Hello and welcome back to Mortgage Advisor on FIRE. This week I look at the crisis engulfing John Lewis, and retail in general. I also highlight a local musician who has just released his first single. Also, the usual financial updates. First, the Quote of the Week.
Quote of the Week
Retail is ever changing and businesses that stand still, end up going under. The biggest news in retail recently has been the announcement that John Lewis will be closing more stores, or more precisely not reopening stores following the nationwide lockdown to combat Covid-19. One of the stores permanently closing is in my home city, Sheffield. It has, to put it mildly, not gone down too well with the locals.
A few years ago, on a different site, I wrote a blog about the future of John Lewis. At the time, I predicted that John Lewis would disappear from the high street in five-to-ten years. I stand by that prediction. The whole culture and identity of the business seems muddled and confused.
Going back a couple of decades, John Lewis was seen as a prestigious brand that catered to the middle and upper class. They sold quality and offered great service. The partnership had a culture and an identity. However, with the internet becoming an increasing part of daily life and a major competitor to the high street, John Lewis struggled to adapt.
There is one thing that the high street simply cannot compete with internet retailers on; price. The overheads for having an online store are a fraction of what it costs to run a physical store and the associated warehouses. This allows the online retailers to undercut the bricks and mortar shops. Trying to engage in a price war in this way will only lead to decreasing profits. Those decreases lead to management reviews, which ultimately lead to store closures and job losses. This is so backward in thinking that it makes my head hurt.
When I wrote my other blog about John Lewis a few years ago, I proposed a strategy to help them compete once more. The thing is, I don’t think any senior management team would have the courage to try it. My strategy was to forget about competing on price. It also required John Lewis to stop trying to cater to all aspects of society. A business that has a long history of being prestigious should not be trying to compete with businesses that are appealing to a different socio-economic demographic. Go back to core values of the business; good quality, a smaller, but more selective customer base, and excellent service in store.
One of the problems I’ve experienced with John Lewis over the past few years has been absolutely appalling service. Also, there have been a number of times I’ve gone into a store to spend hundreds of pounds on a new television, laptop, or coffee machine. Each time I have left empty handed and spent my money online. The situation plays out in predictable fashion. I’ll use the example of last time I tried to buy a TV from John Lewis.
I went into the store and up to the TV section. The store had at least twenty TVs on display with many of them being slight variations on another model on display. There were no staff visible. After a good ten minutes or so waiting for someone to become available, I ask some basic questions about a few of the models. The staff did not know the answers, as they had been asked to cover the department from another area. Eventually, I find the model number and look the answers up online. I decide on a model I want. I wait more time to get another member of staff’s attention. They discover the TV is not in stock, but I can order online and have it delivered in a few days. I ask about another model. Same story. I leave empty handed and order from Amazon and have the TV delivered the next day.
If you can’t compete on price, you have to compete on service. You have to offer the customer an experience that blows them away. Also, and this might seem like such an obvious point, you have to have the stock for the customer to buy. There is no point having a few dozen items on display if you don’t have room for any stock. Have a smaller range, and make sure you have enough stock of all the items advertised for sale.
My approach for John Lewis would see the available range of products, particularly in the electrical range, being cut back. I would ensure more available stock of each item. Also, I would do the opposite of what many struggling businesses do and hire more staff. I would then make sure those staff had the training to be experts in their field. In retail, if you want to make money, you have to have an item in stock and you have to have someone to complete the transaction for the customer. If you have a shop with no stock, and no staff available to take the payments, then it should come as no surprise that you are making no money.
I feel for the staff that are losing their jobs in retail. Working in that sector is thankless, and extremely stressful. There are some great people who have lost their jobs because of utter incompetence at the higher levels of management. The high street has been decimated with Debenhams, Top Shop and John Lewis (for example) all being hammered because they failed to evolve with the times.
Online shopping is here to stay. It is just so much more convenient. The only businesses that will thrive with a physical presence are those that offer a distinct, unique, expert service in person. Those businesses will need to make going to store an experience.
I’ve done my ankle again. A few days ago I developed intense pain in my left ankle and shin. It’s severe enough that I wince each time I put weight on that leg. It’s not quite as bad as the problems I had in late 2019 and early 2020, but it’s still painful enough to keep me at home and off my feet as much as possible. I’m convinced that a major part of this is due to me being overweight. I was doing a fair amount of walking and that has probably contributed to this injury. Now, I’m stuck in a position where I’m pissed off but unable to release that stress through physical activity. This is the worst position I can be in, as ultimately I end up comfort eating. It’s a horrible cycle to be stuck in.
A few days ago a friend contacted me to share his debut single which he has been working on with a pair of fellow artists under the group name Midnight Cartel. The single is called Feels Like and my friend explained that during lockdown, the three of them came together to create something upbeat that could be the anthem for people reuniting as we emerge from this pandemic. Although not my typical style of music, I did find myself tapping away to the song and it is very much something that you’ll find yourself humming to yourself later on. Click on the song’s cover art below to have a listen.
I now have a working espresso machine but I’ve had to move it into our spare bedroom which doubles as my office. My girlfriend works in medical translating and interpreting, where she takes part in real-time telephone conversations translating the patient and medical practitioner so that each person can understand the other. It’s intense work and requires a lot of concentration. The only place she can do this work is in our open plan living room and kitchen. The last thing she needs is my espresso machine rumbling away in the background. The fact I now have coffee available all the time is both a positive and negative. I can get coffee without leaving my desk, but it also means I don’t have to leave my desk to get coffee. If you understand, you’ll understand.
On the subject of coffee, I have started receiving a few donations on Buymeacoffee.com. This is great as it helps with the running costs of the site. If donations increase, I may be able to open up new features on the site making it more interactive. I don’t get paid for writing this blog; it’s done in my own free time and the costs of maintaining a blog like this are not cheap. Any donation no matter how small would be appreciated.
Why is caramel so hard to make? I can make a caramel for a crumble in my sleep. I tried a slightly different variation for an apple tarte tatin and the caramel crystallized. I tried again with the same result. Attempt three split. Attempt four, which saw me go back to the recipe I know also split. So, I was left with almost a kilo of peeled, cored and quartered apple and some rolled out pastry. I really wanted a tarte tatin as well.
2021 Goals – to be achieved by 31/12/2021
1 – Reduce weight to 92.8kg. (Current weight 118.9kg).
2 – Finish 104 new books. (Current total: 22).
3 – Complete RO3 for my DipFA. (In progress).
4 – Complete RO4 for my DipFA. (Not started).
5 – Complete RO5 for my DipFA. (Not started).
6 – Complete RO6 for my DipFA. (Not started).
I’ve made progress on my reading goal. I read a brilliant book called What If?, which looked at a host of bizarre scientific questions. One example was how high can a human throw an object with the height measured in giraffes. It was completely insane but also very interesting. It helped me look at some scientific problems in a new light and also explained a few concepts that I was not familiar with. For anyone interested in science I would definitely recommend this book.
My DipFA studies are at a standstill. I don’t have the mental energy to start again just yet. The loss of Sweep still stings and I just don’t feel ready. There is so much going on at the moment and I only have so much mental resource. In the past I’ve likened this feeling to the brain being a computer with too many tabs open. Everything runs slowly and you can only resolve the problem by restarting the machine with fewer tabs on the go. Trying to study right now would be like trying to open a new tab on a browser that is frozen.
Premium Bonds: £300.00 (up £25.00 from last update).
Stocks and Shares ISA: £21,891.74 (up £281.21 from last update).
Fuck It Fund: £150.00 (up £50.00 from last update).
Crypto: £323.72 (up £74.05 from last update).
Residential Property Value: £194,909.00 (no change from last update).
Buy-to-Let Property Value: £125,775.00 (no change from last update).
Total Assets: £343,349.46 (up £430.26 from last update).
Credit Card: £240.60 (down £9.07 from last update).
Residential Mortgage: £140,308.18 (down £357.31 from last update).
Buy-to-Let Mortgage: £93,145.49 (down £18.01 from last update).
Total Debts: £233,694.27 (down £384.39 from last update).
Total Wealth: £109,655.19 (up £814.65 from last update).
Investment Income in 2021: £215.24 (target £5,000).
My finances are steadily moving in the right direction, but I really want to clear my credit card in full. I had to spend on it to pay for Sweep’s vet bill and cremation, and I also had to buy more coffee for my espresso machine. I should have it paid up when I next get paid.
In the next week or two I should have the next valuations through for my two properties. I’m hopeful they have increased but I’m fearing a decrease. The valuation of the properties is not just about ego, but if they have increased in value I may be able to release funds to put towards more BTLs. The whole investment model depends on releasing equity to put towards new property. The faster this happens, the faster I reach FIRE.
I was thinking about how soon my wealth will reach £200,000. It was not until week 64 that I passed £100,000. I started this blog with £53,840, so I accumulated roughly £720 wealth per week. Hopefully, I will reach £200,000 before 100 weeks have passed, but that is not based on anything other than 100 weeks being a milestone of sorts.
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My Instagram is @david_scothern and my Twitter is @advisoronfire. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can still see Sweep’s Instagram @sweep_the_kelham_island_cat.
Finally, have a look at Darren Scothern’s blog at darrenscothern.com.
5 thoughts on “Part 75”
Hi there. I recently stumbled across your blog, and like what I’ve read so far!
I agree with your thoughts on John Lewis. I think Waterstones is a good example of what physical retail stores should look to emulate. They obviously can’t compete with Amazon on price, but instead have made the act of browsing their stores an enjoyable experience.
Are you buying your BTL properties within a LTD company, or as a private individual?
Great blog, keep up the great work!
Thank you for your support! I’m buying as an individual at the moment, but may look at the Ltd route for future projects, like flips for example.
Like you say, price is one area that physical stores just can’t compete on.
How is your FIRE journey progressing?
Cool, that’s interesting to know.
Life is generally pretty good. Which is nice, as I’ve got a long way to go before I reach my FI number!