return to the same shop to buy new running shoes. The reason is the service, they know about running, they provide helpful advice and guidance, and by supporting them I am keeping them in business to continue for me and others. I can definitely take all the details of the exact running shoe that I like, and have tried out, and they have taken so long to advise me about, and go home and shop online and save lots of money. But I don’t. And I’m not sure that I agree with those that so obviously do.

It’s not just bad manners. In some ways I feel such people are almost abusing some tacit trade-off between buyer and seller. So while I recognise that companies that don’t change or provide poor service or charge inflated prices don’t deserve to stay in business; I don’t agree with a model that adopts a “view for real and then buy online”. Maybe as a society we truly will get the shops we deserve. As such shops disappear and we don’t have any choice but to shop online maybe there will be a business boom in smaller specialist shops again. And in a final irony, quite often at my favourite running shop, they nip into the back and re-appear with a pair of identical shoes I’ve chosen that are last year’s colours and offer them to me at a big discount.

Networking Event

I attended the first networking event of the UK’s most popular online business support community (UK Business Forums), held just outside the dynamic new city of Milton Keynes. Organised and hosted by Richard Osborne, it gave this “virtual” community a chance to meet up for the first time and to generally “network”. The day before the event we received the list of attendees, an interesting mix, from accountants to web designers, from business support organisations, consultants, charities, toy and joke shops to an eclectic range of professional services including supercar hire, and what I think must reflect the international nature of online communities, someone from “Bulgaria Next Big Thing”.

On attending (well signposted organisers!) we had corridor interaction, messing around with badges and trying to find people to talk to. Then ushered into the dining area we sat down at tables and Richard did a brief introduction. Surprisingly there were far more people from outside of the online community, so I’m not sure what that says about the UKBF community, maybe just that being online, distances don’t matter, whereas for actual meetings it does. A nice touch was that we were asked to move around the tables during the meal changeovers, which did provide us the opportunity to really network – as it was not co-ordinated we sometimes ended up with people we had just met with, but generally that worked well. Even better at each table there was a facilitator to move things along, this was a good approach, although some facilitators clearly had more experience and were more adept at this activity than others.

We had a good guide to “networking for novices” by Michael Markham, from Stanair, I found it really entertaining and useful. Michael made it interactive and gave some time for the “elevator pitch” from selected participants, and he did it all without running overheads or powerpoints. The man just stood, and talked (well, he moved around quite a lot as well), great show, thanks Michael. He provided time for us to rush around collecting as many business cards as possible (the winner got one of the elevator pitches) and lots of brilliant tips on how to network. A really thought provoking one for me was to ask “how can I know if someone I’m talking to would be a good prospect for you?” . Learn to ask that, learn how to answer that, and I think your networking performance will increase wonderfully. For that alone it was worth attending. And as we left people were buzzing and swapping business cards and chatting so all in all a good event, thanks Richard and Michael. And thanks to the UKBF, more @ http://www.ukbusinessforums.co.uk/f

carbon copy all

Its interesting to view the response from the recent networking event i took part in last friday. It was aimed at a bunch of us interactive types so youd think we’d be quite good at following up – after all it was about NETWORKING.

First, no-one hurriedly got on their PDA and tipped us an email (well maybe they did but didnt include me) late friday. Some enterprising sorts actually did some stuff over the weekend, well done them, but then I wasnt around to get it til Monday, when my inbox was pretty full anyway!

No, most managed to get thro’ the weekend and start thinking about it Monday – as did I.
I sent the same missive with a few variations one by one. Thats polite isnt it? Replies varied from a mass email response (great to meet you whoever you where) to a “proper” reply. Nice one you know who you are!

By Tuesday things got desperate with the late-comers either mass mailing us – who wants to see loads of email addresses in the “To” list. Besides which, I dont want people seeing my email mass mailed around. At least learn bcc guys! Worse still by this time we were getting the corporate war & peace (this from small business people) with endless attached pdf’s (yeh right im gonna download and read that, thanks) and assorted messages with attached jpg’s png’s and doc and pdf’s – any more three letter acronyms available people? Now its eased off, still waiting for a mega unique tailored offer email. But then maybe I should look at my own. Off i go.