New head, Same thinking?

So, election fever has hit once again. The build up was the worst kept secret we’re told but with the abuse of the whole system it beggars the question: Why wait for an official announcement if it means nothing?
Mr Brown completely ignored the rule that states when the electioneering can start thus giving his competitors no valid reason to wait either. The role of our monarch in this has been turned into a ceremonial gesture, nothing more. It just takes away one more reason why we need them.
Meanwhile, the lying, sorry, campaigning carries on regardless. Sure, a few specific words and claims have to wait for the short trip to The Palace before they can officially be used but we all knew, as they did, that the campaign had started already.
If this was a business campaign there would be, well, very little outcry really. But had the release of a new film been set and advertising leaked early, the film distributors would protest. Had a new product been in development and photographs released to select websites illegally, and then claims and counterclaims would be flying from lawyer to lawyer.
As it is, our decision makers, the law makers indeed feel free to flaunt all rules when it comes to ensuring self preservation.
Do we really believe anyone who gets in to the top job has any intention of really making any substantial change? The systems that are in place to ensure our supposed stability and safety wouldn’t allow any radical make over. The implementation of anything from Whitehall depends on the unelected public servants to make it come to fruition and if they decide to bog it down or dilute it so it has little of its original bite then it won’t happen. We may vote one person into the position but they will never have all the power. They will have to compromise and sacrifice so many of their promises that the only real manifesto would be one that says “ We will try to possibly attempt to do the following..”
All those that get in will do is, try to slow down or derail the actions put in place by their predecessor and to stamp their own identity on the role. Very little else is possible without the cooperation of the mass unnamed civil service flunkies who don’t have to change when parliament does.
So, here’s to a lively campaign, a vibrant and exciting election and the installation of a new head with all the same options and all the same ideas.

A New Era Beckons

March 4, 2010

After a number of years, the time has come to collate and collect al the various online activities of the Weston Chamber into one cohesive site.
The Facebook site will lead and feed to the main site, as will Twitter. This will also involve a massive overhaul of the original site content and a transfer of the membership directory and all member profiles. In all, it will make the website much more simple for a few select people to contribute to and for me to run/moderate.
The original site was a super-site,growing in size all the time and rapidly became more than it was possible for one person to handle. It was , in effect, a victim of its own success.
The new site will still have the same basic content and aim and will use the same name and URL but will be driven by WordPress.
All this will take a while but will be worth it all.

Chamber does Xmas!

November 13, 2009

CHAMBER CHRISTMAS MEAL

The Chamber of Trade Christmas meal will this year take place at Hobbs Boat Inn, on Thursday 3rd December, at 7.00 for 7.30 p.m.

In order to ensure that sufficient places are reserved, please let the Secretary know by Monday 16th November. Please also at that time enclose a cheque for £16 per head (which will include a free raffle) made out to Weston super Mare Chamber of Trade. There will be three courses, which are shown on the back of this notice. Please let her know the choices you wish to make from this menu.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

I ……………………………………………………………… of ……………………………………………..

wish to attend the Chamber of Trade Christmas meal on Thursday 3rd December. There will
be …………………………… people in my party, so I enclose ……………………………………….
at £16 per head for everybody.

STARTERS
Garlic and Herb Breaded Mushrooms. An all time pub favourite and great for dipping into garlic, mayonnaise and BBQ sauce.
Drunken Duck Pâté (contains traces of alcohol). Our pâté is smooth and enriched with sweet wine, Bramley apple jelly, truffles and cream. Served with slices of toasted seeded loaf and our own Table Table spiced onion marmalade.
Prawn Cocktail. One of the classic ways to eat prawns! Served on crisp salad leaves with tomato, cucumber, a classic Marie Rose sauce and a chunk of seeded loaf.
British Seasonal Soups (v). Our soups are made from British grown vegetables, which fall within our seasons. Served with a chunk of seeded or cheese loaf.

MAINS
Hand Carved Roast Turkey. Served with roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, sage & onion stuffing, pork and bacon chipolata, seasonal vegetables, gravy and cranberry sauce.
Bacon & Cheese Topped Chicken Breast. Served with BBQ sauce, mixed salad and your choice of chunky chips or a jacket potato.
7oz 28-day Matured Rump Steak. Served with watercress, roasted vine cherry tomatoes and chunky chips.
Grilled Salmon Fillet. With Pomodorino sauce, buttered new potatoes and seasonal vegetables.
Spinach & Nutmeg Soufflé Tart (v). With garlic roasted new potatoes and crisp salad leaves tossed in French dressing, with tomato and cucumber.

DESSERTS
Christmas Pudding (contains traces of alcohol). Served with a rich brandy sauce.
Tiramisu (contains traces of alcohol). A decadent Italian classic.
Profiteroles. Served with warm chocolate flavour fudge sauce and double cream.
Chocolate Tart. A rich chocolate filling in an all-butter pastry tart served with double cream.
British Ice Cream at its Best! Our ice cream truly is scrumptious! Made from a blend of delicious creamy milk from Jersey cows and double cream made in the Chiltern Hills. Enjoy three scoops of vanilla or strawberry & clotted cream or Belgian chocolate truffle. Top with warm chocolate flavour fudge sauce or blackcurrant coulis.

Please return choices and payment by Monday 16th November to:

Mrs Helen Whiston, 38 Mansfield Avenue, Weston super Mare, BS23 2YD
or:helenwhiston@hotmail.com

Chamber gets Social 2

November 1, 2009

Thanks to an alert from the very professional WordPress Team, we now link up with our Twitter account!
Find us at : http://twitter.com/ChamberKnight

Chamber gets Social!

October 31, 2009

We have ,as a direct result of the Wired Weston seminar feedback,created a business page on the Facebook social media site.
Click and see!

 

Weston-super-Mare Chamber of Trade and Commerce on Facebook

We are currently laying down plans for our October seminar. It will be based around the idea of social media and how businesses use the various forms to enrich their presence and how it relates to their bottom line.
Do you have a case study we can use?
Have you tried it and found it has helped or hindered?
We would like to hear stories of individuals or groups,companies or sole traders, anyone who can show how Facebook,Wordpress or Twitter, linkedIn or Ecadamy or any other site has improved things for them in the present climate.

Having recently tried to tackle the issues faced by small to medium businesses against the big chains, I thought it might be helpful to perhaps pass on some of the advice I have received and those tips that myself and my fellow traders have found to be the most useful.
1:Remember your customers are people, not numbers.
This is as basic as it gets;no one likes being a reference number. It helps the business admin to have a reference for each transaction but to the customer, it removes the personal touch and makes them feel unimportant and unwanted. Smaller businesses are more likely to have regular and locally based customers. Being greeted by name and by someone who can recall what you discussed on a previous visit is enough to warrant the small percentage difference in price for a lot of people. It makes them feel special and for all of us, that is something money cannot replace.
2:We are neighbours.
Chances are that your customers are also locally employed, meaning that if you shop locally or live within your own delivery or service area, you may well be their customer at some point. Treat them as you would expect or want to be treated.

3:Small details make a big deal.
Large chains often offer prices we cannot match due to buying power. What they can’t always offer are the small details that a small business can. The inflexibility of a large chain system can work in your favour. If the customer is on your route home, why not offer to deliver personally after locking up?
A £299 freezer with a delivery charge and a delivery date only means the customer has to wait in all day for the goods and pay extra for the privilege plus losing a days wages or holiday.
Offering a £330 freezer with delivery on a weekend or after hours , especially if its a free delivery and removal of the old unit, will often clinch the deal.

4.First amongst equals.

Treat people as equals with equal knowledge in a different field.No one feels like spending money if they are made to feel inferior.

5.Team work continues outside the office.

In any business community, the small businesses must work together to a common goal.What helps improve the business environment in your area will help all businesses in that area. Consider joining a traders group, such as your local Chamber.Larger chain companies cannot or will not contribute to local issues, thus alienating customers who feel strongly about those issues.

6.You are your own brand.Sell the brand.

How many customers buy a product because of a recognised name? Brands sell. Make your name/company name recognised locally.People don’t talk about popping out to the supermarket, they go to Tescos or Sainsbury’s. Make your name synonymous with your service and product and people won’t consider the competition.Make sure people refer to your business by name rather than description.Sell the brand ,then the product.

7.Knowledge is power.

Train your staff and yourself. Be able to back up the written description of the product with more information that the customer won’t find on the ticket.I have shopped in large department stores where, when asked about a product, the staff could only read off the shelf ticket. I can do that myself. Educate your staff and any knowledge will translate as specialist training to the customer and therefore value for money. Importantly, keep the knowledge fresh:Update training regularly.Use your local school,college or training  facilities.

8.We are all unique.

Try some form of exclusivity. A number of suppliers will avoid competing with themselves by only supplying to one outlet in a given area. If they themselves are a small business (by comparison) they will have problems with supplying to large chains. Make an exclusivity deal and eliminate local competition. Promote that exclusivity. i.e.’Approved Stockist’ .

9.Can’t compete won’t compete.

This is one of the controversial tips. Some deals you won’t be able to match. Economies of scale mean that unless you are promising orders in huge amounts and often, suppliers simply won’t give you the same prices as the chains.The answer may be simply to not offer that product. Accept you cannot win and offer something else:An alternative or a different product line alotogether.Putting all your effort into trying to run with the big boys may leave you more vulnerable than running your own path and picking up customers that way.

10.If you love them, set them free.

Sometimes it is easy to put too much pressure on the customer for that first sale.The ethos that no one leaves without a purchase can make uncomfortable shopping for the poor customer. Sending them away with information and a feeling that you are there to help rather than just to snatch a deal will make them more inclined to return. If there is no pressure to part with money immediately, they will feel more at ease and happier to trust you and ,hopefully to invest in that trust.In furniture sales, I have found a rushed sale often results in mistakes and returns. A customer at ease and reassured after up to three visits before the final decision is more likely to have made a considered and therefore correct choice. The follow up visits and subsequent purchases prove that. Someone is more likely to return and pay that small percentage more for goods if the environment is a happy and comfortable one and they don’t feel under pressure to buy.

 

 

Update and more

July 9, 2009

The chamber has been busy of late and I can say with honesty, I mean the chamber and not just myself.

The new executive has brought a breath of life into the chamber with two vice presidents sharing the workload and bringing new ideas and fresh enthusiasm to the board. The newly established membership team has brought a rise in membership figures and has managed to clear out the older deadwood that were still being listed as members but had failed to renew membership in the last year or more. The team has also managed to update all the contact names for members so we can direct communications to the correct person. Many of the original contacts had either passed on, moved on or left the company so causing a lot of chamber contact to wither and die.

It is essential when running any large group to constantly update and renew contacts. Your members won’t always let you know when staff changes are made and your letters could be heading straight for he waste paper bin for years to come!

The new membership team has proven itself by having regular team meetings outside of the normal chamber meetings and updating the executive as they work and on their results. The team has a treasurer, secretary and a few officers actually out and about chasing memberships in person and bringing a human face to membership applications. It has resulted in a rise of about 30% in active/live membership in the last year.

The next team that I hope to develop will be I.T. The chamber website was one of the reasons the chamber avoided collapsing entirely and now runs at over 100 pages. It needs a team to constantly monitor and update the content though otherwise we will lose the advantages of having it.

On the activities front, We had our AGM at Battleborough Grange and elected a few new exectuive members, mainly as executive but also two new Vice Presidents. The new members have already made an impact and results are showing. The V.P.’s and myself have met to discuss responsibilities and organising future meeings and speakers was one of the main priorities.

We hosted our second town centre business breakfast on the 3rd of June which was a quiet success with local M.P. John Penrose (Shadow Secretary for Business and Enterprise) as main speaker. This event is growing and will hopefully continue to over the next few months. Next is planned for September due to the holiday season.

I was personally invited to attend the opening of The Sand Sculptures on Weston Beach. It always amazes me how much skill goes into creating what are really temporary works of art.

Our next meeting is scheduled for the 15th of July at The Royal Hotel, Westonsuper-Mare. Meeting starts at 7pm.

Date of AGM announced

May 23, 2009

The Annual General Meeting of the Chamber will take place on Monday 15th June at The Battleborough Grange Hotel,Brent Knoll, Somerset.

Breakfast Frenzy

May 14, 2009

This week has been a bit of a time shift for me simply because I am one of the worst people I know for early starts. Monday was the usual wake up at half seven, wake up again at eight then rush about getting fed and making myself presentable before leaving at quarter to nine. Tuesday came with a six o’clock start, rolling out of bed half an hour later and struggling through the usual routine nearly ninety minutes too early for my brain to recognise where, who or what it was. It was the day of the Inside Business Magazine Open Forum breakfast at The Winter Gardens . That was a dry affair, from the breakfast bap with a couple of greasy slices of bacon to the debate which turned out to be a chance for the board to talk at the audience. The breakfast which preceded the sit down forum was little more than a large foyer with a table of bacon baps and danish pastries served by two members of staff and accompanied by a coffee or tea. This meant standing and talking whilst trying to juggle a paper plate and a china cup and hand out business cards all at once. Not a wise idea and I’d recommend perhaps seating as a minimum.

The forum wasn’t. It was billed as an open debate but realistically would have required a full day of debate rather than the hour or so that we had. The panel were all very educated in their fields but didn’t actually answer many of the questions the audience were asked to submit beforehand. The range of subjects that were covered was very limited, mainly due to time constraints. A much lengthier debate would have received greater plaudits.

After that, I returned to my day job as a mild mannered retail store manager, filled another day with paperwork, customers and fair trade coffee before going home to a hot meal and a night of bad tv and emails.

The following morning was another six o’clock start for my own Chamber breakfast. In conjunction with Michaela at The Alasia Restaurant, Weston Chamber, or rather just myself, had organised a breakfast to encourage more interaction between town centre businesses and to draw more members for the chamber itself. The publicity for the restaurant was an added advantage and the chance to link up with a new chamber member in Michaela made it all very satisfying. As opposed to the previous day, the feast on offer was incomparable. We were greated by the owners themselves and offered a hot drink on arrival. The restaurant offers a vast range of teas and a very good coffee and as we were encouraged to our seats,grouped in fours, we found platters to share filled with exotic and fresh fruits. This was follwed up with plates of mixed toasts and a selection of preserves. During the breakfast, I introduced the co sponsors, hosts and speakers for the event. Andrew Brown and Lawrence Russel of Albert Goodman Financial were welcomed as speakers and gave us some very useful insights and advice whilst Debbie Staveley of b Clear Communications held us all rapped as she drew us into the inner macinations of the PR world.

Our sponsors, without whom the breakfast would not have been possible were Chawner Grey Solicitors and Buildbase builder’s Merchants. Both sponsors were very generous and made very welcome partners in the first breakfast of this kind the chamber has organised. We hope to work woth both sponsors in the near future and to repeat the undeniable success of this venture.

Mayor Horler , his fiance and myself in front of the Weston Wheel

Mayor Horler , his fiance and myself in front of the Weston Wheel

I was invited to join the other local dignitaries at the opening of The Weston Wheel today. It was an opportunity to promote the Chamber and Weston itself, with the added benefit of a fun afternoon out.
The wheel is a smaller replica of the London Eye, from the same manufacturers. In it’s first week, the Weston verson has been taking more money than any of the other 12 models across the U.K., including the London Eye.
The Wheel opened just in time for Easter and the start of the holiday season and immediately the queues started and they haven’t stopped yet.

The Wheel is 40 metres in diameter and at night is lit by thousands of tiny ice blue lights. The view from the top of the wheel reaches out far across the bay towards Cardiff via Steep Holm and Flat Holm.

We were joined by various dignitaries representing the Town , the County and the Hoteliers and Restaurant Association. Councillor Parker,Mayor Horler and his fiance Camilla and Sophie Michael, from the Hoteliers Association took a ride in the first V.I.P. pod, after we all enjoyed a champagne reception and Councillor Parker cut the ceremonial ribbon.wheel-and-plot-160409-0091 Whilst we enjoyed our champagne and chatted with the organisers and staff, I was pleased to discover that most of the staff were recrutied locally and more are being trained to further expand the team. We, Gail and myself, filed into the pod after it completed it’s first full run, accompanied by Keith Fern , The president of the Hoteliers and Restaurants Association and his colleague. The trip, for want of a better description, was paced to feel comfortable but neither too slow or too fast. We went round a full four times, which gave us the chance to pick out all the landmarks and take plenty of pictures. There was a commentary which unfortunately was drowned out by the noise of the air conditioning, a necessity on a sunny day.

Keith Fern, President of the H.R.A.

Keith Fern, President of the H.R.A.

The normal pods hold up to eight people but I would recommend no more than six adults and two children from a comfort point of view. The V.I.P. pods hold five due to the difference in seating and trim. The seating in the normal pods consists of two facing bench seats  whilst the V.I.P.’s get leather two tone fully upholstered seats, with a large arm rest between the two seats on the one side and a full couch on the other side. The V.I.P.’s also get a DVD player, although I couldn’t see why they’d need one unless it was for a corporate product launch, a cooler for champagne bottles and small insets for champagne flutes to sit in.

The Party’s not over..

March 28, 2009

Good couple of meetings this last few days.

First was a big black tie do. My first big do as President and my first black tie event full stop. Had to beg, borrow and not steal the gear to wear. In the end my director at work (Living Homes of Somerset, U.K.) happens to be the same height and build as myself and happily offered his suit for the purpose.

My eldest son offered, just before I as due to leave the house, to be my transport in return for ten pounds of fuel, leaving me the opportunity to have a couple or two glasses of house red, for which I am very grateful. The fact that I had been telling everyone who had ears that I was going to this auspicious event still left him puzzled as to why I was, at 6:45 pm on a Thursday evening, sat in the lounge at home  in a full dinner suit. It was only when I mentioned why he offered his services. Maybe it was the fact I mentioned needing to put some petrol in my car that pricked his ears up. A chance to get someone else to pay for petrol is always an incentive!

The meal, The Bristol Chamber Annual Dinner, was a wonderful event with some very informative and friendly fellow diners and a highly entertaining guest speaker in Sir Richard Needham.

The second meeting I enjoyed for some of the same reasons and for a few different ones too.

This was one of our many business breakfasts, held at Rookery Manor http://www.rookery-manor.co.uk/

in conjunction with our sponsors for the breakfasts, Burroughs-Day Solicitors

http://www.bd4law.com/

We always get a good turn out at the morning meetings and this is not in any small part due to the organisational skills of Eleanor Rendall and her team from Burroughs Day. They normally drum up a decent enough speaker, last time it was the West of England Agents for The Bank of England. This time we were lucky to have our local M.P.

Now, that in itself doesn’t sound too bad but the bonus is that our local M.P. has recently been promoted to Shadow Ministerfor Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. So, with the present financial crisis seeing the government suffering badly,  having the opposition minister for business speaking at our event was a  bit of a coup.

John Penrose spoke well, didn’t dodge any questions and explained things well and the guest diners were all very keen to fire questions his way.

The minister didn’t use the opportunity to attack or blame the opposition, or to push a sales pitch for the Conservative Party, but did admit that Whitehall was partly to blame for the present situation. He explained just how and why the country is in the mess it finds itself in, not laying the responsibility at the feet of just the banking fraternity or the government or Whitehall but also explaining that in order for banks to lend such ridiculous sums as 125% mortgages, there had to be a demand from business and the house buying public.

It was felt by all after the meeting that we in the business world and the public in general need a change of thinking, a whole new mind set where greed is no longer good. Gordon Ghecko has left the building.

Our next scheduled chamber evening meeting will be held at Howard’s Honda dealership in Weston-super-Mare and will start at 7pm on Wednesday the 15Th.

I attended a Business Club meeting on tuesday evening and, despite being let down by one speaker due to communication errors, we all left with a strong feeling that a lot of the present crisis was not only brought upon by the greed of a few, but could have and should have been easily avoided.

The main talk was given by Andrew Brown of Albert Goodman Financial planners.

Andrew is by nature a gregarious and exceptionally contagious person, his manner of discussing things that would leave most highly qualified financiers baffled in terms that the layperson can relate too is beyond comparison.

He brought along a small handout detailing some basic advice from another associate from Albert Goodman, Nick Hancock, which read:

Approaching the Tax Year end and many company accounting year ends, it is worth while considering tax planning.

The following are a few ideas;

  • Pay pension contribution prior to 5th April

  • Utilise full £50,000 Annual Investment Allowance

  • Use full £9,600 Capital Gains Tax Annual Allowance

  • Create a capital loss from sale of assets

  • Delay sales to following year

  • Bring forward revenue expenditure, for example repairs of buildings

  • Issue dividends pre 5th April

  • Pay spouses and/or children wages

  • Consider profitability for Tax credit purposes

  • If profitability is falling,consider reducing tax payments on account

  • Think about spreading tax payments over 12 months

These points in themselves raised a few eyebrows and prompted some serious questions, all which were dealt with comprehensively by Andrew as were the many, many questions that followed.Some of the points that were explained were how and why we got into this crisis, what it has meant positively for us and what we can and need to do now to limit the devastation.

One thing that has happened, quite clearly and publicly , is that the rate of inflation has collapsed. The pound in your pocket is worth the same as it was  some months, even a year ago. The halt in inflation and the collapse of the housing bubble has meant that first time buyers are once more able to take faltering steps towards the housing market, something that was unthinkable as little as 12 months ago ,unless you were a commune.

When the changes brought in by the Thatcher years allowed ordinary working people to buy their own homes, we all thought it was a great thing, a liberation for the masses. In reality, what has happened is that those with the money have bought up all the available property , forcing the prices up beyond the reach of those ordinary folk creating a baron landlord society with the few owning the majority.

The collapse has brought prices back down to a level where the process can restart.

Variable rate mortgages have disappeared, withdrawn by susceptible banks and leaving many people now paying little more than interest only mortgages. The extra spending power that brings may, it is hoped, kickstart the retail economy .

Car manufacturers are struggling to keep factories open to the extent that they are in some areas offering new cars at below cost prices, choosing to lose less money by not closing factories. Also , contracts are now being offered on shorter terms to those who hire company cars or vans, again at below cost prices of up to £100 subsidies.

It may feel as though we are heading into bleak times, but don’t be too distressed, every silver lining may have it’s cloud but there are some bargains to be had, just take the time, and importantly professional advice, and manage your accounts closely. You may find that your lifestyle costs can be dramatically cut, your mortgage minimised and some debts cancelled if you were miss sold a mortgage or endowment package.

Some people were apparently so pressurised into taking up new credit cards that they never received the proper paperwork to read and agree to at the time. If you were one of those people, contact Andrew or Albert Goodman Financial advisors, you may be able to write off that card debt entirely.

After his impressive talk on Tuesday, I have asked Andrew, already a Chamber member , to give a talk at a future Chamber meeting. I will of course, alert all readers nearer the time.

A good start to the year.

January 15, 2009

bec_crunch_6

Last night (14/01/09) we co hosted our biggest meeting so far, with 50 people in attendance from businesses and groups of all sizes and levels of success.

Christopher Batt of the Weston College Business Centre, organised and hosted the evening with speakers from King’s Ransom, Barclays Bank and the H.R.Department as well as Christopher himself.

The event was held in The Bistro , Knightstone Campus , a wonderful venue , and started promtly at 7:15pm after a short introduction from The President, Chris Knight.

The theme for the evening was Commerce in the Credit Crunch.

A buffet was provide midway through the event and refreshments were at hand throughout. The President thanked everyone and brought the evening to a close at 10pm although guests were invited to stay and network after.

Our netx meeting will take place at the new venue, The Royal Hotel,on February 18th at 8pm for members, 7pm for executives.

Speakers will be present.

bec_crunch_1bec_crunch_3

After a progressive and successful year, with many new members and a successful joint meeting behind us, the chamber continues to grow. We saw the business breakfasts attract a record number of attendants, not in some small part due to the excellent standard of speakers.

Our guest speaker at the December meeting was John Mayer from Tax Assist. He gave us a full history of his franchise and the work they do, including business advice and accountancy. He also informed the members that Tax Assist offer a free consultation to Business Link members, subject to conditions.

The January meeting will be held at Knightstone Campus and will be hosted by Weston College Business Centre with The Chamber. It will be an open seminar, open to all members and non-members who might benefit from some credit crunch advice in the New Year. Speakers already confirmed include Barclays Bank Business, Kings Ransom debt recovery and the HR Department.

It takes place on the 14th of January at 7pm for 7:15pm.

All businesses in the Weston area are invited to attend. Please contact the organiser, Christopher Batt either on: 01934 411 594 or by email at:Christopher.batt@weston.ac.uk

A Darling idea

December 16, 2008

Sometimes in life, we are forced to question the wisdom of those we have burdened with the responsibilities of our nation and to ask ourselves if they really are in touch with the people they are elected to serve. That may be when rash decisions about the law or immigration are made. It may be when horrifying miscarriages of justice are discovered or nightmare abuses come to light that were continually ignored by those paid to prevent them as has happened all too recently but one thing has made me sit back and seriously consider whether some of the ivory towers we have built for our representatives need lowering to street level.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling M.P.  has tried to breathe life into the retail economy by reducing the rate at which V.A.T.  is charged. Now, when many retailers are reducing by as much as 70% in an attempt to avoid bankruptcy, a huge drop in taxation may well spark a return to the manic pre Christmas rushes we are more familiar with but a reduction of just 2.2% is next to insulting.

As an example of the benefit the customer will see from this token gesture, we can look at a typical furniture purchase.

If customer A buys a side table at normal price and pays £129 for it, they stand to save just under £3 from V.A.T. reduction.

If customer A waits until the winter sales begins, they could buy the same table pre tax reduction for £125 or with the V.A.T.  adjustment, £122.

Now, bearing in mind that customers are familiar with prices ending in a 9 or 99, most retailers round prices up or down to a 9. In psychometric terms, it is a ‘pretty’ number. It looks good to the buyer.

Therefore, if the retailer follows the normal pricing custom, the side table is always going to be £129. Some retailers use 5 as a rounded number too, so the cheapest this item is ever going to be is only £4 less than normal price, regardless of V.A.T.

If a larger purchase is made, for example a car at £17999, then an adjusted price would save £383.

If they negotiate a reasonable discount with the dealer of 10%, they would save £1800, a figure not unusual in these financial times. V.A.T. adjusting would bring that to £15854, a further saving of just £345. A fair figure but not enough to compare with free delivery or upgraded wheels or trim.

In short, in comparison with the discounts being offered by many desperate traders, 2.2% makes little if any difference. The costs of implementing the change in pricing structures and labelling goods will however prove the final nail in the coffin of a lot of small companies. 

Mr. Darling has consequently not only failed to save the economy but also, in his bungled attempts, helped to finish off many of the small businesses that were suffering before.

At least hose small business owners who have a mortgage can feel some benefit: The other change was to allow a longer period for mortgage arrears to be settled before repossession takes place.

As a guide, here is how the V.A.T. change is calculated:

Original price divided by 1.175 to remove tax at 17.5%

Add new tax by adding 15%

Alternatively, subtract 2.127% from old price to give same result.

Before I finish one by line. If a retailer wants to have a period of genuine sales, they must first establish the ‘normal’ or ‘usual’ price. This price establishment period must be a minimum of 28 trading days. If a store opens seven days a week, that’s just four weeks, but if they trade on six days and close on the Sunday, then it is 28 trading days not including Sundays.

If they change prices on display within that period then they must again wait 28 days longer from the date of change. Therefore, if your local shop has changed its labels on Monday the 1st of December, they cannot have a sale before the 29th if they open seven days per week.

Let’s wait and see how many retailers will still be holding Boxing Day Events this season.

Things have been moving, somewhat slowly and underground, at Weston Chamber and we are beginning to see results. As with all things involving large numbers of busy people, they are taking a while to get activated but they will happen.

After the meeting at Cadbury House, our next big event was at Rookery Manor. Now, during the Cadbury event, the visiting members of Bridgwater Chamber voiced a desire to return the compliment and to host a joint event in the New Year. Now, that has begun to materialise. We have been invited to be part of a joint meeting  at Rookery Manor. It happens that the Manor is situated almost midway between both locations so serves well as a location for the venture.Hopefuly this will take place in March.

Elswhere, Weston has been working on a new location for non-hosted meetings, those meetings which I hesitate to call normal meetings. Ordinary also sounds wrong so I guess usual meetings would be correct. Until we have settled into our new location, I will resist calling it our home.

From February we will be meeting at The Royal Hotel, Weston-super-Mare.

December sees us as guests of Howard’s Motors at the Citroen Dealership next to Hildeshiem Bridge when we will be hearing words of advise and encouragement from the guys at Tax Assist and hopefully other speakers to be confirmed.

January brings us Knightstone Campus and The Weston College Business Centre hosting. Again, speakers to be confirmed but to include Barclays Bank Business Managers.

Late January is the proposed timing for Bridgwater and the Murder Mystery Evening they are arranging. Weston hope to send along a crack team of amateur sleuths!

We have had more success with new members approaching us via the website so things are working in that field but sadly, we are at present slightly hindered by a lame Secretary. Helen, our erstwhile scribe, fell whilst preparing to join us for the xmas mel last month and , as a result, now has a cast on her broken right wrist!

Get well soon Helen and keep up the good effort!

Rising against the tide.

November 23, 2008

As we fall deeper into a global recession, with jobs being lost all around us and industries taking big hits, it is refreshing to see the activity of the Chamber growing in size and in importance. We recently held a breakfast meeting at Rookery Manor.

Now, I seem to have hit on a strange coincidence in business, that the best day for a business breakfast happens to be the best day for me to take as a day off each week. Perhaps the fact that we have dealt with anything from the weekend before and have a break before the weekend to come makes Thursday an ideal day for leaving the office but it also means, unfortunately, that I have to wake extra early on the one day I get the chance for a lie in!

Anyway, my moans aside, the second breakfast in as many weeks was to be jointly hosted by the chamber and Burroughs-Day Solicitors, a large company of legal and financial advisors based locally. The location was ideally situated just off the motorway between Weston-super-mare and Bridgwater, making it accessible from Bristol or Taunton too. The site is huge and one level so easily navigated by those with limited mobility. Rookery Manor is set within its own ground and has great parking facilites so all our guests were easily accomodated. They were met by the team from Burroughs-Day and handed their badges before being shown to the lounge bar for networking before the main event began.

I managed to make a few new contacts myself but my main job was to introduce the speakers and sponsors after the breakfast itself. The food was excellent, with toast and preserves being ready at the table when we took our designated seats and coffee flowing from the hot jugs delivered as we started eating. The plates of either continental or full english were proffered to the guests at their tables as the conversation flowed unniterrupted. I, being a host and President, sat alongside the other hosts and the guest speakers.

Before we knew it, the nerves kicked in as we were ushered to the top table ready to begin the main event.

As it happened, I just said a few garbled words and handed the slightly tempermental radio mike to Fiona Derwent, my co-host, to follow on and introduce the speakers. These were Geoff Harding and Kevin Butler, two gentlemen from the south west region of The Bank of England.

Kevin took control and gave us a detailed and highly accurate report on the recent past, present and hopeful future of the economy and its part in the global financial recovery. Needless to say, we were all transfixed throughout and the question and answer question ran dangerously close to overtime as the listening masses grilled the speakers. All questions were answered honestly and graciously.

Fiona nad I discussed who was going to do the wrap up, thank the guests etc., and at first I opted out but then had a change of heart and put myself forward, my thinking being that I had mumbled through the opening and needed to redeem myself.

I did better this time and hopefully didn’t embarress myself. The number of guests was very encouraging, being in the tens rather than teens as some previous meetings had been at othervenues. This I can happily say was in no small part due to the organisational skills of the team from Burroughs-Day. As far as I can tell, all those present enjoyed the breakfast meeting and took away something encouraging. I can’t tell you just what we were told due to reporting restrictions,(no, seriously, this is The bank of England after all), but I am a bit more confident that we will at some point come out of this dreadful downturn.

Contact Christopher Turner at Rookery Manor for a tour and more information on:

chris.turner@rooker-manor.co.uk

or T: 08454090909 F: 08454090908

Contact Burroughs-Day Solicitors via: http://www.bd4law.com/

Presidential pride

November 15, 2008

I experienced a moment I never imagined would never interest me let alone fill me with pride on Sunday. As a spotty youth I, like most young people of that age, saw any form of civic occasion as pomp and ceremony. All puffed up old men in stuffed shirts vying to appear more eminent or important than each other.

Status for it’s own sake with the bells and whistles attached.

But I’m not that carefree unburdened young man anymore and with the loss of rebellious attitude and baggy jeans come the responsibilities of office and adulthood accompanied by the suits and shoe shine. Age also brings a recognition of the efforts and commitments of your peers and elders. The other squeaky voiced playground warriors that went on to become real servicemen and women, the lazy cool ones who sat and the back of the class, chairs balanced daringly on two legs that went on to build ecosensitive industries.

So, when Remembrance Sunday came hovering on to the horizon, the question of whether or not I would be involved was unequivicable. As many people know, never shy from a chance to wear the chain of the chamber but this would not be for the usual reasons. This would not be an occasion to garner support for the issues or to draw new members. This would be the opportunity for me to represent those who live and work to support and provide services and goods and to remember and give thanks to those gave their today for our tomorrow and those who still do now.

The parade itself was somewhat light-hearted but very dignified and not a little moving I must admit. As we stood shoulder to shoulder, or in one case, elbow to head, heads bowed in reverence, I felt proud to be there for those served at home during those dark periods, those who made sure there would be something for those fortunate enough to come home to.

It was touching and yet sad to see the number of children attending. Sad because many where there not only for parents serving overseas, but also for those parents they had lost.

I do know one thing  for certain. Despite the cold and the rain and the mud underfoot, I was not only proud but fortunate to be able to be there that morning.

Recent activity

November 3, 2008

It’s sometimes a boring, thankless task being President but recently, things have become interesting and, to some extent ,worthwhile.

One of the things that I have been involved in setting up is the chamber website.

It costs very little to host and was constructed with a grant from the government and some chamber funding and with the expertise of one Mr Murray Ambler-Shattock. In fact, without him the site would never have been even started.

Don’t misunderstand that last comment. It is not just the knowledge of website building that makes Murray priceless but his unbowing faith and enthusiasm to the whole chamber concept. He is one of, luckily, several members who believe in the chamber unerringly. Our web master is one of a big team of dedicated members who give their own time and resources freely to help grow the chamber.

Now, one recent meeting I attended was for another group in which i am a member. I joined in order to foster relationships between them and us. Them being the local Industrial association. They had attended the Big Meeting I have previously blogged about and we were discussing ways of improving the Industrial group when one prominent member suggested a website. The Chamber website was quoted as a good example of an informative well planned site. That  was a small thing but a very proud moment for me and my team. Another member also mentioned producing a small fold out leaflet explaining the benefits of membership to the Industrial association to potential new members and he cited the chambers own leaflet, which he had seen and taken at that recent big meeting. more pride although the leaflet had been in existence since before i joined.

Another glow moment: I was at a meeting for another affiliated group. I attend a lot of these because I feel it is important to keep in touch with the people who have something to say and something to give in Weston. Anyway, at the meeting, it was being discussed, in some detail and at a basic idiot guide level ,about the new website this group had just launched. The site builder was going to great lengths to explain how the various members could link to the Group’s site. I listened to him say how links to other sites helped boost the ratings for the site. When one of the older established members of that group looked across to me I simply smiled and commented that the chamber already had a link set up which would direct people to this new site. It was like giving a nod of approval to a young apprentice. They had looked to me for confirmation and I felt great. It felt like the chamber was being regarded as a mentor to other smaller groups, someone to guide and help protect or teach them.

It was good. it makes me proud of the chamber just to know that people feel we are a reference point for how a group works is very very good news. It means that, despite our own fears about dropping membership or activity, we are making things work.

I get a buzz out of helping people. My next thing will be to contact the organiser of a local carnival which ends it’s tour of towns at Weston. It collects for local charities and always needs helpers to collect the pennies and pounds. Last year a colleague and I did the job for the first time and it was extremely hard on the legs but very worthwhile. The fact that a small share of the collected money is divided between the charities of the collectors was a bonus as it meant £60 went into the chamber charity fund but the main benefit was the feeling you get from seeing people who want to give money on a cold, usually rainy winter evening. I hope to do the same again this year.

It’s official, the big man said it. The Governor of The Bank of England has told us we are definitely heading into recession.

Well, ti’s about time it was made official.The media has been full of little else for months now and it was all getting a bit depressing to be honest. Now it is official we can all stop panicking because historically, once the government has owned up to something, it’s generally a month or more too late.

We have been feeling the effects everywhere in Weston. There is a growing number of empty units that is stretching to all parts of the retail spectrum, from high end luxury goods to essential foodstuffs. Empty units in shopping centres are like beggars on the streets; you can ignore them but you know you’ll think twice about walking that way next time.

Units could be filled with advertising for those shops that are suffering from low advertising budgets or could be used as display windows for other retailers. Either way, some positive image must be promoted through those empty units rather than just empty shops and offices. Empty units portray a decline and turn people off from visiting the area.

In the past, Weston grew out of industry. Part of that growth was through local factories that became specialised and started to cater for a shrinking client base, such as Westlands Helicopters. Once that client cut back or changed supplier, they closed the factories and the people who had moved families, raised families and retired here because of those factories were left with no future. That cannot be allowed to happen again. The businesses that grew to support and trade with those factories were also left to rot. We must learn from the past or resign ourselves to repeat it for eternity.

There is hope for the town, in the form of new developments and positive moves to bring more trade back to the area. Old unused land is being redeveloped for a high tech business park. The local authority has decided that no houses can be built on the land until there are jobs to support the house inhabitants. That will mean less commuting out of town and more prospects for those who live here already but those rules will only apply for a limited time. So far only one name has signed up to relocated to the new park though and unless others follow suit the scheme is destined to failure.

Our local team must pull out all the stops and draw some big names in before it is too late and all their efforts turn to nought. There a re a vast number, perhaps too many in fact, of groups dedicated to improving matters in our town but still there is only a small glimmer of light. Maybe these groups need to stop working separately and just sit around a table and get things done.

The future has some hope in the form of a number of already approved developments which will appear alongside those taking place already plus some new ideas that look to get the go ahead in the next few months. These plans seem to have funding , the essential oil that greases the wheel, so should be able to move along swiftly. They show great promise and , if they all go ahead as promised, will turn our prospects for the better but, as we all know, things can change from day to day so we can only watch and wait and give our support when and where it is needed.

Those who campaign to save the past, to keep Weston as it was and never will be again, are holding back any hope of a golden future for those who stand to follow them in order to satisfy there own selfish desire to never grow old.

We cannot let the past stop the future but without the past we have no future.

It’s a conundrum we must all strive to resolve.

Big Gathering of the Clans

September 18, 2008

I have been working on a pet project, brought into being due to a meeting I was invited to attend many months ago at Taunton.

I had been invited along by a chamber member who worked for a very good company that had branches in other towns, including Taunton and was hosting a similar event to one I had helped with in Weston previously.

That introduced me to the Taunton Chamber and a very enthusiastic executive team. I pledged there and then to work more closely with the other chambers and to help support those new and rebuilding chambers.

I have since arranged a meeting of various chambers in the surrounding areas , along with other related business groups, where we can all meet and exchange views, make contacts and network. It is an informal event, just a preliminary gathering so those with shared issues and interests can make future plans to work together for common goals.

My largest obstacle, I thought, was the sponsorship of the event. I knew it had to be a big meeting, to make it worthwhile but that would mean a large venue, which would mean costs. I also knew it would need to include refreshments which would also mean costs. More than this, I knew we didn’t have the money in the Weston chamber funds to cover these sort of expenses.

Having emailed and posted letters to various large companies within the membership asking for support, I receive no more than one reply. This told me two things:

1. We had lost contact with a lot of our top members and the people we had as contacts in those companies had mainly moved on a long time ago.Something we now have to address.

2. No one wants to use their wealth/influence to help the chamber other than to pay the membership fee and ignore things for another year.

I found a sponsor eventually who was very helpful, Rowan-Dartington Stockbrokers, who agreed with very little resistance. I also found later that a few of those I had contacted must have realised they were members and cancelled their membership as they had no relationship with the chamber other than paying a fee annually.

There is an issue to be addressed there but that’s for the future. Right now I am less than a fortnight awayfrom hosting the biggest event I have ever been involved with and my nerves are starting to show.

My main hopeful speakers have pulled out due to commitments or personal problems, leaving me with one main, one reserve and a late possible.

The good news is, I am now looking at possibly more attendees than I can cope with. I decided against an open invitation to all members of Weston Chamber and instead restricted it to those who are executive members or attend meetings on a regular basis. Today I had news from Clevedon that another four of their members would be attending, something I am glad of but it pushes the numbers up to the forty I had originally planned for. Some heads of other groups have yet to confirm how many of their members are coming.

Ah well, better a bigger success than an under filled conference hall.

 

We shall wait and see. More news as and when it happens.

Recently, the Weston Chamber has seen links with some of the larger Hotels and Country Houses increase as the recession bites and businesses see the benfits of association with a recognised business organisation.

Battleborough Grange has become the latest in a line of local accomodation and restaurant specialists to work with Weston Chamber as hosts of our annual general meeting They join Cadbury House Hotel and Spa and The Royal Hotel as hosts for the chamber and it’s members. Cadbury House saw a combined meeting of Weston,Bridgwater,Burnham and Clevedon Chambers, with guest Chamber, GWE Businesslink in October of last year, with The Royal being the base for all executive and non-hosted meetings since March 09.

It is hoped that The Batch Coutry House will also soon be joining the list when they play hosts later in the year.