Business for love, not money

27 March, 2009

Zak looks at the nature of the trade and urges people to keep things

hones

t

At the risk of sounding nihilistic, or even (God forbid) pretentious, what is the nature of this business? I mean, why are we all doing this? The old joke of how to make a small fortune in the drinks industry (punchline:

start with a large one) is funny because it has a small nugget of truth at its heart. I find myself frequently explaining to people that what I do is a lifestyle choice. The shop ticks over, pays the wages and

the bills, and there is a (very) modest sum left over at the end of the year. I think people are taken slightly aback at this; why would someone with such boundless talent, unquestionable brilliance and ravishing good looks as myself (I could go on) choose to run a small beer-centric off-licence in Headingley?

The short answer is, I've no idea, I just like doing it. I've enjoyed the long slog of taking a business that had its backside hanging out, and transforming it into a thriving, modestly successful enterprise. There's a counter with things behind it, and there are people in front of it. The people buy the things, and we cunningly charge a bit more for the things than we paid for them. It's a simple model, but it works, funded largely by the goodwill of our suppliers who extend credit to us. This credit allows us to sell the things behind the counter before we are asked to pay for them. It's all very gentlemanly and traditional.

A close friend of mine (not involved with the drinks industry in any way, other than being a keen consumer of white Burgundy) has recently emerged from the rubble of a failed company. He knows exactly why it failed

and it was because the boss wouldn't rei n

in his spending. Outgoings exceeded income

and, after a long battle, it all collapsed. Right up until the point that the administrators arrived, the spending carried on. The nature of business for this avaricious boss was to keep money flowing out of the business and into his pocket (or funding his lifestyle), at any cost. This model of business is surprisingly popular (running it into the ground and then winding it up), leaving creditors unpaid and a lot of spoiled goodwill. It's hard to believe that people can make a living from this

but, believe it or not, they do. But it isn't very gentlemanly, and one would hope that eventually their goodwill and credit will be used up.

I suppose the nature of business depends on what you want to get out of it. If I suddenly harboured a desire for three proper holidays a year and a big shiny four-wheel drive, I might get away with taking that sort of money for a year or two, but then the business would be shafted. On the other hand, this modest but, crucially, sustainable business allows me to work in a way that I enjoy (I certainly never want for beer or wine), and savour a few indulgences along the way (although I'm worried that my new-found love of Levi's jeans might be a step too far).

A plea, then. Don't deal with people who are only in it for the money, because as we all know, no

one does this for money alone. The solely financial rewards aren't reason enough to be in the drinks trade. Let's keep it gentlemanly. We should all be able to make a living, but no

one should be making a killing, least of all at someone else's expense.




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