Archive for the ‘Commerce’ Category

The Ultimate Mineral Water

mineral waterAs kids in the 1950s the last thing we worried about was carrying around a bottle of water. We played for hours without the need to re-hydrate, and when we did it was a quick slurp from a tap not a fancy bottle of water costing more, per gallon, than petrol. The habit of carrying around bottled water was created by marketing men out to make money not by any physiology need.

From a few long standing brands a whole host of choice has developed each vying for a niche in the market based on its exclusivity, image and its source. Fiji water has become something of a mixed blessing, it provides some income for the impoverished island but at a huge cost to the environment as its shipped across the world.

New we are told there are ‘buckets full of water’ on the moon. It was discovered when NASA crashed a space probe into the moon’s surface back in October. The idea that there was water on the moon has been around for sometime, now its been proved one wonders how long it will be be before you see a bottle of the stuff on the supermarket shelf.

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New Commercial Model Or Commercial Madness

newspaperThe internet has had a big impact on many parts of the commercial world and provided many new opportunities to make money. One of the easiest ways is to sell information, its a direct transaction that can be completed by delivering the data direct to the customer’s computer without the need for third party involvement, large buildings or sophisticated stock control systems. Some of these companies are simply electronic versions of old paper systems, some are just agencies selling on services provided by other companies.

The internet has also had a big impact on the availability of news on current events and how fast it can be accessed. Many news media companies have yet to come to terms with these fundamental changes. A few charge for access to their services but most of these are in specialist niche areas where the information they have is not readily available for free from other sources. It’s the daily and weekly papers that are struggling most, particularly in view of the way the monolith that is the BBC provides a very comprehensive internet based news service for free.

Rupert Murdoch has openly suggested that he will stop the big internet search engines from indexing his news sites and make them subscription only services. Most media commentators view his ideas as unworkable, particularly as the information he wants to make available for a price will have no value if it continues to be offered free by so many other internet sites. The internet has changed the news media forever, it seems Murdoch has yet to recognise that fact.

Ten Culpable, None Accountable

nimrodTen individuals have been named as being responsible for the failures that led to the crash of a Nimrod aircraft in Afghanistan. They were complicit in a process of cost cutting and failed to correctly assess the risks of the decisions they made. 14 serving militant personnel died in the crash, one of the single most deadly incidents in the whole Afghan war.

Having clearly identified the ten people responsible you would have expected their employers the MOD, BAE and QinetiQ to suspend the individuals and the Director of Public Prosecutions to issue a statement saying he would commence a review of the report by Charles Haddon-Cave QC with a view to prosecuting those responsible. All the families of the deceased have received is a further apology from the MOD.

Some of the people named have, since the time of the crash, been promoted, others have moved on to more prosperous positions. For the victims there has been no such opportunities, their lives ended in a fire storm caused by a culture that was led by cost and not safety that pervaded much of the MOD and their suppliers. Identifying those responsible should be the start not the end of the process of making those culpable accountable for their actions.

I’ll Have A Pint Of Competition

beer glassThe folks over at CAMRA must be spluttering into their pints at the news the Office of Fair Trading have turned down their claim the beer tie between pub companies and their pub tenants is anti competitive. CAMRA believe the way tenant landlords have to buy their beer and spirits from the company who owns the pub means drinkers are paying over the odds for their pints. They now have the hopeless task of asking Business Secretary Lord Mandelson to come to their aid.

But then CAMRA must be used to taking on hopeless tasks, I don’t think any of their anti brewery closure campaigns has resulted in a change of heart by company directors, and the majority of anti pub closure fights have ended with local drinkers going dry. They have even tried to persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to reduce the tax on beer only to see it rise year on year. Yes, CAMRA is the king of lost causes.

Not to say they haven’t had a few successes over the years, we can still find pubs serving beer produced without the aid of unnatural additions and filtering out all the tasty bits, and their festivals are nirvana to beer lovers and nerdy list tickers. CAMRA has also provided a market for quite a few people to build profitable careers out of writing beer related books. Lets see if Mandelson befriends the bearded beer belly brigade or decides a G&T is more his tipple.

Yes, More Of The Same Please

post-boxThere are two contrasting union approaches to the problem of companies surviving the economic down turn; at Vauxhall union members have voted to accept an agreement that will freeze their pay for two years and introduce cost saving measures in return for no compulsory redundancies. There is still some doubt over the legality of the Magna buyout as it would seem the help given by the German government may breach EU legislation, but at least the unions and management have made sense of a difficult situation.

Over at the Royal Mail things could not be more different, the stand-off between the unions and management has ended in strike action by staff due to start in the next week. Its a strike that will deliver no benefits for anyone, the staff, the management, Royal Mail or the country. Its a death wish brought on by years on infighting between poor management and militant unions. If ever these was a case study for all that’s wrong with British industry in the 21st century then look no further.

But then, the Royal mail is not a private company, its owned by the government and ultimately us the public. It was protected from the realities of commercial life for many years, until, that is it was made to stand on its own feet in preparation for privatisation. The inefficient working practices, the annual losses and the poor service had to end so the private sector would be able to bid for a going concern. The friction caused by the new managements tough approach has upset the staff to the point were we will all suffer. Its time for some realism on both sides, and time for the government to get involved, but with an election not far away that’s not likely as it would be far to risky.

Educate Our Employees But Not Our Customers

terry_leahyI am well aware of the woeful standard of education achieved by so many children. Just interview a few, even university graduates, and it does not take long to discover that many kids are ill prepared for the world of work. Basic numeracy and literacy are often lacking and even allowing for interview nerves few have the ability to express themselves in a concise and cogent way.

At first I was not surprised to read similar complaints by Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy on the poor educational attainments of job applicants and how his company has to take on the role of teaching basic knowledge. But then surely there is a conflict here, does Tesco really want a better educated public, have they not thought through the consequences?

A better educated public would soon come to realise much of what the supermarkets profess about price cuts and bargains is all smoke and mirrors. The extent of their subtle deceptions has even been noticed by the government. With a better informed public there would be even more pressure to introduce consumer legislation to ban these misleading tactics, not something, I suspect, the supermarkets would welcome.

Getting A Taste Of The Medicine We Have To Take

jet2comHow often have you suffered poor service at the hands of the big companies and felt unable to do anything to change the situation. We can complain to the service staff but that never gets to the heart of the matter. It’s the bosses you want to tackle but they are insulated by a multitude of customer service staff who do everything except provide any form of service.

It is very pleasing, therefore, to find a boss suffering at the hands of his own poor service. Philip Meeson, chief executive of Jet2.com found himself at the end of a very long, very slow moving line
of customers waiting to checking in for a flight on his own airline. He became so incensed the police were called to deal with this outraged individual who was letting his staff just how bad and lazy they were.

I trust he has now sacked all those staff who proved that they we completely uninterested in the customers who ultimately pay their wages. Its a great pity more bosses and senior managers don’t have a go at being customers to their own companies and see what we have to put up with day after day. It’s very rare to find somewhere in the UK where you are treated with curtsey and your custom is truly valued.

When Confusion Is An Aid To Profits

mobile-phoneOfcom has finally acted to end the underhand tricks and confusing marketing of mobile phones and mobile phone contracts. Its long been a tactic of the mobile phone companies to offer a multitude of contracts each offering a different mix of costs and benefits depending on whether you use a phone for voice calls, texts or surfing the internet.

This plethora of contracts makes comparing the different tariffs impossible, you could never be sure you are getting the best value for your cash. Add to this confusion the banter of the sales staff who’s primary aim is often to sell the contract with the best sales commission and you have all the ingredients for the consumer to loose out while the phone companies add to their profit margins.

The situation has gone on for many years and has been raised by consumer organisations on many occasions, so quite why it has taken Ofcom so long to act on this particular issue is a mystery. They have generally been proactive over all the other problems phone customers have faced such as the premium number scams. Lets hope they ensure the new code of practice is fully implemented and properly policed.

A Strange Idea Of A Country Pub

country pubWhen you say country pub, what sort of image comes into your mind, an old building with a thatched roof and ivy climbing up the walls, a large garden full of flowers and benches with colourful umbrellas, a few locals anding at the bar discussing the price of wheat, a tractor parked outside guarded by a sheep dog, a menu of rustic food which barely includes a cheese ploughman’s?

Ask any group of people and there will be a lot of common ground. Why then has Roger Protz, editor of the Camra Good Beer Guide, recommended the Maltings in York as a town centre pub with a country feel? There is no doubt its a good pub, in fact its an excellent pub with a very good range of beers on offer that includes several gems from the continent. But a country pub it is not.

It gets full of beer buffs who’s only interest in life is being able to tick off another beer that have never tasted before. Its full of uncomfortable furniture and completely lacks that country pub atmosphere of days long gone and any sense that its at the heart of a rural community. Roger Protz make a living out of writing about beer and real ale. That’s why he chose the Maltings, not for the country feel but for the good beer. Come on be honest and don’t try to hide your intentions behind such a misleading title.

When Its Been Around Forever Why Change?

jaffa-cakesIs it a sign of desperation? Was it a thought that arose in an idle moment? Did someone dream up the idea to try make a name for themselves? Were the marketing boys charged with creating a new advertising campaign? Sometimes it would be nice to know how these decisions arise, to know who we can blame, to whom we can send our poison pen letters. Unfortunately such information rarely gets into the public domain and when the reason is published its been massaged and manipulated by the PR people to the extent the truth is lost forever.

The latest example of the unexplainable is the introduction of a Jaffa Cake with corners. Now, I never expected I would say that, an oblong Jaffa Cake, why? Jim Tierney, managing director of Bahlsen, who plan to make their version of the 80 year old confection, said : ‘Our research confirms that 75 per cent of consumers prefer the taste and appearance of our Oblong Jaffa Cakes to round ones.’ Er, how come, they are the same in every respect except the shape, how can they taste different?

Once again we see the hand of the marketing department at work, take something that works, change its shape, tell everyone its now better and then put the price up. Oh not that you will notice that last bit. No the price difference will be well hidden by using a different weight of contents and over size packaging, to better protect the contents of course, to trick you into thinking you are getting more for your money. Well I will not be fooled, its the McVities round version for me or none at all.