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Happy New Year

Hello again and a belated Happy New Year to you!

I have just returned from my annual sojourn to my native South Africa where The Weatherman (incidentally, for all of those who have asked/are wondering if he exists and/or if I write the weather report every day – yes he does and no I don’t!) is holidaying at the moment, quixotically surfing on Danger Beach.

I must say, it was fantastic to escape the doom and gloom of the UK and feel the mounting excitement as South Africa prepares for the football World Cup in 2010. Retailers and brands are gearing up, hotel chains are expanding, stadia are sprouting and everyone is waiting to welcome the influx of overseas stars and fans.

While in Cape Town, over dinner with a group of world-class retailers, consumer goods moguls and travel and leisure gurus, I sat next to a man who heads up Sub-Saharan Africa for one of the world’s leading strategic consultancies.

Almost against expectation, he is leading really interesting projects in places like Angola, Mozambique and Zambia as they begin to emerge as stable and safe places to do business. His most memorable dictum was one I shall keep with me this year: “Let no crisis go unused – there’s always silver lining in a downturn”. This got me thinking about the situation back in the UK…

Despite the languishing housing market, B&Q, who are really listening to their customers and responding by re-energising the DIY and Do-It-For-Me categories, should pick up the lion’s share of MFI’s business and should have a good year, all things considered.

Equally, Woolworths’ former customers should distribute their trade between more relevant competitors who have got their product, price and channel strategies together - Argos, Primark, Poundland, Wilkinsons and, of course, the supermarkets. And which chief executive/HR director has not used the downturn to legitimise ‘weeding their organizational garden’ to emerge leaner and meaner to confront the eventual upturn in the economy?

And what ‘silver lining’ is there for the luxury end of the market, which seems finally to be feeling the pinch? Maybe it has to be created rather than found – by those who have the audacity to invent a new type of luxury experience.

A new hotel has just opened in London’s Kings Cross (ready to cater for Euro-laden tourists hot off the Eurostar), which is spot on for 2009. The moodily-named, boutique hotel ‘Rough Luxe’ in Kings Cross has nine reasonably-priced rooms, is connected to an Art Gallery and, I’m informed, boasts one of the most affordable fine wine lists in London, has the best Egyptian linen and displays fabulous art on the walls. The only rub (and this could be a deal-breaker for all you card-carrying Virgin Upper Class travellers out there) is that you have to share a bathroom!

Please let me know what your ‘silver lining’ is for 2009. Wishing you a prosperous, inventive and invigorating year, Moira. moira@thembsgroup.co.uk

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