Einstein defined madness as doing the same thing again and again while continuing to expect a different result.

This got me thinking about my own business. When trade is poor perhaps we should think that the products we are providing are not what the public want or need. Maybe the service or ambiance of our shops is not good enough.

When you think about it, sales may be static or falling and yet we carry on making the same products and never really stop and think about changing them. Or perhaps our bags and packaging might need upgrading - surely the days of plain white bags and boxes are long gone.

Looking at the cost of attractive printed bags often makes me think I could spend my limited budget in other ways. Yet we all know marketing is by far the most difficult task.

Recently, I had the great pleasure of spending another day at John Slattery’s wonderful shop in Manchester and while acknowledging his incredible skill and craftsmanship I did not overlook his great marketing skills. Calling Slattery’s a ’shop’ is not really adequate - an ’emporium’ is a better description. Looking around his premises you soon realise that not only has a great deal of money been spent on marketing and displays but also a good deal of thought has been put into it.

A great friend of mine, Terry Hicklin from Missouri in the US, was a guest speaker at a recent conference held at Slattery’s. He told us how he had bought a business that had been established for 35 years and within six years had increased trade by over 500%.

This should make us stop and think how we can increase the efficiency of our own business. To be truthful, when I put on a 10% increase in a year I feel quite satisfied. But shouldn’t we be aiming for 25% extra turnover each year?

Now, I know anyone reading this will quite rightly say: ’If you are so clever tell us how to do it.’ The truthful answer is I don’t know. If I did, I would be doing it! But maybe we set the target too low and when we reach it we stop trying so hard.

Just over the halfway mark this year we are 9% up, which is nowhere near enough with all our extra costs. On a like-for-like basis we are only 4% up.

The sandwich vans are doing well and we have more ordered, the buffet business is holding steady rather than growing, but the retail shops are all over the place from 7% down to 13% up. There is no pattern at all.

Perhaps the time has come for us to start looking at refits. When we assessed two of our shops recently, we realised it had been 10 years since they were upgraded. Major refits have, in the past, tended to increase turnover some 15-30%, plus of course the uplift in staff morale tends to make them sell better.

But it takes a considerable sum of money to update shops. On average, I would say it costs a minimum of £50,000 per shop. However, I think the advantages outweigh the cost, so we shall be looking at revamping some of our shops in the New Year. n