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July 2010

Voted best!

The readers of the magazine Interiors Monthly have voted for the 2010 Best Awards and to our big surprise:

Best Flooring Retailer ( 1 - 2 stores)

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Just returned from our short break we received a very nice surprise in the mail: the above framed certificate of the readers choice in the category Best Flooring Retailer ( 1 - 2 stores).

All winners in all categories will be announced in next month's issue of Interiors Monthly.


Can a busy small business close shop for 3 weeks?

A tweet from former colleague from our "corporate" days in The Netherlands caught my eye this morning

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Translation:

Can you as hard working small business close shop for 3 weeks? No. Will I do it? Yes! We're closed the 1st 3 weeks of August..

It made me think (which I told her and then she made the bold statement I was always on holiday - I can't help it my work turned into a hobby ;-)). Joking aside - my "hobby" takes up so much of our time we haven't been away for more than a long weekend for years - it is a good and valid question and somehow I don't really agree with the straight NO answer.

If you employ others also your employees are entitled to holidays, no matter what you as owner do with your own holiday entitlement.

Stretched out "pain" or short "pain"?

When Rahma and I both worked for a manufacturing company most departments during the summer months used the following system: only one or two could be away at one time, the rest had already been on holiday or were going later. Meaning spreading the work load, normally carried by the whole team, over fewer persons for many weeks in a row.
Stretched out holiday planning regularly produced "stressed-out" employees and managers. 'Cos the demands on the department stayed the same, no matter how many or few employees were available to fulfil the tasks. This can have/had a ripple effect on other departments too, which in the end can/will effect the clients.

Other (smaller) factories (and even the above mentioned company we worked for in its earlier days) use a different system: the whole caboodle closed for 3 weeks. Meaning, nothing coming in - no new orders too - and nothing going out. Short pain.
But no stressed-out employees either (not counting the bookkeeper worrying about his cash-flow). And clarity to existing clients too: if you need our product before this or that day, make sure you get your order in on time otherwise you'll have to wait until we're all back from our well deserved 3 weeks break.

One, two up to five "men" bands

Above two systems (stretched out or short) are more for larger businesses, employing over 10 - 15 people (or at least, that's my guess). How about what both Rahma and we are now "running": small businesses with a small number of employees.

Would stretching out be easier to handle or not? The owner/manager could decide not to take a holiday at all (been there, doing it - again), which leaves the "executors" of the work. Like in our case our fitters (conveniently forgetting that one of these fitters is my own partner who does not go on holiday without me!). One could not do the jobs normally carried out by two, so spreading the weeks does not help, clients/orders will have to wait anyway. And what about the bookkeeper? Who will do his/her task in between the normal other tasks?
Stressed out employees, stressed out owner, stressed out clients again.

So, the short pain system would be better here? Closing the "shop" for everyone for 2 - 3 weeks. Everyone away at the same time, clients know you're away for this specific period of time (do tell them way upfront and not the week before - seen it!)

Many small business owners (us among them) will worry about lost sales when the "shop" is closed for this x period of time. And what about new enquiries? For most, times are hard enough as it is.

Break out the system - double meaning

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Every single one of us needs a break from the system once in a while. Refuel the engine, step away from the daily grind, exposing yourself to new views, new experiences and new impressions or just simply to relax and only do those things you want to do (reading a book, taking a stroll over a beach, visiting musea or castle gardens). Revitalise, both for your own health as in fact your business health.

But closing shop does not have to mean the enquiries or sales have to "close" too.

  • Phone answering services are one option to redirect your business phone to if you know your prospects/clients won't leave a message on your own answering machine.
  • Some service offices can even take care of more than just answering your phone on your behalf, I know of one who posts your marketing material in answer of specific enquiries.
  • Online shops can use fulfilment businesses - they pack and dispatch your products to your clients.

Takes some upfront logistics of course, but hey, that's keeping the business going during your own break for you.

In our case it would mean

  • not booking installation work for those two or three weeks holiday, not that much of a problem logistically or frustrating for clients - we're normally looking 1.5 -2 months ahead anyway in busier times.
  • Online orders for small products could be handled using drop-shipping (as we often do now) in combination with a fulfillment service.
  • Phone would be redirected to an answering service, who we would "stock" with marketing materials.
  • And for all the enquiries through our website the CRM program will come into its own. Octane HQ will keep doing what it does now, as soon as someone fills in one of our webforms it will email the requested leaflet or access details to the Full Colour Online Wooden Floor Ranges Brochure and email the follow-up messages in the same automated sequence it does now.
  • Even our most popular webform: "Ask Personal Advice on Wood" could keep functioning by redirecting the notification email containing the question to a service office - which will have access to our online ScreenSteps Live database of FAQ to find the correct answer.

Of course not everything will go as smoothly as you would be on stand-bye but, hey relax, you're on your well deserved holiday. This means letting go, delegating the control too. It's only for 2 - 3 weeks. And besides, you still got your smart phone to read your daily emails from the answering and/or fulfillment service in case of emergencies.

Systems to allow you to break out your system. That's modern business life for you.

Hmm, where did I leave that holiday brochure?


How government's spending cuts could be really easy realised.

It was predicted and it was delivered: the government is cutting its spending. Some departments have to find ways to cut their budget (IMHO quite different than what they actual spend, but that's a different story) as much as 40%

If it all works out, all of us - tax-payers and beneficiaries of those taxes - will have a more sustainable financial future. That's the plan. As business owner and tax-payer (double, on personal and business "profits") I would love to see this happening.

Place to start: accountability

After the emergency budget was announced we received the following online order from a gov.uk email address - very local as well. A Kent council project/centre in nearby Ashford - 6 miles away from our showroom.

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1 bottle a £ 10.54 - total price paid: £ 43.17
Let me break this down for you:
bottle £ 10.54
shipping costs £ 17.63 (default setting, can be changed to appropriate costs during check-out)
additional fees £ 15.00 (fixed fee for payment by credit card)

So now lets retrace the steps the gov.uk person took ordering this one bottle:

Product and pricing information

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Underneath every single product in our online shop we list the P&P per quantity. In this case: ordering 1 bottle will cost £ 8.50 ex VAT for P&P

Check-out options

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First page on our secure check-out:
1) Delivery Method, select delivery method.
2) Default setting is the top one, 99% of our clients change this option when needed to a lower or higher one, depending on the information found on the product page.
3) The option the gov.uk person ordering the bottle should have selected

Payment options

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Again, default is the top one: place your order and pick up the phone (9 times out of 10 we're the ones who pick up the phone to call the client and discuss how they would like to pay.)
This time the gov.uk person ordering the one bottle did manage to select the correct one and changed the default method. But don't take me wrong, for an item costing just over £ 10.00 would you personally pay £ 15.00 extra just for the pleasure of using your credit card?

Simple savings could have been made

If this gov.uk person had read the information correctly the first saving would have been £ 6.50 ex VAT (£ 7.63 including VAT). If only this gov.uk person had picked up the phone to discuss the payment method/options another big saving could have been made.
We do charge a fee for payment by credit card, 3% on the amount paid because that's what the credit card companies charge us for the pleasure. Our online shop does not work with percentages so we calculated what the normal amount ordered is and based our fix fee for this payment option on this (and we win some, we lose some).

A simple phone call to the shop - only 6 miles down the road of the gov.uk person - would have told them:
it's only £ 8.50 for the delivery and if you insist on paying by credit card we'll have to add £ 0.61 to the total price = £ 21.13
That's a saving of £22.00 or 51% - more than any department is asked to save.

(And would a short journey from Ashford to Charing really cost that much in time and petrol? If they'd visited the showroom they could have saved another £ 10.00)

The principle of many small ones, pennies and pounds

Now of course does this £22.00 not make a big dent in the deficit. But as bookkeeper (and double Capricorn) I know very well that many small ones make one big one; that to keep an eye on the pennies, the pounds will take care of themselves.

The principle of who's money is it anyway?

Mine, and yours. And if you are only a little bit like me, you care about your money and how it is spent.

But for a gov.uk person in an office ordering one bottle online it seems to be nobodies money. It's on a credit card anyway, who knows who gets to see the monthly statement of all the spending?

Government spending cuts should start with accountability for every penny spent in her name. If there's a waste of yours and mine money the gov.uk person accountable should pay the moneys unnecessarily spent out of their own pocket, definitely making it their money too.

I predict that then a lot of savings will be made straight away, without any hardship to beneficiaries of taxes. (Update 12.07.10: listed this also on George Osborne's website: Spending Challenge)

(And before you berate me of having accepted this order with this tremendous waste of your money, the extra profit on this order has been donated to Room to Read - World Change Starts with Educated Children)