Go with the flow

04 April, 2008
Embracing change is tough, admits Tony Phillips, but changes have to be addressed and managed, always bearing the customer in mind
Page 24 
Well, another financial year has gone and trade has been pretty good. We could always have done with more, but we have eaten regularly. At this time of year, we now start thinking about how we will survive another year.
The news is not really good, but, as bakers, we are relatively better-protected than most high street traders. After all, people have to eat and we are selling low-priced products they need and enjoy. But what support do we get from local councils?Recently, while speaking to a senior manager in local government, he asked me why so many people took an instant dislike to him. Well, I told him, it just saves us time. There is no getting through to them that we are the best judges on how to spend our money. While we all despair on how our money has been and will be wasted, there appears no way we can stop it, as the bureaucrats live in a different world and mind-set than the rest of us.Looking back on the past year, I find it incredible that I appear to arrive at the right answer, after trying all the wrong ones first. Where is the wisdom that is supposed to come with age?Change: don't you get fed up with the word? I do, although I know we have to change constantly. Change requires a great deal of thought and very careful and detailed planning if it is to succeed.I have always found that if you write ideas down, rather than just discussing them, many flaws in the ideas invariably start to show. Writing everything down can be time-consuming, but the discipline of doing so is vital and often leads to disaster if one does not do so.So what is really the biggest problem facing us? I think it is to generate the necessary volume of trade to cover overheads, without losing profit margins. Market traders are the perfect example of how to run a business: they buy a product at 50p, sell it at £1 and, if it doesn't sell, they will constantly reduce the price until they get rid of it - and then try not to repeat the mistake. Bakers, however, will often keep making a product that does not sell and tend to blame the customer for not having the good taste to buy it. Should the product show a continual fall in sales - and you are quite sure the quality is right - then drop it. Either tastes have changed or the product is unfashionable. So just go with the flow and give your customers what they really want, not what you think they want.This is particularly true of Christmas lines. For most of us, they are falling off drastically. Both taste and buying patterns have completely changed.Shopper s are busy people and shop for convenience; to them, that means the supermarket for Christmas food and often Easter, too.I always remember my mother going from butcher to baker to grocery shop and on and on. But those days are long gone. Now, the market is dominated by one-stop shopping. We no longer sell so many Christmas or Simnel cakes. And as for mince pies... well, we used to sell more on Christmas Eve than we now sell in nine weeks.Should you be one of the few who are still selling plenty of seasonal lines in your shops, good on you. But I'll bet the majority are not selling anything like the volume you once did. So change is essential.



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