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Business Matters


A very recent trip to Iona – on business I should add – made me appreciate another aspect of life and consequently of business. For those who’ve not been beyond the mainland in Scotland, you may appreciate less than others the real practical difficulties of running a business in Scotland’s islands. Practical difficulties like, generally speaking you have no control over how many customers reach your shop or how long they have to look around. These factors are controlled exclusively by two powerful forces – Caledonian Macbrayne Ferries and our Scottish weather, the former being at the mercy of the latter too. Ferries simply don’t run when the weather is too bad. The ferry company also dictates, by its timetables, when your customers must depart and how long they have to browse in your shop which of course may not be the reason they come to your particular island – that is certainly the case in Iona. In those circumstances you have to work even harder to attract their attention and their decision on how much to spend and on what. Margins too are under some pressure because distribution costs are significantly higher and in Scotland, of course the tourism season lasts only from April to October rather than the whole year.

All of these – and many other factors – lead to a certain stoicism which we townies might interpret as a laid back islander approach but in fact is a recognition of a certain powerlessness to control some of the key levers of business. That stoicism and “laid back” appearance is in fact on the one hand a recognition that an urgent response which requires a physical action is often not practicable: if you miss the last ferry there’s no point in fretting about it for the next twelve or fourteen hours as you can do nothing about it. Or if you run out of stock today, it may take you a week or more for fresh stock to reach you. The laid back sense we get is simply an outward sign that islanders are more organised about deliveries, that they plan in advance to restock so that things arrive on time, and generally that everything is under control.

Sort of like the traditional perception of the duck: no activity on the surface and frantic paddling below the surface – at least some of the time. Maybe if we all had an island simulator for our businesses we too might be less stressed by the hurly burly of town life, be better organised and – because we have the advantage of a full 52 week season, make more profit than before.

Just a thought.....


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