David Smartís blog: Last one to the bottom wins!

As a race we seem to be like the humble lemming, with the attitude: Ďletís just jump right off that cliff and, when we do, the dumb-ass behind will just go on and jump right off after usí. Why is that? Iíd love to know.†

I believe that shopping Ďshedsí (aka the multiples) destroy the towns they descend on and obliterate the high streets, along with their communities,

Yet, like lemmings, we carry on using them, only to get ever-poorer quality and a far less personalised service than you would receive in a small community shop.

Ok, Iíll acknowledge the fact that products are cheaper from a shopping shed and, as they fight between each other, the cheaper they will go. But sadly, it is the manufacturer which bears the brunt of this petty squabble and then, on occasion, goes out of business because they just cannot afford the extra costs in dealing with the big retailers.

Surely it would better to stop serving the sheds and downscale to a point where you can control your business and take it where you want to take it?

Just think back over the last 10 years about how many good family businesses have gone out of business - either choosing to close their doors or being taken out of business violently through bankruptcy. Sadly I havenít got enough fingers and toes to recall.

In a recent survey in my local shed, I walked the bread aisles. Most of the 800g pre-sliced and wrapped breads were between 50p and 75p. I know, as you do, that this kind of product is all based on a loss-leader mentality - to get the local lemmings into their store. We know that, so donít try to compete as youíll lose anywayÖ big time. The manufacturer loads cheaper ingredients into the products, to cut costs in an attempt to preserve their marginÖ because the more you give a shed, the more they will take.

So what is the answer in all this doom and gloom Iíve so liberally splattered everywhere?

Thankfully, Mr and Mrs Average actually do want a locally sourced quality product, served by attentive staff in a very favourable environment, and are prepared to pay for it and travel for it. Not only that, once you have them on board as customers, they are habitual customers and keep coming back. Break that cycle for one second, however, and they will drop you like a bag of hot stones.

Customers are becoming more savvy, knowledgeable of expectations and experienced. They travel more and dine out more. They get battered by cookery programmes on TV and now bakery programmes, each one telling the consumer what to eat.

There are also now food bloggers by the score - all young, all wanting to get their blog noticed, and therefore being hyper-critical in order to do so. They are ALL trying to influence your customer to like them, and you honestly think Ďsocial mediaí is just for kids? For crying out loud, wake up and wise up: social media is more important than the 10 oíclock news. Just one word out of place, and the news will spread like wildfire, feeding itself on you, until tomorrow when it becomes chip papersÖ except, in this case, itís electronic so it never goes away.

However, get it right, and you will be heaped with praise, with customers coming into your business wondering what all the fuss is about. Thatís your chance - a one-in-a-million chance - to hook Ďem and keep Ďem.

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