An interesting article hit the Guardian this morning; it is another decent piece by Zoe Wood. The article does leave me a little wondering on what is either wrong with me, or with everyone else. You see, I feel like a Ghost Rider, driving on the right lane on the M11 from Cambridge to Stansted Airport. The radio is warning me to look out for a Ghost rider, I am wondering how crazy the BBC dude is as I am seeing dozens of them all in the wrong lane.
That is the feeling you need to keep into mind when we look at the article ‘Bank Fashion collapses, putting 1,500 high street jobs at risk‘ (at http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jan/05/bank-fashion-collapses-1500-high-street-jobs-at-risk). You see, when we consider ‘young’ fashion retailer, 84 stores, whilst we see at Parliament UK “The unemployment rate (the proportion of the economically active population who are unemployed) for 16-24 year olds was 16.6%“, then we should ask ourselves whether this is such a stretch at all. Yes, we can see that the curve of young employed is lowering, but almost 1 in 5 is a huge group to miss out on. And let’s face it, not all will buy at Bank either, so the question remains, is this such a worrying step? Should we ask why the group did not trim down its size long before this? The quote ““Bank has struggled in a highly competitive segment of the retail industry and has been loss-making for a number of years,”” only adds to this amazement of not trimming. In my (possibly incorrect) view, I wonder whether this group wagered with the existence of 50 shops by not getting rid of 34 of them. The number is arbitrary and highly randomly generated, but you get the idea. Did some people bet on better time for their possible commission and were they as such willing to pay a dangerous game with the 50 shops that might have been saved? In addition, what formula change might have given them a broader perspective? I am not telling, merely asking.
So we see that the previous owner (JD Sports) did coral the wagons when they sold the Bank Fashion part with the part “JD Sports’ executive chairman, Peter Cowgill, said at the time that the sale of Bank was in the “best interests of the group” and that he expected the deal to result in a “substantial recovery” of an intercompany loan“. It makes perfect tactical sense. Yet when we see the earlier statement “In a statement to the stock exchange announcing the sale to Hilco in November, JD Sports said Bank had made a loss of £8.1m in the year to 1 February 2014 and had gross assets of £51.7m at that date“, we must wonder what made Hilco decide to buy it in the first place. So less than a year ago it had made a loss of £8.1m, which is fine, but who expects to turn this around within 18 months in a time of low economy should be willing to answer a few questions to a panel of economic boffins. In my personal view I would set up a second meeting with this person and a mental health review board 30 mins after the economic meeting, as it might be an interesting second interview to say the least.
Fashion Bank might be the visible one today, but it has not been the biggest one or the only one. A less clear view is the reasoning behind Blockbusters, how was it to be turned around by Gordon Brothers? I am not judging them, perhaps they had a changing formula that might have worked, there will always be a different look on how firms versus equity firms look at their new baby and shape it to be a return on investment to some extent, in addition that blockbusters catered to a much wider audience, giving additional possible solutions that might have been backfiring, it is just speculation.
No, going back to the Bank group, or those behind it. Why was the ‘transfer’ made? I mention transfer, because is that not what it is, someone takes hold of a loss making firm. Who answers the questions on the strategy of buying something that is losing you money, whilst you remain using it in the same field. When you buy a car with a broken engine, you fix either the engine, or you replace it. No matter what you decide, fixing it will take time. That part is an absolute given; I just wonder how the rationale went for something that is supposed to get turned around in 10months, whilst it has lost an equal of 15% of its total value. It requires deep changes; such changes take time, more than the projected 10 months here. So again I wonder, am I that Ghost Rider, or is the bulk not watching in what lane they are driving? It is not that far fetched a question!
These are not the only players, at http://www.retailresearch.org/whosegonebust.php we can see a range of players not making it, but business has always been like this, some make it, some do not and they are replaced by newer or better players. This is a phase going on way before the recessions. So why is this issue such a deal now? You see, now, we see a two pronged survival streak. In the first pass a company under threat seems to buy more businesses to seem larger, hoping that they will survive a little longer (which tends to work short term), then as this fails it all goes on the block and we see the shattering of chains, leaving with every shattered attempt 1000-2000 retail workers in need of a new job. As I see it, the problem just grows, when a worker is competing with one to two hundred working peers, they have a decent chance, you see, from the ashes others rise, but when competing with one to two thousand peers, the issue becomes almost unsurmountable, bosses love this as they can get people at 10-15% less, but the workforce becomes uneven, unfair and those bosses as they blow their own business, they tend to walk away with a pretty penny to survive the 5 years that follows. It is this level of implosion that the law should start to protect against. It is for that reason that there should be a new panel, one that does not just question what happens, but also sets a punitive change, because the man behind the purchase, addition and sell of Bank has another part. He gets to be audited and he should be revoked any right to in another company in any level of authority for at least 10 years.
The fair question becomes, is this at all fair? That is actually the question that bothers me too, because innovation and success are fine lines, it is a fine line drawn on a thick black bar called ‘failure’, which is on an even wider bar called ‘getting by’. This must be regarded too, yet is a 10 month turnaround realistic in any way, shape or form? I do not know the answer, because I am not a retail innovator and here I cannot see what some would see, but in the opposite side of the same fairness, Tesco might be regarded as an extreme, but is the case of Bank Fashion not set on an equal face of misrepresentation? You see, before Tesco went (as I see it) criminally overboard in misstating their ‘achievements’, there must have been a phase of misrepresentation (which is not a crime). Where do we see the steps where an economy becomes a better place when these acts of quick fixes and quick manipulations become the centre of business? If we look at the names in the retail research link we see stated words, words we might regard as facts, but are they? When we look at the numbers we see another case.
In that view, in 2008 on average 1380 people per company lost their job, 54 companies and 74,500 people is a big group out to find new jobs, of course it was hard on all then. On average it comes down to 9-12 people per store, which makes perfect sense, yet when we see that almost 4000 stores were shut down, we do get a skewed view on how not so good the economy is, but is that entirely true? The economy is stated to be improving and I am willing to believe that, it is just that under these skewed projections we also see a difference where the employees are getting a lessened deal with each iteration of failing companies, because as more merge and still fail, we see a stronger competitive need, which is translated into getting the same work done for less money, the standard of living falters, which gives views that getting by is almost no longer an option, which then sees us how Bank Fashion is losing money because people are not buying anything, that was the (not so) nice consequence of a lesser income, the snake that eats its own tail ends up with a hunger that does not satisfy and with an increasingly diminished size, did the players of that game consider this or were they only interested in how much they got out of it?
So as we look at possible future implosions of retail chains in 2015, consider the story of the Ghost Rider. Was I the Ghost rider, are you all Ghost Riders, or are we now considering option three, where someone removed the no entry sign and optionally replaced it with a one way sign?