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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!

Over a period of time we have built up a close relationship with Karen and her partner Gail – both these fit, healthy women are running their own businesses, Karen as a personal trainer and Gail as a hairdresser.

Oddly enough, the lease of Gail’s salon was coming to an end and wasn’t being renewed, which coincided with Karen being unsure how to progress her fitness business.

Now that I have spent a lifetime financing start-up ventures, the girls invited us to dinner to ‘pick my brains’. Lost cause there then!

Over steak and salad and a bottle of Borolo I spent most of the evening quizzing Karen about her business and her aspirations. Basically she enjoys being a PT but finds that she has more and more demand for her services and not enough hours in the day.

I suggested that she should run her own gym, dedicated to ladies and find premises that were large enough to hire out space to Gail for her hairdressing, but for her to also employ specialists for beauty treatments and a nail bar.

I don’t know whether it was the Borolo but by the end of the evening I was having to tell the girls to calm down and think it all through carefully in the cold light of day.

Over the next few weeks, whenever time allowed, they were out looking for suitable premises. Eventually they found a large barn conversion close to a substantial new housing development.

They needed all their capital for building works, décor and marketing and so they asked if Armada would finance all the gym equipment, hair and beauty equipment together with the security, music and nominal catering bits and pieces.

When Karen’s parents offered to act as guarantors to our asset finance agreements, the rest was just detail.

A few weeks later we had a return match and over a bottle of Chilean Carignan I was able to highlight the dangers of friends joining up as business partners. Setting the company up in the right formal context saves a whole Kleenex box of tears later.

I am delighted to say that six months into the new venture everything is very positive. Shame it’s a girls only operation as I thought I might get a free haircut and an hour on the treadmill. Never mind, my reward is that Armada has once again helped people to fulfil their dreams.

In 1994 Robin and his partner Gerard Basset founded the first Hotel du Vin in Winchester. They subsequently open a further six hotels, mainly in the South, before selling the group in 2004.

Having stayed at several of his establishments and hugely enjoyed the experience, I have had a great respect for Robin and his wife Judy. Their style has always been very customer focussed and unpretentious but never lacking in comfort and quality.

In 2009 Robin opened the Lime Wood hotel outside Lyndhurst in Hampshire and created media activity when he shrewdly involved the top chef, Angela Hartnett, to create menus that the ’London crowd’ would be bound to follow.

Never one to sit still, Robin and his new partner, David Elton, then opened the first of the Pig Group venues in 2011 in nearby Brockenhurst. With Judy Hutson’s interior design input, the Pig concept of restaurant with rooms has subsequently expanded to Southampton, Bath and Studland in Dorset.

Recently, in August 2016, they opened their latest venue, the Grade 1 Elizabethan manor, The Pig at Combe, close to the ancient lace making town of Honiton in Devon.

This was just too close to home not to be our next must do on the bucket list. A Monday lunch reservation was made and with all the expectation being high we were perhaps riding for a fall. After all, if any meal is going to show the cracks it would be Monday lunch.

Driving up the approach to the hotel through beautiful East Devon scenery was charming, as was our greeting. We were ushered into one of the shabby chic lounges with glasses of champagne and the menus.

While we were perusing the choices for lunch we looked around us at Judy’s choices of décor – perhaps a little more chic and a little less shabby would make for a more comfortable experience in this 16th Century property.

The dining room was stylish and hectic. An army of delightful, relaxed young people were extremely attentive and quickly produced the smoked salmon and octopus starters, followed by crab salad with chips, then stunningly finished by triple chocolate tart.

Sad to say, with a packed dining room, the chef was far too busy to congratulate personally, but he deserved it. The whole lunch experience made you want to return constantly and l’addition was a very pleasant ending to an excellent visit.

If you want something even more relaxed or you have children to consider then The Folly in the garden with its wood fired pizza oven would certainly fit the bill.

No wonder so many people have enjoyed staycations this year. British hoteliers, like Robin, are heavily investing in their properties and their facilities, knowing that for many years to come, more of us will be turning our backs on Europe and enjoying all that the UK has to offer.

In spite of all the arguments for and against Brexit, the EU is playing straight into our hands.

Well done Robin, you’ve done it again.

A little before I was born, in 1888, Frederick Green moved from London to Cardiff and opened a dairy in the new up-market residential area of Roath Park.

Although 50 when he opened the business he successfully purveyed milk, butter, cheese and other products to the good and great of Wales’ capital through the turn of the century and in the hands of his family, continued to deliver their products throughout World War 1 and 2. The dairy finally closed in 1958.

However, Frederick’s entrepreneurial spirit and genes were passed from one generation to the next, in direct line, until his passion for business emerged in Gilly Pollock, Frederick’s great-great-granddaughter.

In 2015 Gilly could deny her heritage no longer. She began looking for suitable premises to trade from and last year she opened her Green & Jenks Gelato House in Agincourt Square, Monmouth.

Now Gilly and her daughter Harriet are producing amazing flavours of gelato (less fat ice creams) from their premises 7 days a week. Try a waffle cone of Welsh cake gelato or cream tea. Quality of product and service is as important to Gilly today as it was to Frederick 128 years ago.

In order to be assured of the standard of her product, Gilly sourced the finest Italian manufacturing plant. As a new business she had the sense to come to Armada and finance the equipment in order to keep her cash reserves intact.

Knowing that Armada have been financing ice cream parlour fit-outs and equipment for over 40 years gave Gilly confidence that she was in the safe hands of experts. As the Green & Jenks families and Armada know, ‘Quality lasts’!

“We were very nervous about financing the new business but these concerns were negated when we were introduced to Armada. We found them so helpful and with a friendly voice to support us. Thank you for everything.”  So said Gilly Pollock.

Another new business supported and prospering, great!

  • 13 September 2016
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Due to Brexit and terrorist threats, staycations have become more popular than ever this year. With so many people attending the Glastonbury festival in June and enjoying the magnificent countryside of the South West, camping breaks are on the rise. They provide an affordable and enjoyable way of getting back to nature, whilst leaving sufficient funds to break out with pasties, pints and ice creams. Eweleaze Farm at Osmington on the Dorset coast is a small organic farm in an area of outstanding natural beauty, which includes half a mile of private beach and is open for camping every August.

Being folk who enjoy going native once a year, we took the opportunity of pitching close to the cliff edge for our friends and ourselves. While the lads were struggling with their guy ropes, pegs and poles, we girls headed off to organise our evening meal of fabulous pizzas from the farm’s wood fired oven. Much later, contented and full, we ended the evening around our camp fire toasting marshmallows.

The following morning, we rose early to the enticing smell of freshly baked croissants from the farm’s patisserie and washed them down with a refreshing, freshly made smoothie from the juice bar. After skimming pebbles on the beach and some energetic swimming to hide the goose bumps, we spent time among the farm animals (see their website) and flying kites. After a session at the farm’s own Turkish bath and sauna, it was off to their pop-up restaurant, Bramley Barn, for a lunch of Lyme Bay scallops and roasted crevettes. Our empty plates spoke volumes.

For fear you should think we were enjoying ourselves, we were frogmarched into a long walk along the coastal path, only stopping when the lads felt in need of a pint of Badger’s Best at The Smugglers Inn.

Here’s one family who will think twice next year before getting on a plane while there is so much amazing countryside and heritage sites to enjoy in good old Blighty.

http://eweleaze.co.uk/

 

  • 30 August 2016
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