It's amazing what a chance remark can lead to. At a recent meeting of the town's retail forum, one retailer complained that last autumn's inaugural weekend Food Festival had decimated her Saturday's trading.
A local councillor who was present decided to follow this up and spoke to a number of other retailers. These investigations resulted in the circulation of a 10-page economic and business survey to 137 businesses in the town.
The questions, which covered a range of local issues from parking and trade waste tothe effects of tourism on trading patterns, demand simple tick-box answers. However, the final question asks us to provide a record of al- our transactional figures over the past three years on the dates of the towncarnival, the Food Festival, the Christmas lights switch-on and various funfair events.
I have to say that I am very much for having events in the town, even though it invariably means street closures and the swallowing-up of half of the main car park. However, when I looked back at our financial records, I saw that therewas indeed a sharp decline in the number of transactions on the dates ofthese events.
Surely we have to take the long-term view, as we do with all our marketing and promotion, that there are long-term benefits. But on the other hand, the business that was lost to the town on those days will have gone elsewhere and can never be recovered.
However, the surprise benefit of the survey has come from a question that asked whether any advice or support was needed in IT, planning issues, human resources or marketing.
On following up on the offer of IT support, we have arranged for a local consultant to visit the business for half a day (or more if required), to study all matters in relation to computing, from hardware information and networking to website design, development tools and marketing, and then to suggest and help implement any improvements that are recommended. Similar experts are available to advise on the three other subjects if needs be. All of these services are funded by the Welsh Assembly Government and are offered free to local businesses.
We have all had this sort of offer before, but this time my gut feeling is that we will definitely benefit from it. It is like having a mystery shopper, but this time the shopper will only dwell on how we use information and communication technology, which surely is all our futures.
So I take my hat off to the Welsh Assembly, which has come up with a good, workable idea. There is just onesmall problem though - it hasn't told anyone about the service, and it was only thanks to a chance encounter on a totally unrelated survey that we managed to find out.
- Martin Jones is the manager of menswear store Vaughan-Davies in Mold, north Wales.