Inside Track by John Barnes
Five Gold Rings is not just a carol for Christmas. Five rings are equally the inspirational symbol of the Olympic Games designed by Baron de Coubertin in 1913. Thinking of the Olympics and all the tourists coming to town in 2012 does get you going. A visit to the Olympic Park will energise you out of the January gloom. You can see the extraordinary Velodrome nearing completion on the live webcam on the Olympics website ( When you visit the site in person you can easily visualise our cycling team winning all the golds on offer. So on a positive Olympian high, here are the strategies I’m championing to beat the recession in 2011 and beyond. Championing customers Statement of the obvious? Well, two great questions to ask to see if a company is really doing their job here. How much Customer Insight are you doing? And how much are you spending on maintenance? Customers are in charge. They’re increasingly intolerant. Recessions are good for sorting out those who pay lip service rather than giving real service. In a pub in Dorchester recently I was told successively that the coffee range was broken, as was the ice machine and the cordoned off floor area where a customer had fallen through the previous evening. Underestimating customer power is a sure way to lose. We’ve all seen the stats: 65% of people share a bad experience on line and 40% decide not to go there. There is simply no alternative – you just have to keep on improving the quality of your products, facilities and service. Customer champions are always checking in with their consumers and challenging and refining their business models. How good it is to see the new trend of ex-retailers joining major pub companies and casual dining companies? They know the power of consumer insight. It drives everything at Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury and Morrison’s. They quickly understand and react to fast changing consumer needs. In a world where 30 million customers are banding together on Groupon to buy services on line; where it’s the norm now to check other customers’ feedback on Trip Advisor-type sites before booking leisure activities, it’s the customer champions who will win. Championing communities Go local! In a frenetic complex world people are looking for security and comfort in local communities either geographically or digitally. Regional brewers are community champions. That’s one reason why they continue to outperform the pub Industry. Ignoring the fast-growth leverage models marketed to them by the financial engineers, they have stuck to their origins and kept the close community ties that matter. In a large recent Europe-wide research study, 38% of British customers reported their intention to buy locally sourced food. This is double the 2006 number. One of the key reasons to buy is to support local communities and their businesses. Listen to the Radio 4 Food Show to feel the forces for change. The recent Food and Farming Awards podcast is inspirational evidence of the creativity and success of local community champions. There are now over 600 farmers’ markets in the UK. At the recent local Otley Beer festival at the rugby club near my home in Yorkshire there were 60 different locally-brewed beers – a local micro Industry that is winning hearts and minds. Online communities are growing in power and influence. Hospitality customers are going where the Foursquare and Gowalla sites are “trending “. When visitors arrive for the Olympics from the USA they will definitely be following their communities on sites like these. Communities aren’t always small. There will be medals galore for the companies who are championing their current and future customers in their online social media communities. The most crucial community of all is of course your own: your own team. Working the crowd, communicating well and credibly to your own people has never been easier whatever the size of your business thanks to social media. Championing creatives Apple continues to set the gold standard. Big in numbers, small in spirit. By partnering with hundreds of entrepreneur developers they create quickly brilliant new applications for their iPhones and iPads. The smartest companies are always partnering with creatives who work better outside the corporate structures. Look at as another role model: their marketplace is an online aggregator where creative fashion entrepreneurs can sell their wares. Getting the balance right between economies of scale and innovation remains a real challenge for our Industry. The great news is that new concept creation by entrepreneurs in bars, cafes and restaurants shows no sign of slowing. The real challenge for those who may eventually acquire them is to champion and retain the creative forces that originally generated the value. Championing celebrities Love or hate the TV shows you can’t deny the massive interest they create in food and catering. Jamie Oliver’s new book tops the Bookseller charts while his restaurants break sales records. Long may they continue to boost interest and sales for all of us. When we had a Harry Ramsden’s at Terminal 1 in Heathrow in the 1990s, it became the first choice for Northern bred stars of pop, stage and screen. I remember Oliver Reed propping up the bar once too often and staff vying to impress the lead singer of Wet Wet Wet! Then there’s Levi Roots of Dragon Dens fame. He really does display Five Gold Rings! I did a conference presentation for the Associated British Foods (ABF) sales and marketing team recently. They own famous brands like Primark, Ovaltine Silver Spoon Sugar. Quicker on their feet than a normal large company, they had stepped in to manufacture Levi Root’s Reggae Reggae sauce. I thought my part of the conference had gone well until Levi Roots (real name Keith Graham) walked on and upstaged me. In a £5000 Oscar De La Renta suit and with gold bling on 5 fingers, he wowed the audience. The tale of turning his sauce recipe via Dragons Den in to a multimillion category-leading product is mesmerising. The real champions behind the success of Levi Roots though are not so much the Dragons Den – who he famously seduced with his singing business plan – but the team at ABF Foods. They developed an award-winning product from Levi’s original recipe and got it on the retailer shelves in 12 weeks. Picking and championing the right celebrity whether a local food pioneer or national face is definitely a way to win medals. Championing charities The survival of the football pools despite every prediction of its death has in no small part been due to the £1.1bn given to local community charity activities since the 1970s. Sir Steve Redgrave’s five Olympic gold medals were part funded by the Pools Charity Trust. Spend time with the youngest and brightest in the corporate world and you understand why companies who genuinely champion charitable causes will attract the best employees and loyal customers. As the government cuts back funding for charities, businesses need to step up and help out. So my five Cs to champion in 2011 are: Customers, Communities, Creatives, Celebrities and Charities. Five gold themes. Champion! John Barnes is chairman of Novus Leisure, Sportech Plc and non-executive director at ISG Plc