Duck and Cover …it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 24th August 2018

Judging by the feedback to last week’s Blog, it seems that I was not the only fan of the ‘Saving Poundstretcher’ documentary. The series ended this week, with the entirely predictable denouement which saw Chris Edwards and his henchmen relieved of their duties by the family owners. I guess ‘Tic-tac man’ will have to find someone else to fund his addiction now. Ultimately, the show provided a fascinating insight into just how badly a retail business can be run and still manage to survive! One wonders just how badly run the ones that fail must be. It was also interesting to see the chasm between head office and the store managers in terms of understanding the company’s business model. If nothing else, the show underlined the essential role which effective systems, stock control and intra-company communication play in the modern retail environment.

If the programme makers are looking for a candidate for a follow-up series, I would love to see cameras follow the inner workings of the ‘Sasda’ merger as it unfolds. This week, Invesco Perpetual, Sainsbury’s third-largest shareholder, gave its backing to the deal, saying it would “help the company to go toe-to-toe with Tesco” (although presumably that isn’t the only reason they are doing this…surely??). Buried deep in the Times article which discussed the deal, the fund manager also had this to say: “The synergy costs are conservative and could be much bigger.” A throwaway comment in the context of the piece, but a rather important point of detail: shareholders are clearly expecting significant cost-cutting as a result of the merger, either by a reduction in store count, head count or likely both. According to another shareholder, “Mike Coupe got a round of applause when he went to the Asda HQ after the merger was announced and was welcomed with open arms.” Let’s see if that is still the case next year…

Amidst all the turbulence and major changes within the major retail accounts, it was nice to report on indie retailer Toys n Tuck’s 25th anniversary this week. It is no mean feat to reach a quarter century in today’s unforgiving climate, so kudos to Alan and the team, and all the other indies battling the prevailing retail headwinds. The UK toy community is all the richer for its diversity, so long may the indies continue play a pivotal role in the toy eco-system.

Some indie retailers face bigger battles than others. Cambridge-based Lighthouse Toys co-owner Sam Broad has been affected by some awful health problems in recent years, and is now confined to a wheelchair, restricting her from visiting the store except on rare occasions when her health permits. Despite this, Sam has continued to run the buying side from home and is now raising funds for a specialist wheelchair to help her to take a more active role in the business again. The link to Sam’s GoFundMe page is here if you would like to support her.

Finally, I regularly receive press releases from ParcelHero, commenting on business developments of the day. It is fair to say that we have not always seen eye-to-eye on certain matters, so it was nice to receive a press release from them which I wholeheartedly endorse. Their latest missive compared the government’s frankly embarrassing No-Deal Brexit advice papers with the astonishing ‘Protect and Survive’ booklets which were distributed by the government in the 1980s. These booklets offered helpful suggestions on how to survive a nuclear attack – for example, by sheltering under a table (younger readers, if you don’t believe this, ask someone who was around at the time – the government of the day genuinely spent real money doing this!!). Back in the Sixties, there had been a similar series of nuclear-warning pamphlets called Duck and Cover – which some might say would be an appropriate title for the government’s whole Brexit strategy (and with about the same level of effectiveness). You can read the full (horror) story here. As the release says, let us all hope that the nightmare scenario of a No Deal Brexit can be avoided; if retailers and suppliers end up having to deal with that on top of everything else, I suspect the next few years will take the word ‘challenging’ to a whole new level.