Executing a brilliant idea

18 April, 2008

It's one thing coming up with a plan - another successfully carrying it out


was in London for a couple of days recently,

getting a brief fix of big city life. I have some friends

I habitually stay with, one of whom had been spectacularly unwell . In fact, they had a brain tumour the size of a small egg removed about six months ago. They are recovering

well, given the nature of the operation, and I will admit to feeling quite moved by their matter-of-fact approach to the story of diagnosis, operation and recovery. One

especially humbling thing is that they found time to be nice to me, and about what was going on in my life. They commented on the creativity

I had shown over

five years of running a shop, something

I initially had trouble seeing - to me, it seems more like an exercise in teeth-gritting pig-headedness than any Age of Aquarius-type celebration of the human condition.

But the more they talked, the more I listened and thought about it. I won't re-hash how brilliant I am by repeating it all here, but it did make me think about the nature of running a business. Ostensibly, it's a repetitive exercise - you have a counter

with stock on one side and customers on the other; there is a simple goods-for-cash exchange, and everyone is happy. The problem with this arrangement is that it's actually no fun at all. You have to invent little things to spice up your day, otherwise the repetition just grinds you down.

The past year has been a slow process of expanding the range, tweaking what we stock and ensuring that we get right the fine balance between stocking as much as we can, and as much as we can sell before it passes its sell-by date. We're hovering around 600 beers at the moment and, with a bit of judicious manipulation of what is in the fridge (cold beer sells faster), we can keep discounting problem stock to a minimum. There's a Beers of the Week fixture that adds interest, both for staff and customers, but that too can change - why not focus on a brewery, a region, or a particular style?

The latest project mooted is to ­reorganise all the British beers along two axes (that's the plural of axis, not a balancing trick with wood-chopping equipment) - one for strong to weak,

the other for light to dark. That way, if someone likes a particular beer, then the beer next to it, and above or below it, will be broadly similar in terms of strength and intensity. I think

there is a lot of mileage to be extracted from this - it's an interesting and sensible way to lay out the beers, it allows an interaction with the customers as you explain how it works, and I'm sure

it would be a way of generating a bit of PR for the business.

However, there is a twofold problem with this fabulous plan. Firstly, getting the information on to paper to finalise the layout is a nightmare . Secondly, if that seems like a nightmare, then it is as nothing compared

with actually moving half a dozen of each of 250 beers around to complete the task. I'm not even sure that it's possible - perhaps we'll have to pull an all-nighter to achieve it? That's the thing about running a shop - it's an odd combination of indulging in flights of fancy, and the grim determination to make them happen.

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