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Nov 12, 2018

It’s best not to take anything for granted!

A sideways look at the world of independent retailing

I have to confess it must be nearly nearly seven years since we started having to kick the shop door open and shut after one of the hinges had broken. I actually bought a new hinge in 2012 and have every intention of putting it on once I remember where it is.

I remember that my dad also tended to put things off when he ran the shop. We had a chair next to the counter which squeaked when a customer sat on it. One day my dad said: “I’m going to deal with that chair when we shut for lunch. That noise is driving me crazy.” “How long has it been like that?” I asked out of mild interest. “Just over 32 years,” my dad replied.

There are several things which should be looked at in the shop to bring it up to speed as a customerfriendly retail outlet (mending the hole in the floor in front of the till springs to mind), but to be honest, things are a bit tight at the moment. Put it this way: If I survived a plane crash, my first thought would probably be about the size of the airport parking bill.

It was my assistant Norman who came up with a possible solution. Returning at teatime with a packet of Hob-Nobs, wet through after being deluged by the gutter that has been leaking since 2006, he said:“Why don’t you get a grant?”

Maybe he had a point. Only the other day those chaps on Moneybox were saying that there’s a hundred million quid available in small business grants every year and only half of it gets claimed.

“It’s money for old rope,” Norman said, remembering a story he’d seen in the Daily Mail about a council who was giving grants to needy lefthanders, out-of-work golf caddies and anyone born on June 12, 1979.

It seemed worth a try so I rang the council. Apparently the grants officer dealing with implementation management and monitoring was at the dentist and the chap responsible for protocol and strategic planning had mistakenly thought he was on holiday and had gone to Westonsuper- Mare.

I was welcome to speak to the grants procurement integrity officer who had a sore throat. To be fair, the poor guy, whose voice sounded as though he was speaking down a piece of garden hosepipe, tried his best.

He said there were no grants available to repair the premises of small independent retailers but if I could convince the authorities that I was a health-food shop I could be in line for a vegetarian resource grant, not to mention a potato industry interest-free loan.

“Pity you’re not a heavy industry,“my new friend said. “There’s some good grants for female welders, particularly from Scandinavia. Money for chocolate technology and school bands and orchestras has been kicking around for ages, but I daren’t give you that.”

There was a skateboard scholarship going begging, which sounded promising but you had to be under 16 and preferably a victim of urban stress. “You’re not a fire-eater are you?” said the guy, obviously anxious to help. “There’s a nice bursary from a circus and you’d get expenses for time spent in Casualty.”

I toyed with the idea of stocking a few bottles of male deodorant and having a crack at a grant from the Fragrance Research Fund but decided it wouldn’t help our macho image. Also, we wouldn’t be able to smell the gas if we had another leak, or when another rat died under the floor.

“The money from a rhododendron research grant would probably take care of your immediate expenses,“the grants officer said.“But they’d almost certainly want to check on your greenhouse facilities and raised beds. Candy technology is another possibility. We all like sweets, don’t we?”

Anyway, I filled in a form for a grant just in case there was anything going - and not surprisingly received an avalanche of forms wanting to see every bank statement since 1998, the address of my next of kin and whether I’d ever spent a night in custody in a police station.

It was when the organisational compliance officer, who looked about 15 and had five pens in his top pocket, visited the shop and asked for my blood-pressure and cholesterol readings in front of a group of schoolgirls looking at hockey-sticks, that I decided to call it a day. Is it any wonder that fifty million quid of grants goes unclaimed every year?

Thought you might like to know I’ve just had a call from my pal in the grants office. Apparently he’s a DIY freak with all his own power-tools and likes nothing better than a few odd jobs, cash in hand, at the weekend.

Reckons he can sort out the shop in no time for a very reasonable rate. Might even get a grant for it.

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