Jul 24, 2016

Under the counter: a sideways look at the world of independent retailing

“The birds have been pecking the putty out of the front window again,” my assistant Norman said. “And we’ve got what looks like watercress growing under the washbasin in the toilet.

“That’s hardly surprising,” I replied. “I’ve been telling you about that dripping tap since 2007.”

To be honest, it’s not Norman’s fault that Premier Sports is gradually falling apart. It’s just that we haven’t got the money to spend on improving the place. And who in his right mind would invest in a business like ours?

Consider crowdfunding
When I put this to Norman over the mid-morning flapjacks, he said: “What you need, boss, is someone not in their right mind. Have you thought about crowdfunding?” 

I said I’d read somewhere about giving money online to people who bank managers wouldn’t touch with a bargepole and with little chance of ever getting it back, just because they wanted to give some no hoper a helping hand.

“There you are then,” Norman said. “There can’t be many people with less hope than us. You only need to show them last year’s accounts.”

To prove there were people with more money than sense, Norman came in next morning with some stuff he’d got off the internet. “Look at this,” he said. “A man asked for £10 to make a potato salad and got £55,000. And a bloke who made soap out of meat was 1,000 per cent overfunded and had to send the money back.”

And as Norman explained, anyone prepared to lob out the readies for shares in a 50ft electronic snake or a film about a romance between a muffin and a banana probably wouldn’t be averse to giving us a few quid to replace the stockroom lino.

Norman said that if I was interested, the next step was to contact a crowdfunding platform, which would put us on social media. As it happened, his mate Norkins had just started one after being made redundant by the paper bag company near the fire station.

“He’s doing really well,” Norman added. “He’s already got a fiver for a man producing calendars of cats in fancy dress and non-fatal fly sprays. I’ll ask him to come round.”

Norkins had all his documents in a large paper bag and his sandwiches in a smaller one, which didn’t do a lot for his professional image, but he seemed to know his stuff. He said crowdfunding had started in 1997 when a rock band couldn’t afford to go on tour and fans had raised £60,000 via the internet in three days. All they got back were some cut price tickets and permanently damaged eardrums.

“That’s what we call donation crowdfunding,” Norkins explained. “Donors have a social or personal motivation for putting money in and don’t expect much back, although a mark of appreciation is nice.

“There’s interest paying and equity investment crowdfunding, too, but to be honest I’ve had a quick look round and I think we’ve got a charity job here. Trust me, I’ll do my best for you.”

Next thing we knew there was an advert on Facebook that read: ‘Premier Sports invites you to meet the stars. Rub shoulders with Jamie Vardy, enjoy a drink and a chat with Lewis Hamilton and Andy Murray. It’s all happening at Premier Sports - and you can be part of it. Get in on the crowdfunding scene while the offer lasts.’ 

“We’ll be in prison for fraud for this,” I told Norman, but when Norkins came in he couldn’t see what the fuss was about. “It’s what they call extemporised promotional interpretation,” he said. “Everyone’s doing it. We haven’t actually said they’re going to be at Premier Sports, have we?

“I reckon we’re on to a winner. They’ll be in here fighting to give you money by the end of the week.”

Under the weather
We did have one enquiry from a man who asked what time Jamie Vardy would be there because his uncle had seen him play for Fleetwood. Norman said Jamie was feeling a bit under the weather after all the championship celebrations and we were still waiting for a definite date.

Not a lot has happened since because Norkins has been banned from Facebook and our advert has disappeared. It seems he broke the rules by using duplicate texts in multiple messages, whatever that means. They also didn’t believe Norkins was a real name.

Yesterday Norman’s cousin had a modest win on the Health Lottery and has offered us £50 if she can meet Lewis Hamilton. The good news is she thinks he’s the handsome young chiropodist down by the bus station.

Fifty quid should get rid of the watercress under the washbasin and as a mark of appreciation I was thinking of giving her those rather nice hockey pads we always hoped would eventually go to a good home. If our experience is anything to go by, crowdfunding certainly has a future.


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