The savings minefield

Last week I paid some cheques into a savings account at my local Nottingham Building Society; I have been a customer there for many years.

The cheque will clear 10 days after I deposited the cheque. Now clearly the money will not leave one account and arrive in the other on the same day – so I can only assume that the Building Society are making interest on money in the intervening period. My Bank clear the cheque in three days?

But this is not my only gripe – I picked up a leaflet on savings rates – some are as low (net of tax) as 0.06%. So with £1,000 deposited you will earn £6.00 in a year – ignoring any compound effect. And if you are a higher rate tax payer you are going to lose another 20% – at least!

But there is another trick these organisations play – they magically drop products – and gently lower you onto one of their standard products. So an account that was paying 4.4% is now paying 1.6%. I know, we have one.

I think that they realise that most people don’t keep a close on eye on these things (other than making sure that the money is still safe!) – and so altering accounts and terms only has one winner… and it’s not you or me!

We do need a safe Banking system; it is a fundamental part of our security. But Banks and Building Societies also need to ‘play fair’ with their customers – and I am not sure they always do. They are quick to get you to wed to them – on the basis that it’s quite a lot of hassle to move!

Post Script – this is not just aimed at Nottingham Building Society – most of these organisations are the same!

Beaulieu get it right…

After a trip in the week to Bucklers Hard I was a little worried that king of the estate, Beaulieu might also be an example of a missed opportunity; but I was wrong. It was just right.

Entry prices are not cheap at £17 each, but once inside your ticket price covered pretty much everything including the James Bond exhibition, the Palace, Abbey and (my favourite) the Top Gear scrapyard.

They have managed to assemble a wide range of the Top Gear graveyard of cars - including the very recently shown ‘mobile homes’ episode. Richard Hammond’s land rover and Clarkson’s three storey minimalistic ‘home’ (pictured) were both on show. There was even a 15 minute mini TV show inside a tent showing highlights from the show. Brilliant – even if Jezza said on the film he couldn’t be bothered to turn up.

The National Motor Museum is excellent with some amazing exhibits – including one of the Trotter Trading Reliants, a replica of the Delorean car from ‘Back to the Future’, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and most impressive of all the Bluebird Donal Campbell set the world speed record in, back in 1964! Not at all pretty but at 403mph, quite quick!

The family house of the Montagu family was well done with characters in costume and is immaculately maintained. The original 12th Century Abbey was interesting too – with a display of Falconry in the Cloisters.

Food and drink were reasonably priced – as was a scream around the go-kart track. In true Top Gear style I got told off for ramming a small child who inexplicably had decided to stop in the middle of the track. Hardly my fault?

We spent four hours there and the real test would I go back – simple – yes.

By Tim Garratt Posted in Business Tagged Beaulieu, Bluebird, Bucklers Hard, Delorean, Donal Campbell, Jeremy Clarkson, Montagu, Richard Hammond, Top Gear, Trotter Trading

Isle of Wight – trip 2

For the second time in 2010 I have found myself ‘abroad’ on the Isle of Wight. But this time I wasn’t at the festival, but a day tripper – via the ferry from Lymington to Yarmouth.

The crossing is shorter than my usual Southampton to East Cowes trip – and the ferries are nicer too – partly as they are newer (built 2007). AT £42 this is one of the most expensive crossings (mile for mile) in the world! (p.s. I am not a ferry anorak!)

It was a whistle-stop tour of the Island – taking in Newport (and lunch at the excellent Quay Arts), coffee in West Cowes, the chain ferry across the Medina and then to the south of the Island to Freshwater Bay. The latter is a peaceful place where I remember last swimming in the sea; to have a wash from one of my early festival trips! Sadly Dimbola Lodge was closed as I would have liked to have visited the Julia Margaret Cameron house and exhibition.

But for the second day we had The Needles in view and for the lat hour of our day headed off to Alum Bay – expecting to be able to get close to these Mariners nightmare rocks.

We found Alum bay; it was awful. I was back in ‘world class attractions’ mode. It must be somewhere near the bottom. It is commercialism at it worst. A funfair of sorts – but one stuck in time. It was like something from a1950′s horror movie. It reminded me of a rather nasty version of Coney Island in New York. All it needed was the two-headed woman freak show.

But we then thought about heading up the path to The Needles – now owned by The National Trust. It closed at 4.30pm – the time they stopped charging you £4.65 to get in. when I say ‘get in’ I mean walk along the coastal path…

Again, as I blogged about yesterday - we seem to miss opportunities. Commercial tat on the one hand and expensive rip-off on the other… I think I will go back to Coney Island – they do commercialism so much better!

Bucklers Hard – a missed opportunity

As I blogged about yesterday I am on holiday in Hampshire – in a very nautical part of the world.

Bucklers Hard

Earlier i n the week we headed out to Bucklers Hard – part of the Beaulieu Estate and one of three settlements on the Beaulieu River. It reminded me very much of Plimouth near Boston in the USA.

I was back in ‘world class visitor‘ mode – and my initial impressions were good. The coffee shop was quite reasonable – less than £10 for three drinks and three ‘healthy’ snacks! It was then £16 to get into the visitor centre – which was ok. £3 for a glossy visitor guide was also reasonable.

But then it sort of fell apart.

The exhibition contains some interesting artefacts – including some from Sir Francis Chichesters round the world voyage in 1967 (he had a berthing at Bucklers Hard). But after this it was little bit ‘papier mache’ models of the sort that brought down Nottingham’s Tales of Robin Hood. Lots of (impressive) models of ships constructed at the dock but far too many static panels. It was also quite ‘stuffy’.

The old village ‘street’ is immaculately maintained – and the Chapel of St Mary is impressive. But you quickly realised that most of the people had found another way in – either from the yachting pontoons or simply from the pub (which you can freely access from the road).

By this time it was too late of course. I had parted with my money – perhaps to a good cause; keeping the village free of development.

But I came away feeling slightly disappointed. Not because of the money, but because we had seen a similar proposition in America – which had been done brilliantly. There were no stuffed dummies – the people were real and in character. And I couldn’t help but think Bucklers Hard could have been so much better without too much effort!

A missed opportunity I think.

Lymington – a very nice place!

I am in Lymington this week – enjoying a week away from the frantic office!

Quaint cobbled-ness of Lymington

It is a fantastic place and you don’t need to take my word for it. It came out top in a survey in 2008 as the best seaside town in Britain.

We are staying at the excellent Elmers Court – a sort of modern day posh Butlins. Originally it was a Country House but is has had a chequered hsitory – including as a Magistrates Court, a School for ‘delicate’ children and during the war as a spy training school. Famously Odette Hallowes was trained here.

Lymington town itself is centred around a yacht harbour – the cobbled high street rises steeply and shares something with Nottingham; there are a warren of tunnels below the town! This was a smugglers paradise. It fits my story about rebels too.

Apparently Ben Ainslie CBE (Gold sailing Olympian) and Ken Russell (film director) live here. Johnny Depp is also rumoured to have a place here too. I haven’t seen any of them…

Like most places there are vacant shops on the High Street – but it sustains a Tesco Metro, Waterstones, ASK restaurant and others. The house prices are holding up; there are quite a few available in the £2-£4m range! I counted 6 estate agents in the town.

But there’s no Starbucks and so I’m beginning to wonder if we could move the Sainsbury’s Castle Marina branch here?

By Tim Garratt Posted in Business Tagged BEn Ainslie, Best seaside town in Britain, Castle Marina, caves, Elmers Court, , Johnny Depp, Ken Russell, Lymington, , Odette, , Solent, , tunnels

Postcards in the 21st Century

Holiday times generally mean sticks of rock and postcards – or at least they used to!

So what better thing than to bring the postcard into the modern age. As Steve Jobs would say – we have an App for that! And it’s here. Even better – the App is free…

The idea is brilliantly simple – you take a picture from your luxury cruise liner or 5* hotel on your iphone, fire up the PostCard App and write your message and addressee. The card is then sent to a printing press and just over an hour later your personalised card is in the post. The real post (assuming they are not on strike).

It costs 99p to send in the UK (£1.49 for overseas) and you pay with PayPal. Whether they arrive home before you do is still up to the Royal Mail.

Once again, it’s the brilliantly simple ideas that are often the best. And even better they lick the stamp for you!

As for me, I tend to use my blog and personal web-page to let our friends what we are up to.

But I like the simplicity of this idea. I might even send one to the office – it definitely won’t say ‘wish you were here’!

In pursuit of new client’s – at what cost?

In the last couple of weeks I have come across a number of instances where the pursuit of new client’s or customers seems to have become a key. And I’m not sure it is entirely healthy.

We are often told that new business provides lifeblood to a firm or organisation. We want new repeat buyers or users of our services and new customers can mean growth.

But there is an old cliche which suggests that it is much easier to keep an existing customer or client than to win a new one. It’s a cliche because it is true. After all you have done all of the hard work.

In my work I come across lots of clients, but in reality those I actually deal with I can probably count on one hand, two at most. I spend a lot of time with them, talking to them and looking after them. I have acted for some for many years – and hope to do so for many years to come. I do spend some of my time trying to win new work, but this is fairly limited. This is partly a function of what I actually do!

In the last couple of weeks I have noticed that in a couple of instances colleagues or people in organisations I am close to have switched their focus to winning new clients / customers. And this seems to me to be at the detriment of their existing customers…

Winning new customers might be the new lifeblood, but keeping the ones you already have is already lifeblood. It’s there – tangible and without doubt. Sometimes we are a bit quick to forget our exiting clients.

This blog isn’t actually aimed at my workplace – as we have a very clear understanding of the process of looking after client’s – it is aimed at a club I am a member of…

Abel Collins – the end of my term!

You might know that I have been involved in Abel Collins, an Almshouse Charity based in Beeston for some time. Actually for about 5 years.

a bit strange - my name in stone!

I got involved through Business Champions and became Chairman fairly soon after joining the Board of Trustees. Then last year we split the responsibility of Chair-person – I held onto property and resources.

I resigned my position last week. This was for a number of reasons.

Firstly, my workload in my real job has increased significantly this year particularly – and ‘spare’ time has become a little scarce! Abel Collins took quite a lot of time – it is big business and I was not really able to commit the time and energy I felt it needed. In fairness my Co-Chair really helped over the last 12 months…

Secondly though, I did agree to head up the Charity on the basis that we actually ‘did’ something. It is a fantastic Charity which has been around for 300 years, but I felt that it needed a project. We set out on a new build scheme and completed 4 new bungalows in late 2009 – designed by Marsh Grochowski, I think they are fantastic. It was a great day last November when Leon Unczur, The Sheriff of Nottingham officially opened them!

So it is the end of an era for me. I have played a very tiny part in the Charity – it remains in great hands and I am sure it will do so for another 300 years.

I will miss the Trustees meetings which were often quite exciting! But I think most of all I will miss the residents – with all of their little foibles!

I shall have great memories!

Starbucks the movie

It was bound to happen – a movie has been made about the threatetened closure of my Starbucks store….

The end of the road for emda?

I was asked by the Nottingham Evening Post this week if I had a view on the news that emda is to die a lingering death by the new Coalition Government. I have blogged about this before – I do have a view…

The story I gave was:

It’s the end for the east midlands development agency. So, does that spell power or pain for the East Midlands?

Set up over a decade ago by the last government, emda is one of nine regional developments agencies established to work with local businesses to help development, employment, business efficiency and skills.

The figures given by emda say that there is £9 of economic output for every £1 it spends. And in 2008-09 2,630 jobs were created.

Tim Garratt, Director at Innes England, said: “I had first-hand experience with emda’s input into the Castle College Automotive and Engineering Training Centre at Highfields.

“Part of the building is let to Toyota with the other half occupied by Castle College. It is a world-class facility for automotive training.

“Although funded in part by the former Learning & Skills Council and a major contribution from the city, the majority of the build and fit-out was funded by emda. The funding was critical but much more important was their ability to be the central part of a large team – they added their corporate weight and influence. I doubt we would have attracted Toyota without them.”

There is a similar story next door at No.1 Nottingham Science Park, managed by Innes England.

“One of the most important lettings this year, in inward investment terms, is to The Changan Motor Company. Bryan Jackson of emda has to be credited with brokering this move to Nottingham.”

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills expects that RDAs will close by March 2012. The end of emda sees the start of ‘local enterprise partnerships’, comprising of councillors and local business schemes.

“It’s a case of ‘watch this space’ to see what impact a replacement LEP will have on the region. Attracting investment to ‘Greater Nottingham’ is important but I don’t think that anyone would argue that emda has always demonstrated the ability to see across the piste of the region and make sure that requirements are placed where they are best suited.

“It’s widely recognised that there needs to be belt-tightening in the current austere environment of public finance. But we have to be wary about completely strangling the flow of investment.

“The loss of emda is not just about the loss of a ‘building’ and the employees. It is potentially a massive loss of knowledge, built up over a decade. That knowledge is priceless in a competitive market.

“The region needs new investment – it is the lifeblood of the economy. As the saying goes ‘it is better to travel than to arrive’.

“We have no idea yet as to how the new LEP boards will operate, but they need to be wary of becoming parochial. They will also need the skills and experience to know how global investment works. I hope that key staff at emda will be employed so that we don’t lose the valuable intelligence.

“If every cloud does have a silver lining then it may be that this is a fresh start. Every business needs to refresh itself from time to time; but was it ‘broke’ in the first place?”

Tim Garratt is director of asset management for commercial property company Innes England.

I would be interested in other peoples view….