It’s not just TAB: The Reason Why Franchises Work


TAB: A History

The Alternative Board was founded in Missouri in 1990. As with so many successful businesses, the rationale behind it was the answer to a simple question.

Why can’t owners of a small business benefit from the same advice that’s available to big businesses?

TAB founder Allen Fishman knew how much he’d gained from the advice of a board of directors throughout his business career. But where did the owner of a small business go for that advice?

The traditional answer was his bank manager, his accountant or his solicitor – but, however well meaning, they all had their own axe to grind. And what did the bank manager really know about the pressures of running a business? Secure in his job and with a comfortable pension to look forward to, could he ever know what it felt like to tell your wife that the house was on the line…

The all too apparent answer was ‘no.’ The only people who really understood what it was like to run a small business were the owners of other small businesses. They were the ones who understood what it was to put your family’s security at risk, to realise you needed to fire someone whose mortgage depended on you – and to face the loneliness that being an entrepreneur can bring.

And so The Alternative Board was born. From the very beginning it operated on a franchise model, although – in relative terms – it was very late to the party.

Why are Franchises Successful?

According to Wiki the word ‘franchise’ comes from the French franc, meaning to be free. Well, if you’ve been trapped in the corporate world, that will seem entirely appropriate. While the boom in franchising started after the Second World War, its history goes right back to the middle ages, when landowners created what might be termed ‘franchise arrangements’ with tax collectors, allowing them to keep a percentage of the taxes they collected. There’s an idea for Philip Hammond to consider as he mulls over his Spring Statement…

Why has the idea of the franchise proved such an enduring success? For me, the biggest factor is that you know the idea works. Yes, you’re spending some money to buy into the franchise, but you’re buying an idea that has been proven to work. It’s no surprise that the percentage of successful franchise start-ups far exceeds that of the go-it-alone start-ups, by a ratio of about 9:1.

We all know the names of the most successful franchise operations: McDonald’s, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts and Subway, by location now the biggest franchise in the world. In business terms the biggest company is a name you might not have heard of: H&R Block, a tax preparation company operating in the US, Australia and India which has around 12,000 offices.

But in terms of business coaching there is one clear world leader, and that leader is The Alternative Board which, 29 years after Allen Fishman founded the company, now operates in 20 countries with more than 400 franchisees. Between them those franchisees have experience of more than 300 industries and have helped more than 15,000 businesses with a combined turnover of more than $11bn.

But the most telling stat for me is that the average member of a TAB board has been a member for more than 4½ years.

I think that is a remarkable figure. Simply put, it demonstrates that TAB delivers results. Owners of SMEs are not known for placidly tolerating ideas that are not working: you simply don’t stick with something for 4½ years if it isn’t delivering results.

And the key reason why TAB works so well in 2019 is exactly the reason why it worked so well in 1990. The owner of a small business still cannot access the advice, experience and expertise that is open to someone running a larger business – unless he surrounds himself with his peers.

Looking Forward

That is why I am so excited about the future – not just in the UK, but for my TAB colleagues around the world. But obviously my focus is on TAB UK: as I wrote at the end of last year, ‘my vision is to see us helping 1,000 business owners – and thereby benefiting around 25,000 employees and roughly 100,000 people in their families.’

And there’s even more good news. Despite the current uncertainty in the UK, the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well. In fact, it’s alive and well everywhere. Generation Z is apparently going to be the most entrepreneurial generation ever. I cannot wait…


Read more of my blogs here:

The Importance of Cyber Security for Your Business

Leadership: The Key to Prosperity

What Can Businesses Learn from the Vegan Sausage Roll?

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What can Businesses Learn from the Vegan Sausage Roll?


What was the big story from the high street over Christmas? Marks and Spencer’s and Debenhams reporting disappointing trading and surely signposting more store closures this year? HMV going into administration – and now rumoured to be the latest chain to be acquired by Mike Ashley?

Or was it a vegan sausage roll?

Many of you will be familiar with Gregg’s, founded 80 years ago by John Gregg, headquartered in the North East and now the largest bakery chain in the UK. And, of course, home of the ‘bacon sandwich and a coffee for two quid’ special offer which, disappointingly, has now gone up to £2.10. (A friend told me, honestly…)

Gregg’s was famous for pies, pasties, sandwiches and everything you firmly resolved on December 31st would never touch your lips again.

What it wasn’t famous for was healthy eating but, following hot on the heels of the company opening a branch in Westminster, came news of the vegan sausage roll.

Let me confess here and now that I haven’t yet tried the new delicacy (“they’re flying out” according to my local shop) but what I have seen – and greatly admired – is the marketing and social media campaign that surrounded the launch. It’s small wonder that as M&S and Debenhams were reporting Christmas trading figures with long faces, Gregg’s were cheerfully announcing a 5.5% sales rise over the Christmas period.

Gregg’s launch of the vegan sausage roll has been called ‘a masterclass in public relations’ by industry magazine PR Week. It centred on whether a vegan product could be called a sausage roll, with the YouTube ad beautifully parodying an iPhone ad.

But it was Piers Morgan who supplied the rocket fuel for the campaign, rather predictably over-reacting and calling the company “PC-ravaged clowns.” Other celebrities reacted, there were apparent demonstrations against the rolls by Brexit supporters and an article in the Guardian suggesting that a vegan sausage represented ‘a chance for a divided nation to heal itself.’

Conspiracy theorists suggested that Gregg’s had orchestrated everything: the company smiled and said nothing. But there cannot be many people who haven’t now heard of the vegan sausage roll – or who don’t know where to buy it.

Interestingly it is not so long ago that Greggs were issuing a profit warning, after the ‘Beast from the East’ meant that many of its shops were unable to open. Another company having trouble around that time was KFC, after a change of logistic company meant that many of its shops serving fried chicken ran out of, er… chicken.

But in another example of a company bouncing back from adversity, KFC produced one of the best ad campaigns of the year by way of an apology. The company recognised that its apology needed to be sincere – but not serious. It duly rearranged the letters K-F-C (which I won’t do here, but which you can see in the link) in a campaign which won a series of awards and saw KFC nominated for ‘Brand of the Year’ at the Marketing Week awards.

So what lessons can we draw for our own businesses from these two examples?

1) Laugh at Yourself

First things first – a sense of humour is becoming increasingly important in your marketing messages. We are all dealing with a different demographic to that of even five years ago and – as the current political situation seems to be more depressing every day – people are increasingly responsive to something that will make them laugh.

2) Challenge the System

It is alright to challenge the established order. It seems to me that both the Gregg’s and the KFC campaigns tapped into an increasing feeling that the we don’t want to be told what to do. We no longer want to be told what is good for us or how we should react. As I’m writing this post the great and the good of the world are meeting in Davos, supposedly “to improve the state of the world.” Am I the only one who thinks it is all starting to look a little irrelevant to someone running an SME?

3) Don’t sit on the Fence

Lastly, it is increasingly acceptable to take a view in your marketing. Nike created a stir in the US last year with its ad featuring Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who famously knelt during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. ‘Believe in something,’ said Nike’s ad, ‘Even if it means sacrificing everything.’

Unsurprisingly, the ad sparked plenty of controversy, with reaction split roughly 50/50 between favourable and unfavourable responses. But analysing the figures more closely suggested that Nike had got it right. 18-34 year olds – who are likely to be Nike customers – supported Kaepernick’s stance and supported Nike’s backing for it.

That, I think, will be an important and developing trend in all our advertising and marketing. Customers and clients will increasingly want to see that we have ethical and moral principles and that we are not afraid to state them.

As the famous saying has it, you cannot please all the people all the time and the days of trying to are drawing rapidly to a close.


By Ed Reid, TAB UK

Read more of Ed’s Blogs here:

The Importance of Cyber Security for Your Business

Leadership: The Key to Prosperity

Your Goals for 2019: But What if you Achieve Them!?

The Importance of Brand Perception in 2018


“It’s what they say when you’re not in the room…”

Last week there was a story in City AM, reporting on a survey that had been done for MoneySavingExpert. The survey results detailed the ‘UK’s most loved and loathed brands.’

A word of caution before I open the envelope and reveal the results. You suspect that the results of the survey would have been different had it been done for the Telegraph or the Socialist Worker. As I dimly remember from an MBA module, we all have our unconscious biases.

But reading the article was still useful. It made me think about brands – about the way they wax and wane and, inevitably, ask some simple questions. What does a brand do or say? Which brands will disappear? And – inevitably – what’s the brand perception of TAB UK?

So what are the most loved and loathed brands in the UK right now? Let us start off with the good guys. According to the poll, top of the list is Aldi, followed by AmazonJohn LewisM&S and Lidl. The rest of the top ten is made up of IkeaHome BargainseBayWaitrose and Wilko.

(Just breaking off to make a wider business point: the presence of both Aldi and Lidl in the top ten – and the complete absence of the big supermarkets – illustrates what a difficult job Tesco’s new brandJack’s, will have in taking market share from the established discounters.)

Sorry: onto the guys in the black hats. Taking the ten most loathed brands in reverse order, the first five are Debenhams, Asda, Tesco, WH Smith and (the only company to appear in both lists) Amazon. With Debenhams and WH Smith in there, that must sound the alarm bells for town centres all over the UK, irrespective of the Chancellor’s sticking plaster in the Budget.

Next up – still in reverse order – are Primark, House of Fraser, Currys/PC World and Apple. Top of the list – the most disliked brand in the UK – is Sports Direct, owned (like my football team) by Mike Ashley.

But supposing we step back ten years? Think of all the brands and household names that have disappeared. Toys R UsStaples, BHS, Tie Rack. Remember when you couldn’t walk through an underground station without tripping over a branch of Tie Rack?

Fast forward ten years to 2028 and nothing is more certain than that some of the names currently on both lists will have disappeared. M&S are currently competing with Debenhams to see who can issue most ‘store closure’ warnings and John Lewis have seen their profits fall by 99%. Ouch…

Throw in the irresistible rise of the Chinese brands – Huawei (it’s pronounced Hwah-way) is just one example – and the disappearance of some well-known names is inevitable.

So what can we learn?

Is there a common theme among the brands which are in trouble? Or is it just the high street?

I think it goes further than that. For me, one thing is essential in a brand – and that is a clear message.

What does Debenhams do that someone else doesn’t do better? What does M&S do in 2018? What do you go into WH Smith to buy?

Contrast that with a brand dear to the heart of the TAB office in Harrogate: Yorkshire Tea. It’s been around since the 1880s and – over the last few years – has become the second most popular tea brand in the UK. Have the advertising slogans – “Where everything’s done proper” and “Let’s have a proper brew” helped in that?

Yorkshire Tea Brand Perception

Yes. Unquestionably. Ask anyone in the street what the Yorkshire Tea brand represents and they’ll give a simple answer. ‘A proper cup of tea.’ ‘A good, strong cup of tea.’ Nothing more, nothing less.

Any other businesses in Harrogate I can think of? Hmmm…

What does the TAB UK brand represent? The very best peer-to-peer coaching for business owners. Nothing more, nothing less.

When we’re talking about brands the key words in that sentence are ‘business owners.’ Because your brand is more than your business: it’s you. Is the TAB UK brand inextricably linked to the Ed Reid brand? Of course it is: perhaps not as much as TAB York was, but the answer is still ‘yes.’ For me that means doing the right thing every time: building my brand by delivering results for other people.

In Budget week it is tempting to reflect on the ‘brand’ of our elected representatives. But I’d better resist, and instead leave you with my two favourite quotations regarding brands – with the second one  exactly summarising my experience at the hands of Hertz last year:

“It’s what people say about you when you’re not in the room,” and…

“People will forget what you said; people will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

The Biggest River in the World


Do you remember when you first heard of it?

“There’s this company in America. Only sells books. And only sells them online.”

“Really? What’s it called?”

“Amazon, I think.”

“Right. Well good luck with that. I read somewhere that people aren’t reading books any more. And it’s not like this internet thing is going to last…”

You probably had that conversation some time in the late 90s. Just 20 years later Amazon is the biggest online retailer in the world as measured by revenue and market capitalisation. And Jeff Bezos, founder, chairman, president and CEO, is the richest man in the world.

BEZOS

How has Bezos built Amazon to where it is now? And more importantly, are there any lessons we can apply to our rather more modest businesses?

Amazon was founded in July 1994. It was originally called Cadabra, but that name was jettisoned after someone mistakenly heard it as ‘cadaver.’ Bezos also considered calling the company ‘Relentless’ – but that was dismissed for sounding “slightly sinister.”

So why did Bezos settle on Amazon as a name? Because it sounded “exotic and different” and because it was the biggest river in the world and he intended to create the biggest bookstore in the world. “There’s nothing about our model that can’t be copied,” he told a reporter. “McDonald’s got copied and still built a huge, multibillion dollar company. A lot of it comes down to the brand name: they’re more important online than they are in the physical world.”

So lesson number one, brand names are important and lesson number two – not that I’ve ever said this before – the job of a leader is first and foremost to lead, to know where the company is going. “We’re going to create the biggest bookstore in the world.” Good, that’s the destination sorted: and if you want to join me on the journey, that’s fine.

Since then, of course, Amazon has gone on to become rather more than just a bookstore, even going back to a substantial bricks and mortar presence with the purchase of Whole Foods for $13.4bn in 2017.

Now Amazon supplies everything. I am constantly amazed by how many everyday items I buy from them. It simply isn’t worth going shopping – we’ll leave the rights and wrongs of Amazon’s impact on the high street to another day – when I know that Amazon will deliver for free tomorrow. And yes, I still remember the sense of wonderment when I first ordered something late at night and it turned up – as promised – the next day.

There are now more than 100 million members of Amazon Prime: that’s equivalent to 64% of the households in the US and for me it’s lesson number three. Deliver what you promise to deliver, on time, every time.

But the biggest lesson from Amazon is simple. It’s one that all of us in the TAB family know all too well – but it never hurts to be reminded.

No regrets.

When he founded Amazon at the age of 30 Jeff Bezos was a vice-president of a Wall Street brokerage. He was presumably on course for a successful and wealthy career.

But he went west, as a result of what he described as his ‘regret minimisation framework.’ In a 2010 speech at Princeton he described the decision as “the less safe path.”

“I decided I had to give it a shot,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d regret trying and failing. And I suspected that I would also be haunted by the decision not to try.”

The company was funded with $100,000 of personal and family money. Within a month of the launch it had already shipped to every US state and to 45 countries. In the first five years customer accounts jumped from 180,000 to 17 million. Sales went from $511,000 to $1.6bn – and Jeff Bezos was one of the world’s richest men.

One final lesson? An absolute focus on your customer. Amazon has always been a company willing to spend money to make money. It failed to make an annual profit in 10 of its first 23 years as it ploughed money back into what Bezos described as a “heads down focus on the customer,” cutting prices, offering free shipping and developing new devices like the Kindle.

Along the way Amazon has revolutionised our shopping habits: the current buzzword, disruption, doesn’t begin to describe it. And like every successful company, plenty of ex-employees have gone on to found very successful companies of their own – always a measure of an entrepreneur’s success.

But none of it would have happened without Jeff Bezos’ regret minimisation framework – his decision to take the less safe path. The poet Robert Frost put it rather more eloquently, in words which speak to every single entrepreneur:

Two roads diverged in a wood and I –

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Just Eaten?


When Dav and I were first married we’d often watch a video on a Saturday night. “Why don’t we stay in and watch a film tonight?” my lovely wife would say.

What she meant was, ‘Why don’t you drag yourself away from the fire, put your coat on, drive down to Blockbuster, rent a video – and a tub of ice-cream – and bring it home? And then tomorrow you can do exactly the same and take it back.’

…And as the rain lashed down I’d think, ‘There has to be a better way.’ And now there is. Amazon, Netflix, on demand… The idea of going out into the dark and the cold to rent a film is simply ludicrous. Dan and Rory fall about laughing.

Blockbuster? At its peak in 2004 it employed 84,000 people worldwide in more than 9,000 stores. It filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and its last stores were sold the following year.

Until recently, I felt much the same about takeaways. “Oh, I can’t be bothered to cook. Why don’t we have a Chinese or an Indian?” But it wasn’t a takeaway: it was a go-and-collect.

JE_New_Logo

Then the takeaway shops started to deliver – and technology and big business eventually came together in a plethora of Just Eat signs. The company started in Denmark in 2000, is now headquartered in London and operates in 13 countries around the world. It’s just posted a 44% increase in revenue for the third quarter and is the most visible face of our love affair with takeaway food. There are now more than 56,000 takeaways in England, up by 4,000 over the last three years.

So let me pose a question: could Just Eat eat the restaurant industry?

Ever since this blog started in 2010 ‘nothing is impossible’ has been a constant theme running through it. ‘Don’t think it can’t happen because, today, it can.’

So could the restaurant industry – that basic staple of birthdays, anniversaries and targets achieved – be under threat? According to accountants Moore Stephens the answer is yes. They cite the rising cost of imported food because of Brexit and problems with increasing business rates – due to rise by 42% in some parts of London this year – and suggest that 20% of the UK’s restaurants could go out of business.

Factor in the rise and rise of the takeaway and the number could be even higher. ‘Go and collect it’ has become ‘tap the app and have it delivered.’ Eating out means getting changed, booking a table, going into town, one of you can’t drink because you have to drive… “Let’s just stay in, order a takeaway and watch a film” is quick, easy and convenient – and a lot less expensive.

But business rates and Brexit are one thing: a fundamental shift in consumer behaviour is quite another.

And right now the words ‘fundamental shift’ apply everywhere: ‘don’t think it can’t happen because it can’ probably ought to give way to ‘don’t think it can’t happen because it already has.’

Five years from now chatbots will be interacting with your customers, autonomous vehicles will be reducing the need to own a car and machines will be learning. As a recent article in Forbes put it, ‘Algorithms will be doing the heavy lifting.’

…And that’s before we consider voice control. With Alexa – or her second cousin – sitting in every home and on every desk, controlling everything in your home and office with voice commands will be second nature.

It’s easy to see the future glass as half-full. Amazon drones flying overhead delivering everything we need and Just Eat and Deliveroo drivers knocking on the door with all our meals. Throw in the ability to work from home and we may never need to leave the house again.

But you won’t be surprised to know that I see the glass as very much half-full. Yes, change is coming and it will impact areas of our lives and businesses we thought were set in stone. But change always brings opportunity – and who better to capitalise on it than the members of TAB UK?

Bad Customer Service always Hertz


It’s impossible to start anywhere other than the Ryanair check-in desk this week. The lonely and deserted Ryanair check-in desk after one of the more spectacular own goals in corporate history. What is it about the airline industry? Last year United, this year Ryanair.

Michael O’Leary was swift to go on TV and offer profuse apologies. Flights cancelled for up to six weeks: up to 400,000 passengers with their flights cancelled and/or their holiday plans in ruins. But how do Ryanair still manage to give off that air of ‘sorry-not-sorry?’ There’s just the distinct impression of the kid at school – the one who’s apologising with his fingers crossed behind his back.

So Ryanair have thrown a large rock into their corporate pool. I suspect that they have done lasting and public damage to their reputation. And they have done it spectacularly.

But this week I want to talk about what I think was equally bad customer service. It wasn’t spectacular, it certainly won’t be reported in the media and, if Ryanair threw a rock, this was barely a pebble.

But there’s a ripple. And I hope that when you’ve read the blog this week the ripple may be on its way to being a wave. Here’s an abridged version of the story: if you want the full version, just let me know.

In the summer we went to Portugal for a week with another family. The events I’ve related below happened to both Ben and myself: a double whammy.

I’m a Hertz Gold Club member and I booked a car with them in advance – something around the size of an Astra, at £400 for the week.

When I arrived there was no Astra and instead I was offered a Clio Grande. I wondered if that was big enough for two large suitcases. “No problem,” the very helpful guy on the desk said, “You can upgrade to a BMW X3. Normally that would be £150, but you’re a Gold Member so I can do it for £80.”

That seemed fair enough. And we were anxious to start our holiday: I fumbled for my card. “No problem,” he said. “We don’t need your card. Just initial here … and here.”

And I was done – and, at that point, quite happy with the service I’d received from Hertz.

Fast forward a week. Time to hand the car back.

…At which point I find out that the £80 extra was per day. Was that mentioned initially? Not in a thousand years. Hertz presented the extra £80 as a one-off increase on the £400 I’d already paid.

You can imagine the scene. You can imagine the arguments Ben and I had with Hertz. You can also imagine the time I have wasted on this.

Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 10.13.01

At the time of writing it is still ‘in dispute.’ Hertz have so far refused to take any action: that includes failing to reply to my e-mail of August 20th despite – see the image – telling me that I should ‘stand by’ for a response on four separate occasions. Yep, I’m ‘standing by’ waiting for a response in much the same way as 400,000 Ryanair passengers are ‘standing by’ waiting for a flight. So here we are, in the rather more transparent world of social media…

Will I ever rent a car from Hertz again? Right now I would rather cycle round Portugal with our suitcases on my back. Will you ever rent a car from Hertz again? You may well do: but you will pause before you sign anything.

This is – by some distance – the worst service I’ve ever received in my life. Hertz still have my £500 (and Ben’s) and the words ‘ripped-off’ and ‘mis-selling’ don’t even come close. Worst of all is that – in the best traditions of United and Ryanair – Hertz don’t seem to care.

They may have been around since 1918, they may be the biggest name in car rental, but nothing excuses their lamentable service and their inability to answer an e-mail. I’ll be sharing this post with them: let’s hope someone at Hertz finally wakes up and takes notice. I’ll let you know…

David and Goliath? It could be TAB vs. Amazon…


If you saw the news last week you may have seen that there was – very briefly – a change at the top of the league table. Specifically, at the top of the Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index.

Amazon shares rose ahead of their results and for one day – July 27th – Jeff Bezos was the richest person in the world. And then, wouldn’t you know it, the company’s results were disappointing. Despite revenue for the three months to June rising to $38bn (25% up on the same period last year) earnings-per-share were down as the company chased growth. The shares slipped back by 2% and that was enough. Bill Gates was back at number one and poor old Jeff was struggling to get by on $89bn.

But wherever Jeff Bezos is in the rich list, Amazon has become an integral part of all our lives. I’ve touched several times on the decline of the traditional high street: whatever your feelings about that, Amazon has played a central role in it. And the company is chasing yet more growth – $14bn to buy Whole Foods, for example, as it goes head-to-head with Walmart.

Right now Amazon seems to be looking to dominate just about every sector you can think of: quoted in City AM an American fund manager said, “What you’re buying [Amazon shares] for is revenue growth and market share – and Amazon is making great progress.”

And now to another story that caught my attention. ‘Edinburgh’s entrepreneurial eco-system encouraging start-ups.’ Basically it’s a simple story: Edinburgh has brought all the key ingredients together to allow people to start businesses and to encourage those businesses to grow – a talented workforce, public sector and academic support, access to finance, affordable space and quality of life.

For me, the two stories are closely connected. Amazon and the other tech giants are going on a spending spree. That is going to bring benefits: both Amazon and Google are committed to massive new developments in London that will create thousands of jobs. But it will also come at a price, and that price may well be paid by our local shops and communities.

o-DAVID-GOLIATH-facebook

And yes, I use Amazon. Of course I do. Someone recommends a book, you find it in 10 seconds, click, it’s bought. But I am acutely conscious that if I shop with Amazon the money does not stay in my local community. South Milford does not have a book shop: I’d hate to think that in a few years The Village Store (no, the marketing committee didn’t spend long on the name…) had disappeared because we’d all decided Amazon was the best place to buy Weetabix, dog food and loo rolls.

This is where I think entrepreneurs have a significant role to play. We are firmly rooted in our local communities and I’m really keen to encourage the 400 business owners in the TAB community to play their part in creating ‘entrepreneurial eco-systems’ like the one in Edinburgh. One of the things that TAB members do well is bring people together: not just other TAB members, but people from banking, regional development, education and other sectors. If we can develop that, then we can play our part in building and nurturing successful local economies.

Technology isn’t going away. Any day now you’re going to look up into the sky and watch a delivery from an Amazon drone. And if you think that’s impressive the Chinese version of Amazon claims to deliver in 15 minutes: not even worth nipping out to the shops at lunchtime…

Local businesses and local communities are going to need all the help they can get. I’m proud to know that TAB members will play a central role in providing that help – and no-one is better qualified.

PS Should you need either of these vital items the Chinese Amazon will apparently also deliver a Vietnamese bride and/or a live scorpion. A whole new meaning to ‘something for the weekend…’

United we Fall


Even if you’ve been living in the proverbial cave at the bottom of the proverbial salt mine the news of United Airlines PR disaster-to-end-all-PR-disasters must have reached you by now.

I’ve covered disaster, catastrophe and the required corporate apology before. But that was something minor – just an oil spill and devastation of a coastline. In PR terms, hauling Dr David Dao up the aisle of the United flight to Kentucky was in an altogether different league.

Why? It’s simple. Devastating a coastline is tragic: of course it’s a disaster. But it’s a news item.

What United did to Dr Dao was personal. There isn’t one of us who – next time he flies – won’t sit in his seat, fasten his safety belt and then glance at the aisle of the aeroplane and think, ‘It could have been me…’

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Was United’s action legal? Sadly, yes. It’s right there in the terms and conditions, in 8pt print at the bottom of page 23. Airlines routinely sell tickets to more people than a plane can seat, counting on several people not to arrive. When there are not enough ‘no-shows’ – that is, when passengers are so inconsiderate that they turn up for the flight they booked – then the airlines first try to persuade, reward or bribe passengers to change their flight. Then…

And the figures are small – almost insignificant. In 2016, United Airlines denied boarding to 3,765 of its 86 million passengers: an additional 62,895 passengers voluntarily gave up their seats. In very round figures, that gives you a 1 in 1,000 chance of being ‘bumped,’ voluntarily or involuntarily.

But none of this matters: because we’ll all look at the aisle of the plane and wonder…

Not surprisingly, United took a savage beating on social media: ‘New United Airlines Mottos’ rapidly became one of Twitter’s most popular hashtags…

We put the hospital in hospitality!

Fight or flight

If you can’t seat ’em, beat ’em

…And several others which have no place in a family blog on a Friday morning.

The stock market was equally quick to react with more than $1 billion wiped off United’s stock market valuation.

United’s response to all this was ‘apology by committee.’ You could see the eventual statement had gone round the company several times, with every department head making sure his own base was covered. CEO Oscar Munoz even tried to deflect the blame on to David Dao, saying that he had been “disruptive and belligerent.”

What would I have done? Four things:

  • Have one person immediately issue a genuine and sincere apology to Dr Dao and the other passengers on the flight, without worrying about any hurt feelings at United HQ
  • Settle Dr Dao’s lawsuit immediately, whatever the cost. United cannot have people constantly reminded of this incident
  • Sack the security team, sack the CEO and sack anyone else who didn’t have the courage and the common sense to say, “Stop. This is wrong.”
  • Announce an immediate end to the overbooking of flights. United – and all other airlines come to that – need to give an absolute guarantee that you cannot pay for a flight and then be ‘bounced.’

But all those moves are simply locking the stable door long, long after the horse has bolted. What they needed – what every company needs – is a culture where incidents like that simply cannot occur in the first place. No-one can legislate for one individual’s erratic behaviour, but in United’s debacle everyone screwed up – and it was indicative of a deeper malaise at the company.

Thankfully as I meet more and more Alternative Board members up and down the UK I see the same commitment to clients and customers, and the same determination to build and empower great teams, that was so evident in York. Dr Dao would be safe with any member of the Alternative Board. (United’s HQ is in Chicago: maybe it’s not too late for Oscar Munoz to sign up…)

That’s it for this week – and yes, before you ask, I have noticed that there’s going to be a General Election. I’ll tackle it next week…

Own Your Own Truth


How do keep your work/life balance well and truly balanced?

How do you make sure you build your business – but never miss the Nativity Play?

How do you make sure your business is working for you – and that it’s not the other way round?

Yep, we’ve dealt with a few minor questions over the last six years, but let’s turn to something fundamental this week…

What is Truth?

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Don’t worry: I’m not abandoning TAB York and heading back to the campus: but in the year of Brexit and Trump ‘what is truth?’ is a pertinent question. And it’s one that has important implications for all our businesses.

You may have seen recently that ‘post-truth’ is the Oxford English Dictionary’s ‘word of the year’ for 2016. It follows previous winners ‘emoji’ and ‘vape’ and beat off strong competition from ‘hygge,’ ‘Brexiteer’ and ‘adulting.’

What does ‘post-truth’ mean? It means that objective opinion has become less important in shaping public perceptions than opinions and emotional appeals.

The day after reading about ‘post-truth’ I was at a seminar, where one of the speakers made a simple statement: “you don’t own your own truth any more.”

His comments were largely directed at the hospitality industry. What he meant was that the truth about your hotel is no longer what you put in your brochure or on your website: the ‘truth’ is what someone says about you on Trip Advisor.

We’re now living in an age where comments and feedback no longer arrive in response to your carefully crafted e-mail or your solicitous feedback form. Instead, they’re 140 characters on Twitter, a photo on Instagram – or comments on sites like Trip Advisor over which you have absolutely no control.

It used to be said that ‘a lie can be half way round the world before the truth has got its boots on.’ That’s no longer the case: today, someone else’s version of the truth can be halfway round the world before your truth etc. etc.

I’ll be writing a post in the New Year about managing your reputation on social media: unfortunately, it requires rather more research than the usual pre-Christmas madness allows…

For now, some of my TAB York members are very well aware of both sides of the social media coin: others, less so. And while there may not be a Trip Advisor for widget manufacturers, that doesn’t mean people aren’t talking about you, your business or your product.

So what steps can you take in the short term to make sure that your version of the truth is pre-eminent? Here are five basic suggestions:

Keep your message simple. I wrote earlier this year about how many millennials now prefer to communicate using pictures: no wonder ‘emoji’ was the 2015 ‘word of the year.’ Your business message doesn’t need to be complicated: after all, there are few things simpler than an emoji. And whatever your feelings on Donald Trump, ‘Make America Great Again’ must have swayed a lot of votes.

Keep your message up to date: and keep it consistent. I’ve been writing this blog for over six years now. I hope some of what I write is useful, interesting and thoughtful. But in getting my message across, the delivery is every bit as important as the content. New clients know I’ll deliver, because they’ve seen the blog updated every Friday morning without fail.

Don’t make ridiculous claims. It’s now impossible to walk past any café without seeing a sign for their ‘award winning’ cakes. Every fish and chip shop in Yorkshire is ‘world famous.’ If your version of the truth contains patently ridiculous claims, don’t be surprised if people choose to believe rather more objective versions of the truth. So I’m sorry, reading this blog will not make you more attractive to women…

Force yourself to check. You may well think that Facebook is for teenagers who should be revising: you may see no point in Twitter as you’ve no interest in whether Stephen Fry has brushed his teeth. Unfortunately, that view is now in the minority: however much social media brings out the ‘bah humbug’ in you, force yourself to check occasionally…

…And if someone has mentioned your business, respond: gently, tactfully, with a touch of humour if you can, but above all respond. Otherwise you run the risk of ‘guilt through silence.’ The accused offered no defence on Twitter, m’lud…

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to offer the Chancellor confirmation of the productivity gap he complained about in the Autumn Statement. I can’t do any work today, Mr Hammond: I have to spend my day deleting ‘Black Friday’ e-mails…

The 6p Café – and the question You Should Really Ask


Just a note before I start this week: I’ve written more than 300 posts on this blog, but last week’s was much the most personal. I’d like to say thank you for all the comments and replies: some of them were touching, some heartfelt and some even more personal than the original post. One in particular buoyed me for the whole weekend: so thank you again.

Anyway – on to business. And a simple question: how much did you pay for your last latte? I’d guess anywhere from £2.40 to £2.90: that’s the going rate and it is, of course, completely ridiculous. Invest not-all-that-much in the right equipment and you can stay in your kitchen and make a coffee that’s equally good for a fraction of the price.

But that’s not the point is it? Because as we all know, Nero, Starbucks and your local coffee n’ cake shop don’t sell coffee. They sell something else entirely.

…And now a café has started charging for it.

Let me introduce you to Ziferblat, a café in Manchester that charges 6p a minute. That’s right, 6p a minute. Stay as long as you want; eat and drink as much as you want and use the Wi-Fi. 30 minutes costs £1.80 and an hour is £3.60.

ziferblat

At first glance that seems remarkably cheap: why do you need to pay rent on an office? An eight hour day at Ziferblat costs £28.80 with no need to go out for a sandwich at lunchtime. Well, they make a profit and the chain is expanding. But it’s not their balance sheet I want to discuss; it’s their willingness to look at an established concept in a wholly new way.

I have plenty of my meetings in various Costas, Starbucks and Neros around North Yorkshire. Am I paying for the coffee? No. That’s the last thing on my mind. I’m paying for convenience, for somewhere to meet, for thirty minutes with a friend, Board member or potential client.

I’m buying the coffee in order to rent a convenient meeting space for thirty minutes. The owners of Ziferblat have recognised this: as one of them says in the video, “Everything is free, except the time that you spend.”

Some of you may remember a post I wrote early in 2014: it was about American restaurants charging different prices for their food depending on when you ate. Re-reading the original piece – and thinking about ‘the 6p café’ – that still seems entirely logical to me.

The reason I make these points is simple. We’re now well into ‘making plans for next year’ season and there’s a fundamental question to ask yourself: what do I really sell?

Do you sell coffee? Or do you sell the convenience, the surroundings and the meeting place?

Quite rightly, you’re now turning the question round and asking, ‘Fair enough, Ed. What do you really sell?’

Let me answer that, because it illustrates the point exactly.

Do I really sell 1 to 1 meetings and peer-to-peer coaching? No, of course I don’t. So let’s look at the reasons entrepreneurs ‘buy’ TAB York:

  • They want to solve a problem and/or address some pain
  • They don’t want to feel isolated/lonely any more
  • They want a fresh perspective on their business
  • They’re stuck in a rut
  • They know they’re ready to ‘take the next steps.’ But they don’t know how to do it, and may not even know what the next steps are

So TAB York sells solutions to specific problems, an end to loneliness, a new way of looking at problems and opportunities, motivation and – as I wrote two weeks – a glimpse of what life and business could be like: ‘permission to dream’ as I termed it.

Clearly, TAB York sells different things to different people – and that doesn’t change even after someone becomes a member. The reasons why entrepreneurs continue as Board members can be very different to the reasons why they joined:

  • The Board meetings are an insurance policy against things going wrong
  • The routine of the monthly meetings forces members to work ‘on the business’ not ‘in the business’
  • It’s the only place they can really talk about their business with people who absolutely understand…
  • Who’ll give absolutely impartial advice…
  • And who care about your success and the success of your business

So in no way am I selling the monthly meetings: I’m selling reassurance, a framework, and the experience, objectivity and commitment of the other Board members. And ‘commitment’ is the right word: members of TAB York have an emotional investment in each other’s businesses.

All the above points have come from Board members over the years – and yes, when entrepreneurs ‘buy’ for so many reasons it makes it difficult to define what my colleagues and I ‘sell.’

The same may very well be true for you and your business. But take your time to define exactly what you do sell – and don’t be afraid to emulate ‘The 6p Café’ and think a long way outside the box. It’s a really worthwhile exercise and the answer may well surprise you – and have a significant impact on next year.

In fact it’s something we could cover at a 1 to 1: maybe over a meal. I’ll drop an e-mail to the Star Inn the City and offer them 6p a minute…