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Does this winner only go out at night?

Imagine the scene. You want to go to a music Festival but the tickets are expensive.

What do you do?

I know. Why don’t you pay for the tickets with blood rather than money?

Now whilst this statement may sound a bit weird, some creative minds behind the Untold music festival in Romania have come up with an excellent idea which is a classic win – win situation.

In fact, rather than a win – win situation it’s more of a win – win – win situation.

So who are the three winners in this situation?

The organisers of the festival identified the fact that Romania has one of the lowest percentages of people who donate blood (Romania ranks second to last in Europe regarding the number of blood donors with only 1.7% of the population donating blood) and came up with a novel way of helping to increase the amount of blood donations.

They offered free tickets and discounts to people who donated blood.

It was reported that up to 500 people donated blood so all in all a very successful project.

The Blood Transfusion Service was a winner as it received more blood and importantly raised awareness of the need for more blood.

The organisers of the festival were winners as this was a very slick piece of PR for a first-time festival and despite having top DJs such as Avicii and David Guetta headlining the event it was great to have national and global publicity as a result of this.

The third winner were the individuals who gave blood and obtained free tickets.

Mysteriously though, was there a fourth winner?

It hasn’t gone unnoticed that the festival took place in Transylvania which is the home of Bram Stoker’s legendary Dracula.
Dracula survives by drinking fresh human blood.

Was this in fact a ploy to build up the stocks of blood for the mysterious Count Dracula…

An impressive lady but competition is coming.

She’s an interesting lady.

Her full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts. She’s 56 years old and has had over 150 different careers including being a lifeguard, a doctor and a Spanish language teacher. Perhaps most impressively of all she travelled into space in 1965, four years before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.

She’s managed to do all of this despite being only 29 cm tall.

The Barbie doll is the centrepiece of many a child’s toy cupboard and it’s been estimated that over a billion of them have been sold in more than 150 countries since they were first introduced in 1959.

There have been a number of business issues faced by Barbie recently. Even though there’s an Accountant Barbie, I should in fact clarify that and say that there have been a number of business issues faced by Mattel, the owner of the Barbie brand.

Some of you may have heard of Bratz dolls.

Bratz dolls were a competitor to Barbie dolls back in the early 2000s and they were pretty successful. They were so successful that by 2004 they had taken more than 40% of the UK toy doll market and had in fact also taken the top spot for sales of dolls which had been held by Barbie since records began 10 years earlier.

In 2006 Mattel sued MGA Entertainment, the owners of the Bratz brand as they claimed that the Bratz doll creator Carter Bryant was working for Mattel when he developed the idea behind Bratz.

In essence Mattel argued that as they were paying Mr Bryant to work on Mattel matters and not those of another venture the Bratz doll idea was Mattel’s and not MGAs.

Back in 2008 a Californian judge agreed with Mattel’s claim and told MGA to stop making and selling Bratz dolls and also ordered MGA Entertainment to pay Mattel $100 million in damages.

However, MGA weren’t happy with this decision and the case went back to court in 2011 where a federal jury delivered a verdict supporting MGA.

Now whilst the court cases between Mattel and MGA are all very interesting, if you’re a parent of a young daughter what is probably of more relevance is that the Bratz dolls are being relaunched onto the market this coming weekend.

So, if you’re queuing up with your daughter to buy a Bratz doll this weekend you can impress her with your background knowledge of who owns the brand as well as let her know that the UK doll market is the second largest and second fastest growing segment of the UK toy market and has grown 11% over the last year to reach £288m.

I’m sure she’ll be very impressed with your discussion and won’t at all be interested in the doll she’s about to get….

The Vatican Bank releases their results.

The Institute for Religious Works, or as it’s more commonly known “the Vatican Bank”, has just released its latest set of accounts and they show a sharp increase in profits.

blog-vatican-262x275The bank has just reported net profits of €69.3 million for 2014 which compares very favourably with the corresponding figure of €2.9 million in 2013.

So what has caused the turnaround?

The bank has reported that the improved figures were as a result of a fall in operating expenses together with higher income from trading in securities.

Last year, the management of the bank was replaced as part of a clean up ordered by the Pope to remove corruption in the bank. The reforms also involved the bank bringing in anti-money laundering experts to screen all the accounts to ensure they comply with international laws governing the banking sector and the bank’s new standards for clients. Over 4,000 accounts have now been closed since 2013 and whilst the majority were dormant accounts, 554 accounts were closed because they did not meeting the bank’s new standards.

President of the Board of Superintendence, Jean-Baptiste de Franssu said that “The long-term, strategic plan of the Institute revolves around two key objectives: putting the interests of the clients first by offering appropriate and improved services and by de-risking the activities of the Institute”.

In summary, the bank seems to be doing much better now. If you are interested in opening an account with the bank though it’s worth noting that the use of the bank is limited to clergy, Vatican employees and staff at its embassies. There are now reportedly over 15,000 clients on the banks books.

More details on the Vatican bank’s accounts can be found here.

Dividends – do you want them in cash or clothes?

Despite being one of the best known names on the retail market, Marks & Spencer is unusual.

Finland - M&S Helsinki Event Zone 3M&S is unusual in that it has got a very high proportion of individual shareholders.

Whilst a lot of other companies have major corporate shareholders such as pension and investment funds, M&S has over 190,000 private investors who between them hold 30% of the shares.

M&S has just announced an extremely novel idea involving these individual shareholders and their next dividend payment. The individual shareholders will be offered the chance to exchange their dividends for M&S vouchers at a 10% discount. In other words, they can exchange a dividend of £900 for M&S vouchers of £1,000.

That’s a very nice idea.

It’s optional and not compulsory so if individual shareholders still want to receive the dividend in cash they can.

Shareholders however who are interested in buying items from M&S get more for their money and from M&S’s point of view, given that their gross profit margin is more than 10%, they will still be making a profit on items that they sell to holders of these vouchers.

All in all a very innovative idea which works well for all parties.

Will we see this idea spreading to other companies when considering their dividend payments?

Who needs champagne for a celebration?

Gin and tonic is a drink that has caused a number of hangovers over the years but for two individuals it is going to make them very wealthy.

tonic waterGin is often credited with being a traditional English drink but the first recorded date for the production of gin was actually in the Netherlands in the 17th Century.

One of the key ingredients of tonic water is quinine.

Quinine is said to have many medicinal purposes and was first discovered by local tribes in Peru and Bolivia. Some people claim that quinine has medicinal purposes which helps various ailments including malaria.

The bringing together of gin and tonic happened in the early 1800s when British army officers in India were using quinine in an anti-malarial capacity and decided to hide the bitter quinine taste by mixing it with tonic water and then hiding the taste even further by adding gin.

The drink “gin and tonic” then came into existence.

Fast forward to 2005 and the company Fever Tree which was set up by Charles Rolls and Tim Warrillow produced their first bottle of upmarket tonic water.

Fever Tree tonic water has been selling very well since then and the company is now being quoted on the AIM (AIM is the Alternative Investment Market which is a sub-market of the London Stock Exchange and allows smaller companies to float shares with a more flexible regulatory system than is applicable to the main market).

The Fever Tree company has been valued at £154 million. That’s not a bad valuation for a company that’s selling tonic water.

There will no doubt be happy faces at the company and the success of the flotation will be toasted by a glass or two of champagne. Or should that be a glass or two of gin and tonics?

Getting the wrong measurements can be expensive.

In any project it’s important to take a step back and check that important things haven’t been missed.

The French train operator SNCF has just discovered that 2,000 new trains it had ordered are too wide for some of their platforms. The trains cost €15 billion.

The error arose because the national rail operator RFF gave the wrong platform dimensions to the train company SNCF. The national rail operators measured a number of platforms but all the platforms they measured were built within the last 30 years.

Unfortunately, they didn’t measure any platforms which were built more than 30 years ago as these were designed for slimmer trains and are too wide for the new trains to pass through.

It must have been a stressful day in the office when the mistake was identified and the solution to the error will be far from simple. Over 1,000 platforms will need to be adjusted before the new trains can become fully operational.

The total cost of amending the platforms will be more than €50 million.

Is now a good time to eat more chocolate?

It’s Easter weekend and in many countries around the world people celebrate by giving each other chocolate Easter eggs.

There could be some worrying news though for people who enjoy eating these chocolate eggs as well as anyone who enjoys eating chocolate in general.

chocolate-pricesThe price of chocolate is rocketing and in the last year alone cocoa prices have risen by 20% and it seems that the price rises will continue.

So, what is causing the increase in chocolate price?

The answer is that it is a simple case of supply and demand.

In December, the International Cocoa Organisation said there could be a 150,000 tonne deficit in the amount of cocoa beans produced in 2014.

There is a significant lead time in cultivating cocoa crops so the supply of cocoa will remain relatively static. In addition, the supply problems are being compounded by prospects of an El Nino weather pattern which can result in crop damaging dry winds in some of the leading cocoa growing countries in West Africa such as Ghana and the Ivory Coast.

Demand on the other hand is surging.

According to Euromonitor the value of chocolate consumption in major emerging markets such as Asia and Latin America will grow at more than double the rate of the world average in the next 5 years.

It’s estimated that consumers in the Asia Pacific region will eat 1.096 million tonnes of chocolate by 2018. This represents a 27% increase from 2013 and compares to a 5% increase in Western Europe (the biggest current buyer of chocolate) over the same period.

So in conclusion, there are supply problems, rocketing demand and higher chocolate prices seem inevitable.

What better excuse therefore is needed to buy that extra chocolate bar now before prices rise?

Things will now be different for you if you eat chocolate…

Sometimes it’s the simple ideas in business that work.

24 years ago in April 1990, the retailer Poundland was set up. On the face of it their approach was pretty simple – all the items in their shops would retail at £1 (hence the name “Poundland”).

tobleroneThey now have over 500 stores and sell 3,000 different products which all retail at £1.

They have been incredibly successful and the company has just been floated on the London Stock Exchange with a value of £750 million.

Whilst the concept of everything in the shop being on sale for £1 has advantages such as creating a “value image” which has been successful in the recent economic downturn, there are clear challenges when it comes to what £1 can buy today compared to 24 years ago and importantly what £1 will be able to buy in 24 years time.

Looking at the 4Ps model then it’s clear that the Price has to remain at £1, Promotion is minimal with word of mouth being the preferred method and Place needs to be in the right location as people will not travel a long distance to buy something for £1.

That leaves Product.

People are attracted to Poundland because it sells recognised brands at a discount price so they can’t really switch to unknown brands. They have however identified an approach to maintaining their margins on well known products including the chocolate bar, the Toblerone (the chocolate bar with the hidden logo shown here).

Poundland have agreed with Kraft that a smaller Toblerone is produced. It is only slightly smaller than the standard bar – about one triangle shorter.

Importantly though, by reducing the size of the bar it enables the price to be held at £1.

It’s not just at Poundland where chocolate bars have been changing.

The chocolate industry as a whole is currently facing a number of challenges with Cocoa prices being very high.

So what do chocolate manufacturers do? Do they increase the prices to keep their margins or do they amend the product?

Well it seems that both Nestlé and Cadbury have been quietly shrinking the size of some of their chocolate bars on the market whilst at the same time pushing up some of their prices to maintain their profit margins.

A couple of years ago, some chunks of Cadbury’s famous Dairy Milk Bar were removed and the bar was reduced in size from 140g to 120g

Now whilst on the face of it some consumers may feel a bit cheated by this move it could arguably prove beneficial for waistlines.

Interestingly as well, will we see Poundland stocking a one chunk £1 Toblerone in a few years time?

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.