Archives Month: November 2016

Last week we decided to spend a couple of days in the Cotswolds. As we frequently do, enjoying the beauty of the area and trying to dent the Christmas shopping list.

A quick whizz up the M5, through Tetbury and into a perfect long-term parking space in Cirencester, just in time for a couple of flat whites before hitting the shops.

While Madam was making purchases, I was designated to getting acquainted with the boot of my car.  Soon it was time for a spot of lunch and when in Cirencester there is only one place to go, Made by Bob. Bob is a long term friend of Armada. Shock upon shock, the restaurant was undergoing a complete refurb. However, Bob sensibly has opened a pop-up café while the refit takes place. Two bowls of superb fish chowder and we were ready for the fray again.

The afternoon was spent in Burford, a fabulous and much photographed one-street Oxfordshire town. While the Boss was trying on outfits in Slate I decided to spend an hour in The Oxford Shirt Company. Boys, you’ve got to do it – there are thousands of shirts there, plus departments designated for Barbour, Gant and other major brands. I was in my element, bowled over by the choices until, while perusing a whole wall of shirts in every colour and style, a mature gentleman sidled up to me, looked me up and down, slowly, and announced “All those are slim fitting Sir!”. I didn’t know whether to cry, have a cup of tea or renew my gym membership.

After recovering my composure we drove to nearby Swinbrook and booked into the Swan, famous for being owned by Debo Mitford, aka the deeply missed Dowager Duchess of Devonshire. The Mitford sisters once lived in Swinbrook and although Debo’s estate still owns the property it is now run by Archie and Nicola Orr-Ewing.

After unpacking, dinner beckoned. The crispy squid with tomato and aubergine ragout, followed by Todenham Manor rib-eye did not look promising on the plate but one forkful in the mouth and you knew that this chef knows his onions from his scallops. An affogato and rather good wine and we were bound to get a good night’s sleep.

After breakfast I headed the chariot south, crossed the M4 and found another great parking space in the centre of Bath. More coffee, more shopping and then with a contented smile and sense of achievement we headed home.

Before the reverie had completely subsided we were engulfed by this week’s Autumn Statement, followed by truckloads of analysis, fear, doubts and handwringing over Brexit.

As I personally can’t do anything to alter the events of national importance I don’t believe in fretting about the what if’s or maybe’s but I was reminded of the correlation between our shopping escapades and people’s reaction to politics and the economy.

All the shops we visited in the Cotswolds, where the owners and staff were cheerful, helpful and positive, the customers were spending and enjoying doing so. Where the owner couldn’t look up from his paper to say “Good morning”, the shops were empty and counting the days to closure.

Why oh why do we feel the need and responsibility to understand politics and fiscal matters when we can’t influence them, instead of leaving such matters to the politicians and getting on with our lives in a positive and cheerful manner.

“Black Friday” doesn’t have to reflect our mood, after all, it is only seven days since all those positive, cheerful, hardworking children and adults inspired us so much during “Children in Need”.

Recent news about BHS and the shutting of M&S branches has caused me to think about the UK’s High Street retail changes, together with the impact that has on ex-employees and their families.

I won’t go down the road of sitting in judgement on Philip Green and his social conscience because I prefer to use my time more productively and assessing the positives in every situation.

Yes, we have seen the demise of Woolworths, BHS, MFI and Comet, plus so many more, in the last few years but these closures will always create opportunities for new people to fill part of the void left behind.

Readers of Armada’s social media will be fully aware of our passion for SME businesses. After all, we have been supporting this sector for over 40 years.

When we see large chains of businesses in failure or retrenching you can be certain that as day follows night, out of the flames of destruction young sparks with ideas, energy and the desire to invent something a little different will start creating – think of vacuum cleaner. Yes you may still be Hoovering your carpets but for sure it’s with a Dyson or a Gtech.

The future of SMEs in the UK will always be bright. We are a nation of inventors, adventurers and opportunists. However, the small entrepreneur, whether in retail, the leisure industry or manufacturing, while being  focussed on the quality of his product and service, cannot afford to ignore his ‘route to market’.

No matter how small, every business must have a web site and a good one, with lots of quality colour photos. If you don’t, watch your competitors with a good web presence and envy the number of people going through his door. If you are selling a product, use Instagram and Pinterest to show how appealing your products are. The sites are free.

If you are confused by the internet or lacking in confidence, start asking questions about social media, after all, helping your customers find you is just as important as your product or your service.

Don’t sit there waiting for the door to open – get up and go and greet them!

Ps.  If we saw M&S managers on the shop floor engaging their customers instead of shuffling papers in the back office we wouldn’t be reading about store closures. Ignore your customers at your peril!