Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ultra-Marathon Man leaves his mark

When I drifted away from race-riding eight or nine years ago after having too many falls, riding too many slow horses and eating too few good dinners over the previous ten years ( !)there was a void in my life for a while. I needed a competitive outlet and a routine of self-challenge and outdoor exercise. I began to run. First a few miles at a time, then seven or eight miles a few times a week. Given the mind and body of the man in question it wasnt long before I turned to Marathon running. Thus began the first of many journeys. Most of those journeys ended with a medal, a sense of self reaffirmed, an extra lesson learned, and ended at the finish line of another 26 mile run in a city or on a mountain somewhere. There is a spirituality in the mindset of the self-improvement, the self-discipline that becomes part of the runners' world. Like the separateness that becomes part of the life of the committed cyclist or jockey. It was an odd type of separateness for a gregarious open communicator like myself, but it was part of a routine of challenge and endeavour that had been part of my life since I first sat on a horse. And I suppose I am no more or less of a contradiction of a man than anyone.
I read a book several years ago that inspired me and led me to deliver several motivational speeches about the power of goal setting. The story of Dean Karnazes, possibly the greatest endurance runner since Pheidippides. A man more than ordinary who inspires in ways that the untouchable great athletes fail to inspire a mere mortal athlete of flat feet as I indeed was; Dean inspires because as an ordinary advertising executive at the age of 30, he turned his face to finding what he looked for in life, and did so as a family man and fundraiser, with the focus, but without the selfishness that typifies many great acheivers.
Dean's creed;
Run when you can
Walk if you have to
Crawl if you must
Just never give up
I will post my speech about the power of goalsetting some time. I will also post the tale of the journey to the finish line in the Dublin Marathon 2003, my first full marathon finish.
For today though the story is of a bionic hip. The runs and falls have taken their toll; I have to have surgery to remodel my right hip joint in a few weeks. The next marathon I finish will be at a walk! Somebody famous said" Its not the years, its the mileage..." A phrase definitely applicable to me in my current broken down lame state.
But ask me was it worth it?
Every step of the way!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Rip off Ireland.... not RIP just yet.

At Groome PetVets I have reduced the price of many of our key services in the last ten months.
I began with a pre-Christmas offer of a free microchip with every booster.
In February I looked at our price list critically and reduced the price of six key services by one third. In July I addressed the fall off in week-day customer numbers by introducing a deal of one third off everything -for OAPs- on tuesday and wednesday. In August I have begun a campaign to reverse the decline in preventative pet health care ( for example Vaccination numbers are well down) by introducing a Loyalty card for booster vaccination and puppy primary vaccination and a clubcard for Propak pet food.
The unfortunate fact though is that the only reason I can afford to make these price changes is because my pay roll costs have halved by my reduction in staff numbers from 15 , just a year ago, to only 8 working in the practice now. Those now working at Groome PetVets provide a better sevice to our clients in many ways and do so more efficiently and cost effectively. That I can now identify those improvements is symptomatic of the difficulties the entire economy created for itself by the high cost-spiral which we all contributed to and accepted- then passed on to customers. That I was able to radically shift business strategy and realign staff to new behaviours and a new business culture is a reflection of the flexibility that small private sector business can take advantage of when there is a will and need for change.
However I am only in control of parts of my own cost base and most of my costs of doing business have not reduced and some have even increased. Animal remedies and medicines comprise about thirty percent of my costs. The major medical wholesalers and manufacturers increased prices by between 4 and 8 percent in September/October '08 and have not reduced prices since. The markets two main specialist pet foods increased prices in October 08 and april 09 respectively and needless to say did not reduce prices as the economy further shrank into deflation this summer. Energy and communications costs are often cited as having fallen this year. In practice however I have found that the newer entrants to these markets tout for business with lower base charges but running charges will amount to about the same month by month- and I have tested this by moving my service around. Despite the ongoing lowerECB base interest rates, Bank overdraft rates and business charges remain punitive within the big two in the Irish bank market. Commercial rates have not reduced as budget-stressed local authorities seek revenue from the limited sources available. Many small businesses are simply unwilling to pay rates this year and will remain in arrears of rates, I predict into next year and the year after, as the rates bill joins a pile under a paper weight on the owner-manager's desk. My PRSI contributions have not reduced, neither has the rate of VAT I am required to pay and then pass on to my customers. Rents have reduced as the smaller commercial property owners have become increasingly anxious to keep their tenants- though unfortunately many retailers and other small business tenants are now falling behind in their rents, while in many sectors the concept of upward only rate review remains the norm. Rising waste disposal costs, implimentation of parking charges even in small towns, consistently high motor fuel costs, road toll costs and so on- these all form parts of the cost base of the Irish small business and can broadly be blamed on either the pressures of the macro-economy OR the pressures of government costs- boh of which are being brought to bear on the SME sector as externalities beyond our/my control.
In the macro- economy world business forces are governed by multinationals with revenues often in excess of a small country's GDP- these forces now must extract the penalty for share-holder driven growth strategy from wherever they can. In the case of our budget obsessed Irish government; government and public sector costs- driven up by years of appeasing unions amidst complacency about ongoing revenue- will be brought down by Bord Snip implimentations , but will be brought down slowly In the mean time small business have been targeted to foot the bill.
Recent media reports about the demise of "rip-off Ireland" may be greatly exaggerated. I believe balance within our economy cant be acheived until Banks, Government, Government employees, Trade Unions and Share-holder driven Big Business bring their own cost base and ransom-like tariffs into line with the new economic reality that small businesses envisage.
There is an appetite for change of the political landscape in Ireland and some debate on the need for a new radicalism in political thinking. I believe that radicalism needs to come from the centrist mindset of middle society. Those who believe in neo-liberalism but wont stand for free market control by the big business economics of the Thatcher, Reagan, Karl Rove/Bush tradition any longer. This is very much radicalism with a small r. I believe we must be very careful not to allow the debate for change to be ambushed by Left , or right, ideological forces who if allowed grow to become relevant could polarise the electoral process, create dysfunctional and paralysed coalition government and alienate much needed foreign investors. In the face of the body politic's poor handling of public relations, seeming imperviousness to the plight of indigenous small business, tardy decision making and those continued embarrassing revelations about expenses and God knows what else opportunists on the socialist fringe in particular now have the climate to thrive. But I believe as a small business owner and employer that their agenda for self-interest would prove as damaging as those big business forces now hoist by their own petard, though still looking for the rest of us to pay!

Des Groome.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Co-operative marketing; Helping those who help themselves.

Kildare Chamber of Commerce voucher book is a resounding local success. Participating Local businesses report increased footfall. Local consumers are enthusiastic about the novel offers available and the value they can now find for everything from Pizzas to PC Doctor to Pet Health.
Households can use up their voucher book over the coming months and develop the all important habit of visiting our vibrant service provider and small enterprise based town centre.
Kildare Chamber of Commerce will launch a new book in the autumn to create a pre-Christmas shopping lead-up in Kildare town and to help our members help customers by giving real LOCAL value for money.
The Co-op movement sustained a generation in rural Ireland in the past. Co-ops helped farmers sell their produce, helped creameries acheive the volume needed to compete with imported produce, gave a retail outlet to rural households.
Kildare Chamber of Commerces voucher scheme is not original , but it does represent a new form of Co-op movement. Co-operative marketing.
The next level of Co-operative marketing has also now arrived to Kildare. A group trading as has the potential to help further business growth and promote customer loyalty.
Signing your business up will place your discount offer on a database for anyone to print or download and avail of -as an incentive to become a customer or a visitor to your town. Credit card style loyalty cards will be sold for three euro in each ibuy participating business. The same card sold in each member business can be used in any other business listed with the ibuy network to avail of their special iBuy member only offer.
An iBuy card holder going on holiday to Galway could look up restaurants linked to the scheme and perhaps eat every night at a special offer price while on holidays.
An iBuy card holder visiting Kildare village or the National Stud could buy a new suit on Kildare 's market square, availing of an iBuy member card offer- and enjoy iBuy card holder benefits in one of Kildares feted hostelries before heading home after a successful day trip.
As Kildare Chamber Chairman I am encouraging all our business members to join this co-operative marketing network AND I encourage consumers and householders to pick up their iBuy 3euro Loyalty card today.
Schemes like this can harness the potential of the small local business sector to help each other.
This is the type of Grass-Roots empowerment that helped Ireland conquer economic, social and political deprivation many times before in our past and can equally see us through the trials of today.

Des Groome