25 Jun 2012

St Helens business shows initiative

Since the new Saints RLFC stadium opened there has been controversy over the parking facilities. Fans are expected to park in St Helens town centre and walk to the stadium which, on a summers evening is no doubt rather pleasant. The weather as we all know is rarely pleasant in St Helens or the UK for that matter and so when the light nights aren't around then the prospect of leaving a car in a town centre and walking doesn't seem that appealing.

 A St Helens pub, the Millhouse on Mill lane came up with a great idea a few months ago. They have their own large car park and a lot of local Saints fans. In a bout of creativity the Millhouse came up with the idea of putting two 80 seater coaches on free of charge for each home game. People could leave a car at the Millhouse in safety and get a free ride on the coach to and from the game.

The only proviso was that they purchased a drink. This didn't have to be an alcoholic drink but it went some way to paying for the coach.

 A spokesperson for the Millhouse told us:

"We have this huge car park and a lot of regulars who follow saints, it seemed a great idea to provide this service to any St Helens fans who were worried about the parking facilities at the Saints stadium. People travelled from all around St Helens. A lot of them hadn't even been in the Millhouse before so it gave them a chance to see what a friendly pub we are.

Everyone has benefitted from this piece of initiative. The supporters, the local community and the Millhouse, not to mention Saints RLFC. The Millhouse has a coach on each home game. You can call and check on 01744 813123 or visit the Millhouse website www.millhouse-st helens.co.uk

If you are a St Helens Business with a story about initiative then contact us, we'd love to hear about it.

20 Jun 2012

Are Supermarkets killing St Helens?

Is St Helens under threat?

Local Shops in St Helens
According to statistics the number of local specialist shops such as bakeries, florists, greengrocers, butchers and so on has fallen over 90% since the late 1950s. A whopping 40% of that is over the last ten years. 

St Helens now has countless supermarkets and as land is getting more and more scarce the large players have taken to building smaller "community supermarkets" on whatever land they can get their hands on. 

If you're honest you'll perhaps admit to using the supermarkets and also thinking it fantastic that under one roof not only can you buy your groceries, you can even buy an iPad and some holiday clothes, insure your car and even have a spot of lunch whilst you're there. Why wouldn't we want supermarkets, they make our life easier surely? Think again.

You may think that you're unaffected by this mass invasion of retail giants, you're not a baker or a fishmonger so why should you care? The reality is that as more and more smaller independent businesses shut up shop unable to compete with the big players this in turn has many knock on effects. Let's take a look at some and use St Helens as an example. 

First of all we have seen the decline in local butchers and bakers, gone are the joys of picking a nice piece of steak up for dinner, some haddock maybe and a fresh granary loaf in our local area. Then we've watched in horror as the names that we have known since childhood started to vanish one by one from our town centres.

The inability to compete with the supermarkets on price and product range, coupled with crippling borrowing costs during the recent credit crisis such names as Woolworths became part of history not just in St Helens but all across the country.  Also, why would we park on a multi storey that costs money when we could park for free outside a hyper-mega-supermarket in the suburbs?

What we have failed to see is that despite us all not owning local shops we are slowly but surely being affected. These local businesses that have been starved out of the market all needed accountants, banks, solicitors, printers, vehicles, signage, websites, uniforms, the list is endless, as each one closed it meant that all the support businesses lost another customer and so one by one the cancer spreads to all areas of the town pushing up unemployment figures as it took hold.

A large percentage of the money spent in independent local shops stays local, not only to pay local staff, it is also used to pay other local support companies such as we mentioned earlier, local accountants, mechanics, printers and so on. In contrast, only a small percentage of the money spent in a chain store stays local. It's only the cost of the local wage bill, the rest is channeled through to head office and then distributed to shareholders often after some very clever tax planning by offshore accountants. None of the money goes back into the tills of the local community that the supermarket serves.

So maybe you're a farmer, maybe you were rubbing your hands when the supermarkets said that they wanted to support their local communities? The reality is however that if you speak to any farmer who is supplying the big supermarkets they'll tell you terrible tales of a years worth of fruit being refused or being sold at a price less than what it cost to package and then sold on a buy one get one free. 

So what can be done really? Ideally, we'd all make an effort to buy local, you'd be surprised at how much better the surviving local shops are to the main players. Take Fosters DIY in Fingerpost (Fosters haven't paid me or even asked me to mention them in this article, I just think that they are a good example). Fosters have been there since as long as I can remember (and i'm in my 40s) and I bet most of you have not been in there in years have you? The next time you want something DIY related, screws, timber, silicone sealant etc then please do yourselves a favour. Go to the large outlets (we all know who I mean) and price up what you want then go to Fosters and see not only how much you can save but also experience the warm friendly community atmosphere that still exists in the shop. 

Now you may think that this contradicts what I've said about low prices and locals being unable to compete. Let me explain, If we're looking for a new central heating boiler then the large players are perhaps very competitive, they will gladly sell something for £600 and make just £20 on it. They'll get you back when you're buying your pipe brackets and screws however. Have you seen the price of screws in the big DIY stores? Compare the prices with Fosters and you'll have a shock!

Supermarkets operate in a similar way. Fishfingers might be "buy one get one free" but then go down the air freshener aisle and prepare to be shocked. They will sell everyday items at knock down prices but have your trousers down when you put something less price sensitive in your trolley.

If you're fortunate enough to live close by to a local speciality shop or if you still happen to work in the town centre then please make an effort to stop by and purchase something, even if it's only once each week. You'll feel good in the knowledge that you're helping a local St Helens business and you'll probably be pleasantly surprised with the quality and service and heaven forbid even the price!

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Lets help each other to help St Helens.

VAT Reduction Suggested

A few weeks ago it is reported that the IMF (International Monetary Fund) suggested that the UK either cut VAT or NIC if the economy continues to falter. To have VAT at the highest rate whilst the UK is in such poor state is like the owner of a donkey flogging his steed to work harder, instead, if he were to rest it for a while, feed and water the poor thing he may find it would work twice as hard and not need to be flogged.

Would a cut in VAT stimulate the economy or do we finally need a complete VAT overhaul to level the playing field? Maybe we should scrap the registration threshold, drop the rate to 10% and therefore everyone in business will need to pay VAT but at 10% it will practically eradicate the black market overnight.

What's your thoughts? are you a St Helens business that is being crippled paying 20% VAT whilst all the while competing with non registered businesses?

Olympic Torch in St Helens caused misery for some

The Olympic torch passed through St Helens a few weeks ago bringing delight to many. The Torch followed a route through the town starting from the East Lancashire road at Windle. It is reported that around 40,000 people turned out to see the torch at various points in St Helens and with the sun shining down the day was considered a success.

On the flip side however we've heard reports from some local businesses in St Helens that they were not informed that access to their business would be closed for several hours. It seems that there had been poor planning by St Helens Council and businesses were left uninformed and unable to operate for many hours that day.

Was your business affected by the days proceedings and if so were you informed well in advance?