Mac was concerned that the publication of “The Vagaries of Swing”, which partly concerned the sad death of a young girl in Dane Park, might have triggered a spate of incidents where people were grabbed by the throat. He thought he’d seen something similar in the news about someone called Nutella, but we think he’s got that wrong. Mind you, it’s not just confined to the lower orders you know. Indeed many years ago Jack Cohen, the founder of Tesco, apparently had young Ian MacLaurin by the throat after a board meeting. Unlike Mac’s friend Brian, who had correctly researched the badge for Thanet Crusaders FC (red cross on white), Ian had voted for some sort of Green Shield in his quest to unhorse Lord John Sainsbury and the sprawling Cooperative Society, the two top retailers. Ian not only successfully fought off Jack but went on to slay both dragons, an event commemorated by a special green shield stamp which many people collected. Thus began Tesco’s long march to the top, foiled only in France (they could never handle the perfidious French) and latterly in the States. There is no dispute that supermarkets have brought convenience, choice and variety to consumers and forced food prices down. In addition if you are going to have an anchor tenant to drive footfall then Tesco is a strong one. They will be open all year round and they are a first class operator. But there is always a price to be paid and very few people really understand the quantum mechanics of supermarket retailing unless they have seen it at first hand.
So now Tesco are massing their big guns on the Margate Sands, although to glance at the structures still standing, you might have thought that a few thunderflashes had already been let off. Mac said he once knew a bit about supermarkets so he had a few suggestions about that 82,000 square feet superstore planned for the Margate seafront. Well, he did grow up in the old town and every little helps. He thought that Mary P might like to return with those Channel Four gag writers (or was it gagging writers?) and help the new venture blend in with the environment. Splash a bit of paint around and inspire the old Dreamland seaside magic and theming that the other Lord John began. You know the sort of thing. Donkey rides from the carpark or perhaps a little Ghost Train ferrying punters to and fro; off your trolley races down a small Scenic Railway; scan your loyalty card and get a free candy floss; install a Cliffhanger ride at the entrance and do a Max Miller on a purpose-built cafe clifftop path. Just remember, never block anyone’s passage – not when Mac is pushing the trolley. The staff could also all dress up in the summer in kiss-me-quick hats and Baywatch gear, each check-out being designed as a small Tunnel of Love. They might even be allowed to help customers pack their goods away – that would be a novelty.
What supermarkets do really well is to manage to turn over much of their stock weekly or two weekly and then take six to eight weeks to pay their suppliers. This makes them an enormous cash generating machine so we could have banks of one armed bandits in the new seaside store just for fun, but also to give customers a flavour of the negotiations that go on at head office. An education and definitely a lottery. Then they could have internal structures based on the Hall of Mirrors where the Buying, Marketing and Accounts teams all work disfunctionally and money that is owed is regularly delayed or refused. This means that at the end of each year there is a large amount of money legitimately owed to suppliers which the supermarkets claim is in dispute, that then becomes part of a separate negotiation. It really does make the supermarket environment a cheery experience. Quite a roller coaster ride.
In addition, what they do brilliantly could be illustrated by one of those London dungeon experiences, where you sit in a metal chair with bands around your head and they keep turning the screws. Most companies will take two to three years to pay back on innovation so the supermarkets really help here by stealing any new ideas and then producing their own label versions. They are better even than the Chinese at this sort of subterfuge and any complaining means that you can just get limbs lopped off or sent down to some form of inquisition where your contract gets terminated. Imagine that you have just invented a new type of chocolate willie, maybe one with a vibrating stick. You have worked out exactly where your new product will fit (suggestions on a postcard) and how much money you need to make to cover the costs of the research you did on achieving good vibrations (tested on some beachboys) and to payback on the new machinery required. The supermarket you try and sell it to immediately asks for an own label version. If you refuse, then the minute you’re gone (cue for a song), they’ll ask their engineers and chemists to analyse it and ask some low cost manufacturer to produce something similar. Whichever way you go, they have effectively reduced your market potential and future profitability You are essentially buggered, but perhaps that’s chocolate willies for you. Companies thus tend to either move factories to lower cost countries or just opt for short term development in order to stay in business and compete. There is innovation, but the suppliers bear nearly all the risk. All the fun of the fair.
We wondered if this wasn’t all pretty boring to our readers, so we tried to get Mac back on track by asking him about the girl who was murdered in Dane Park. He changed the name of the girl as there might still be folk around or relatives who remembered her. She was just a kid who fell into bad company and chose the wrong companion to walk her home. Mac thought on reading all of the witness statements that she deserved a better press as everything at the time focused on the drugs. The group introduced her to the tablets, one of them took advantage and then you have the classic “will you still love me tomorrow” scene. Tragic when you are just sixteen. The guy in the park broke her jaw before he strangled her and if you read the book you will realise that it wasn’t a casual movement. Even if you can put your hands around someone’s throat with impunity these days, you have to hold on for some time if the ‘bounce back reflexes’ aren’t to kick in. That’s quite a critical point. The Isle of Thanet Gazette actually devoted quite a few pages to the trial back in 1965 but in the nationals the case was over-shadowed by the revelations about Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.
We did ask about the ‘Big Bang’ results and Mac had actually convened a panel of experts at the Fayreness in Kingsgate Bay this week, including one from Belgium and one from Estonia. Sadly the group had misunderstood the request and reminisced about having student jobs in Margate on the buses, the deckchairs and the pedaloes – all of our young people could get seasonal jobs back then. Then they began to relate their brief encounters (Trevor Howard was born in Margate) with the ladies but Mac said he had to stop them as they seemed to have an Encyclopedia Britannica of encounters and the pub was wanting to close. Mac tried to pull them back to rapid expansion, cosmic microwaves and huge explosions and all he got from one of them was a tattered copy of a recent Defence Posture Review. Now two of these old boys had played international hockey, one at left half and one at right half (different countries though) so he thought they would know a thing or two about defence. Turned out it was about nuclear deterrence and NATO. Completely the wrong sort of ‘Big Bang’. Mac said that after five pints of Spitfire, he wasn’t having anyone reviewing his posture so he caught the train home. Mind you, if you are wondering what we should do with our tridents, there’s a few world leaders who deserve a sharp upward thrust. To be continued. Obviously.