MD writes...

Retailers
Seasoned readers of this occasional column will know that the scribe doesn't like to crow {Editor: Yeah, right}, but more evidence of a retailing bloodbath continues to emerge from the UK High Street.

Retail sales apparently dropped by 2% over the Christmas period, sales in January have also been weak but retailers are hopeful that February sales will bounce back. Well, don't bank on it. The UK remains the most over-shopped market in Europe by some margin and the trend, to this observer, remains downward.

Speaking of which, the collapse of Allders last week (25/01/05) only highlights the problems faced by many on the High Street. Allders, burdened by buy-out debt (and no doubt management fees) and an unfashionable image, simply couldn't keep the balls in the air any longer. MD Terry Green has received some stick about this–. Many analysts (and the previous MD) said he must have been mad remodelling some of the stores which, together with the in-store offer, was going to alienate his existing customers.

Come on, who are they kidding? The problem was not alienation, just too few customers.

This observer visited his local Allders store today and he was pleasantly surprised. The store was bright, had good stuff (labels, own stuff, and the full range - clothes, bedding, electricals, to cookware) at generally reasonable prices. Yet it still managed something for the traditional shopper. Frankly, it is the best department store in his town! And this is a town with a local market, a Debenhams, a family owned Department store, BHS and of course M&S (both arguably in a different market). So what’s the rub? Well I, and many others, hardly visit: my last was two years ago during the previous management's dire regime.

The recipe for success for whomever takes over? Don't change the formula, just advertise your presence!

Shell
Great to see the stonking profit numbers from Shell last week. Still, there were further disappointments regarding their reserves, but surely this is a sign of ultra conservatism. The key going forward is finding new sources of oil outside of Russia, China and India where the respective Governments seem intent on creating their own oil giants - and why shouldn't they?

Mortgages
Amid all the fuss over the UK property market there have been alarming increases in the Spanish and French property market in the last 12 months - particularly in Spain. Those who visit Madrid (or the Costa del Sol) regularly will wonder who on earth is going to live in / buy all the spanking new properties being built. Locals shake their heads and mutter about speculative building.

You have been warned.

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