Wok Around the Clock

Hard Wok Cafe

Keep up won’t you. Yes I know you didn’t expect me back in Britain so soon, particularly in the company of my dull and difficult to understand agent, Tony Robinson OBE. I must have been a very wicked girl to deserve sitting next to the aforesaid dismal dunce, in the Hard Wok noodle bar in Scarborough, on a Saturday afternoon.

Let me explain. The Hard Wok noodle bar is owned by serial entrepreneurs, Debbie and Darren, who feature in my best selling book ‘Stripping for Freedom’. Their premises provides the ideal high street vantage point to see what is going wrong with Northern England’s micro business shops and eateries.

Troubled Micro Enterprises Team

I’m here to gather evidence to back up my recommendations to your government on what to do about these troubled micro enterprises. Your government has just set up a ‘Troubled Families Team’ reporting to that much loved Northerner, Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary. In similar vein I’m looking forward to heading up the ‘Troubled Micro Enterprises Team’.

‘Troubled families’ are those that meet five out of seven criteria, having: 1. low income 2. no qualifications 3. unable to afford basics 4. a mental health problem 5. a long standing illness or disability 6. poor housing 7. no-one working.

‘Troubled micro enterprises’ will also have five of the above seven criteria plus two extra ones which show the owners aren’t serious about enterprise, having: 8. no substantial pension fund and 9. no heavy borrowing from a bank or other institutional investor.

I do understand why your politicians feel the need to appoint these special teams which will fund local government to take action against troubled families and under performing little enterprises. After all, they’ve done everything they can to get the North booming. They’ve spoken at tractor factories and to construction workers. They’ve helped the major supermarkets, chain stores and fast food franchises to get staffed up, skilled up and with the best locations in Northern towns. They’ve even eaten pasties and pies to promote the Northern economy. What more can they do?

Women won’t go where men in fleeces go

Anyway, it didn’t take me long to work out why the twenty or so high street micro enterprises that I could see weren’t getting any customers walking into their premises. The biggest reason was men in fleeces. Within ten minutes I’d seen at least five sad, drab men, like my agent Robinson, shuffling down the street in a fleece. The council should pay these men to stay at home. Then the women, who like to dress up smart for a bit of retail therapy on a Saturday afternoon, would be happy to be seen on the high street again. Job done.

You may need a number of niches to gain enough customers

I also noticed that in order to compete with the big companies, and their often better prices, many of the shop owners had tried to develop a niche offer on their products or services. Unfortunately, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s on the high street or online, if the niche is too specialised there may not be enough potential customers for it.

Amazingly for a man, doubly amazing for a man who is a fleece owner and wearer, Stefan Topfer has just written a sensible blog on celebrating diversity. I recommend that you read it. Certainly it makes sense to specialise and compete with niche products and services but do ensure that you have product and service offers for as many groups as you can within your potential customer community.

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