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Fancy nipping down the pub for a quick pint and maybe grab a latte and a croissant?

When I was in my teenage years, pubs in England were a very distinctive place; dark, smoky, slightly smelly, overwhelmingly male and mostly shut.

A legacy of previous societal norms meant that women rarely went into pubs unless they were with men.

A legacy of World War One legislation meant that drinks could not be served after 10.30pm or 11pm.  This generally meant a few hours of seriously intensive binging from about 8pm to 11pm, mostly on two nights per week.

croissantThis state of affairs was not great for earning a commercial return.  Pubs often occupy prime sites at expensive rental.  Trying to recover the operating costs of a business when the assets are only utilised for 10% of the time is a challenge and a half.

The first marketing innovation was to make pubs far more female friendly.

Curtains over windows were abolished in favour of plate glass windows.  Pubs started to sell a choice of wines.  The smoking ban came in.

Women were far now more likely to go to a bar with friends because the environment seemed less intimidating.  Unsurprisingly, where groups of young women went, groups of young men followed.

Doctors worried about the effects of all this on the nation’s health, but the tills kept ringing.

Laws governing opening hours were relaxed a few years ago, with some predictable, but probably transitional, issues of overindulgence, as a nation used to nanny closing the bar at 11pm now continued to serve, as people continued to drink at the, erm, efficient rate the previous law had dictated.

JD Wetherspoon runs a chain of bars in the UK, mostly in sites that previously were not bars. Car showrooms are a particular favourite choice of location because of the big windows that attract passing impulse customers.

They have started to open their city centre bars early in the morning, in an attempt to attract an extra crowd.

Some chains have slightly different staff uniforms in daytime and the evening; pseudo-Parisian coffee bar by day; unfussy drinking den by night.

The result is that JD Wetherspoon claims to sell 400,000 breakfasts per week (only McDonalds are bigger, with 600,000).

A recessionary environment means that customers have become open to the idea of hanging out in Wetherspoons with a cheap latte instead of a more expensive option in Starbucks.  It has achieved this growth remarkably quickly, as it only started to open for breakfast last year.

It’s a wonderful example of innovative business change, asset utilisation and absorption costing.

So, what’s this all about? Are things changing? Is it a load of bear or a load of bull?

The major stock markets around the world have been bear markets for the last couple of years but with the end of the recession looking like it’s here we should soon see a switch to a bull market.

Analysts around the world will be arguing one way or another on the timing of the recovery but where do the terms “bear market” and “bull market” come from?

There are two main views on the origin of these terms.

The first view is based on the methods with which the two animals attack.  A bear for example will swipe downwards on its target whilst a bull will thrust upwards with its horns. A bear market therefore is a downwards market with declining prices whilst a bull market is the opposite with rising prices.

The second view on the origin is based around the “short selling” of bearskins several hundred years ago by traders. Traders would sell bearskins before they actually owned them in the hope that the prices would fall by the time they bought them from the hunters and then transferred them to their customers. These traders became known as bears and the term stuck for a downwards market. Due to the once-popular blood sport of bull and bear fights, a bull was considered to be the opposite of a bear so the term bull market was born.

Whatever the actual origin of the terms though I’m sure most people will be relieved when we return to a bull market.

24% of you may have to do things differently…

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According to our IT guys, over the last 3 months 24% of you that visited our website used the Mozilla Firefox web browser.

The other main browsers used were Internet Explorer, Google Chrome and Apple Safari.

Personally I use the Firefox browser and am very happy with it (well, to be honest as happy with an internet browser as any normal person should be…)

However, things may be changing and there probably are some very worried people at Firefox.

Whilst nothing public has been said I’m sure the senior guys at Firefox are scratching their heads trying to find a solution to a potentially massive problem.

The problem isn’t because their browser is weak. In fact, far from it as apparently a lot of IT specialists love the Firefox browser due to its various add-ons.

No, the problem lies in the fact that it’s a single product company and there’s currently a move away from computers to Smartphones. In terms of the product lifecycle the Firefox product is arguably at the maturity stage and heading towards the decline.

In the UK the number of Smartphones now being sold is greater than the number of computers. Today’s average Smartphone is now more powerful than the typical computer found on your desk only a few years ago.

So, why is this switch to using Smartphones to access the internet a problem for Firefox?

Well, last week’s announcement by Nokia of their new Lumia 800 and the Lumia 710 Smartphones showed that they have dropped their own operating systems and will be using Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 7.5 system.

This system will use the mobile version of Internet Explorer to access web pages on the move.

The other browser big boys already have their Smartphone relationships. Google’s Android system is on HTC and Samsung phones whilst Apple iPhones use the safari browser.

So, in terms of Smartphone romances there are:

HTC/Samsung + Android (Google Chrome)

Apple iPhone + Safari

Nokia + Microsoft (internet explorer)

Unfortunately for Firefox that leaves them desperately looking for the Smartphone love of their life and there aren’t too many potential partners out there looking for a date…

Congratulations to William and Kate but I bet Prince George won’t…

Congratulations to William and Kate on the birth of their son, George. Or to give the young Prince his full title, His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge.

All of us at ExP wish him a long and healthy life but I wonder whether he’ll ever use something which most of us use on a regular basis.

You’ve all used a computer and the “qwerty” style keyboards which are named after the first row of the letters of the top row of the keyboard are things that we currently take for granted.

product-life-cycle_sThe interesting thing though is that 20 years ago keyboards weren’t very common and my feeling is that in 20 years time they also won’t be very common.

This means that we are living in a small window of time where humans use keyboards. Our grandparents never used them and I’m sure that our grandchildren won’t be using them in the future.

Our grandchildren will no doubt ask why we were hunched over a strange machine with our hands like claws!

Switching to business terminology and you can argue that keyboards are at the maturity stage and fast approaching the decline stage of the product life cycle.

The reason I’m convinced the keyboards will soon be on their way out is that we’re currently trialing some voice recognition software in the office and it’s very impressive.

A few years ago I tried an early version of similar software but it wasn’t very good. The version we are trialing at the moment however is completely different and in fact I’m dictating this article with this software. It’s very hood good indeed.

So that’s my prediction. Keyboards are at the maturity/decline stage of the life-cycle and we will be the lucky few in the history of mankind that had the pleasure of using the keyboard.

Anyway, back to Prince George though and he’s got far more exciting things to think about in the next few years than worrying about the lifecycle of keyboards. There’s the small matter of learning to walk and talk first.

If you’re a single lady, should you get a red car?

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Despite car companies spending millions on R&D and new product launches one of the first questions people tend to ask if you say you’ve bought a new car is “what colour is it?”

Up until recently the most likely answer to that question would have been “silver”.

However, after 10 years at the top of the popularity car colour charts silver has fallen to the number 2 position.

The most popular car colour according to leading transportation coatings company, PPG Industries, is now white.

According to their figures 21% of this year’s new cars across the globe have been finished in white.

There are however some regional differences. Namely:

Asia/Pacific – silver 25%, white 23% and black 17%

Europe – black 26%, white 19% and silver 16%

North America – white 20%, silver 19% and black 18%

According to a PPG survey, more than 75% of car buyers said exterior colour was a factor in their purchase decision but as the above figures show though there doesn’t appear to be a huge variety in colours with the 3 main colours of white, black and silver dominating.

But what about the colour red though? After all, our ExP logo has a big red dot in the middle so we like the colour red.

Well, an interesting study in the European Journal of Social Psychology has identified that if a lady wants to make herself more attractive to men then she should consider wearing more red colours.

The study concludes that

“In two experiments, we investigate an analogous effect in humans, specifically, whether red on a woman’s shirt increases attraction behavior in men. In Experiment 1, men who viewed an ostensible conversation partner in a red versus a green shirt chose to ask her more intimate questions. In Experiment 2, men who viewed an ostensible interaction partner in a red versus a blue shirt chose to sit closer to her

No doubt the marketeers are already onto this so does this mean that we’ll now see car companies starting to promote red cars for single ladies?

There’s nothing fishy about this…

It’s an unfortunate fact of life that some suppliers at the beginning of a supply chain often do most of the work but tend to lose out when it comes to their share of the revenue.

fish-supply-chain-boatTake the supply chain for fish for example.

The fishermen go out in their boats in all weathers to fish, sometimes risking life and limb.

The price they receive for their catch is often a very small fraction of the final selling price when the fish is on the shelves of your local shop.

The reason for this is that various distributors, middlemen and not to forget the large supermarket chains are much more powerful than the small firms of fishermen and as a result they can negotiate a larger part of the “revenue pie”.

A recently launched online platform though has nicely cut out the middleman when it comes to the fresh fish supply chain.

Ilovebluesea.com in America has been set up to link smaller fishing boats with the end user and its brilliance lies in its simplicity. The benefit of the approach for all parties is nicely illustrated by the image below from the Ilovebluesea.com website.

fish supply chain525

The fishermen get a higher price and the end customers know that the fish he or she is about to eat is fresh from the sea.

If the end customer happens to be studying business or finance they will also no doubt appreciate that the fish on their plate is not only from a sustainable source but has travelled via a very short supply chain.

Forget your Gucci handbag, you’ll just be scratching the surface…

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We all know that the pharmaceuticals industry is big business.

The industry is facing considerable challenges however, with a large proportion of the “blockbuster” drugs due to come off patent in the next few years.

risk-exampleDrug companies are all too aware that they might well need a big breakthrough soon in order to sustain their historical levels of shareholder return.

A lesser known threat to the industry, and more direct threat to us individually, is the rapid growth in fake prescription drugs.  Patents protect a patent holder against a legitimate business from copying their product.  It’s not much use against criminality.

Fake Gucci handbags may be an annoyance to Gucci, but nobody dies when they are purchased.  Fake drugs can be sufficiently dissimilar to the real product to allow diseases to build up resistance to the genuine drug.  An overdose may be fatal in the short-term; an under-dose may be fatal in the longer-term.

So there’s a significant incentive for all concerned to maintain integrity in the production and logistics chain that gets the genuine drugs to those in need.  Countries where prescription drug usage is culturally common and poorer countries are probably most at risk.

A Ghanaian company, mPedigree, has come up with an ingenious and simple solution.  Working in conjunction with bona fide drugs manufacturers, it assigns a code to each packet of pills.  This is then added to the box, in the form of a scratch card.

When customers buy the product, they scratch off the scratchcard style covering on the box and then send a free text message / sms with that code.  If the product’s codes are genuine, a text message is immediately sent back to verify their authenticity.  If not, the customer knows that they have just been sold a potentially dangerous dud.

Of course, there will be risks to this process, such as criminal elements infiltrating the process of allocating codes, but this is a smaller risk to contain than the wider risk of fake drugs, but this is a process that an auditor could even give an assurance opinion on.

Given the worldwide very high penetration of mobile phones and the cheapness of text messages, this is a fascinating solution to a big problem.  Maybe in future it could be refined to also warn if drugs are genuine but beyond their sell by date (time expired drugs can also become dangerously lacking in efficacy).

What a wonderful, simple idea.

What does your car number plate tell us about you?

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The US state of California has a lot going for it.

car-advertisingIt has some of the most scenic coastline to be found anywhere in the world, some great wine and with Hollywood and Silicon Valley it  has a wealth of artistic and creative minds.

What it also has however is a budget deficit of around $20 billion.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former actor and now the Governor of California certainly has a challenge on his hands to reduce the deficit.

One idea that is being discussed though is in my opinion really rather clever and introduces us to a potentially new form of advertising medium.

The State is considering introducing digital adverts onto car number plates. The idea is that the digital plates would look like normal plates when the car is moving but after it has been stopped for more than a few seconds at traffic lights or in a traffic jam the device would switch from showing the car registration number on the plate to showing a digital advert.

When stationary the registration number would still be shown but would be smaller and the advert would take the dominant position.

In effect, the car would become a mobile billboard with significant advertising revenue being generated for the state. Advertising Agencies in California are no doubt licking their lips in anticipation at the opportunities that this would offer in terms of creativity.

Whilst on the subject of creative adverts involving vehicles I think that the following advert for Copenhagen Zoo that appeared on a bus in the Danish capital will take some beating.

For those of you with a nervous disposition rest assured that it’s only art work on the outside and not a 100 metre long Boa Constrictor taking on a bus.

When is a foot not a foot?

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Fast food is big business but for Subway, the world’s largest restaurant chain with 38,000 restaurants in 100 countries, something isn’t quite big enough.

Subway is famous for their “Footlong” sandwiches whose name implies should be a foot long (12 inches / 30 cm).

Their “Footlong” has been the backbone of their advertising for a number of years and any company’s advertising should be accurate and shouldn’t be misleading.

Well up step Australian Subway customer Matt Corby who purchased a Footlong and measured it before eating it. He then took a photo and posted it on Subway’s Facebook page with the request “subway pls respond”.

The photo is shown above and as can clearly be seen the Footlong isn’t in fact a foot but is 1 inch short at 11 inches.

Was this evidence that Subway had been deliberately misleading their customers by calling it a Footlong when it should have been called an “11 inch long”?

Does the extra inch matter?

Well, things took off quickly on Facebook and there were soon more than 100,000 likes and over 5,000 comments to Matt’s post. The shock discovery that the Footlong was an inch short of bread soon spread around the world.

Subway quickly supplied the following statement to the Chicago Tribune newspaper:

“We have redoubled our efforts to ensure consistency and correct length in every sandwich we serve. Our commitment remains steadfast to ensure that every Subway Footlong sandwich is 12 inches at each location worldwide.”

Is this going to be a good enough solution to the problem of the missing inch of bread?

Unfortunately for Subway within hours a number of lawsuits were filed in America in connection with the missing inch.

One of the lawsuits filed by Mr Buren from Chicago for example is claiming that the Footlong sandwich product is false advertising and as a result he is suing the company for $5 million.

Now, I’m an accountant and not a lawyer but if he’s successful the $5 million will buy an awful lot of 1 inch pieces of bread…

Who do the Big 4 want to win the US election?

It hardly seems like 4 years ago that President Barak Obama became America’s 44th president but here we are with just a few weeks to go before the next US election takes place.

Whilst there will be plenty of arguments for and against each candidate over the next couple of months I came across an interesting website which summarises the political donations made by companies in America.

The website opensecrets.org was created by the Center for Responsive Politics which tracks money in politics.

After quickly using the search function on the site it was straightforward to identify the amount of money that the Big 4 have donated to the election campaigns for President Obama and his Republican opponent Mitt Romney.

The donations as at the time of writing are:

Donations made to Barack Obama / Mitt Romney by the Big 4:

Deloitte (Obama: $291,056; Romney: $286,110)

Ernst & Young (Obama: $38,350; Romney: $158,925)

KPMG (Obama: $24,498; Romney: $67,250)

PwC (Obama: $55,033; Romney: $266,650)

Total (Obama: $408,937; Romney: $778,935)

I’ll leave it up to you to perform your own analytical review on the above figures and to decide who the Big 4 appear to want to win the next US election and of course it’s probably got nothing to do with Barack Obama’s plan to increase the marginal rate of tax on high earners and Mitt Romney’s proposal to reduce taxes for high earners…