King Canute and the future of business on the High Street

The Danish King

King Canute, or Knut or Knud is best remembered for commanding the tide to stop coming in, either because he believed he was so powerful that the sea would obey, or because he wished to demonstrate to his courtiers that he was human like all of them, and was bound to fail. He was a successful monarch of his time, so I believe in his wisdom and prefer the second version of the story.

I thought of our Danish King when out in our local village the other day. As it happens he may have been to our ancient village,  as his army fought a battle locally and

Winning near Canute's battlefield

camped only four miles away. I think that Canute would have realised that we cannot stand in the way of change, however much we dislike it. And our village is changing.

Byegone days

We have no independent grocer left. We have a small but good Cooperative supermarket. We are going to have a small Sainsbury store as well though how they can both be viable is beyond me. We still have an excellent baker who survives by being excellent. Aside from two funeral directors, the rest is mostly takeaway hot food; a very good fish and chip shop, three South Asian takeaways and two Chinese, one much better than the other. There are some other businesses hanging on, but as the passing trade lessens it will be harder for them.

We know that the shoppers now go out of town for food and clothes, or they go on-line. Although there is a slump in the construction industry right now, we know that more houses will be built to fill in the green bits of countryside as well as the ingress of retail parks. “Infrastructure” such as roads are then built. The trouble is there is no big plan or Big Idea. It is just a pressure of numbers and of population, but no planning beyond dealing with the next few years. Yet to me the one big project which is HST2 seems misguided.

Village museum?

I don’t think the country should be preserved like a museum.  In a way that happens when you have an area which is very limited, such as the island of Jersey. The planning laws for any new builds there are very strict, and the size of population is very much controlled. You and I if we are non-Jersey people cannot easily take up residence in Jersey. We could work there for a while if our services could be justified, but at the end of our contract we are on a boat or plane away. Therefore to the occasional visitor like me, Jersey has retained its character. We in the mainland UK and in most countries just can’t do that.

So we have to accept that the world is changing. You and I know that we have to adapt our businesses. Perhaps we need to work more on-line, whether selling gifts or our services. A lot of this is demand-driven of course.

Ten years ago I met all my clients. They sent me letters and papers. I sent them letters and forms. Few used email.

Now I do not meet all my clients in person although I prefer to and it involves less red tape. My clients email files. We have video conversations via Skype. I deal with queries using email and I send reports to clients on-line. I email forms. I submit on-line to Government departments.

Some clients still like paper, so they get paper. But some practitioners in my line of work became frightened by the on-line environment and quite a few of them retired. As recently as two years ago I took over a client from an accountant who wrote out all his clients’ tax returns by hand. How long must that have taken? How could he have remained competitive? The answer is that he couldn’t and he would have had no room to compete on value, which is what all of us providing professorial services should be doing.

Change or die

So we must adapt our businesses and be prepared to change as needed. If we don’t need a shop or any premises at all, we must bite the bullet. If we need to follow the supermarket and get new premises in the retail park, do that!

I like to think that King Canute understood that we cannot stand in the way of the tide of progress. I also believe that he would have still been good at strategic planning and helped Government at national and local level to be a little less haphazard in their own planning. What new plans do you have?

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