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Tuesday, 24 July 2012


In John Lanchester's recent novel Capital, a main part is played by a family running an Asian corner shop. It's a sympathetic portrayal.

Retail in the form of independent shop keeping can't be much fun. The chances of survival are not good for a new business and an established business never stops being hard work.

There is the rent, which in England is kept high by our leasehold laws and unwillingness to build. Then there are business rates, also high though the Council does not even collect your rubbish. (That's why in city like Brighton there is always refuse on the street - there are multiple private collecting services for "business waste"). Then there are insurances: public liability and employee liability. Then there is VAT. Then there is National Insurance. Then there are people who nick stuff. Then, occasionally but not rarely, there are people who point a knife and demand the contents of your till.

Who wants to be a small shop keeper?

Then there is the skill involved in successful retailing.

Most retail is about break of bulk: you buy by the hundred and sell one at a time. Get your calculations wrong and you are left with stuff past its sell by date.Only in the case of newspapers with a one day shelf life does the supplier take back the unsolds.

Then there are the customers, of whom you have to attract an awful lot since most of them are only going to buy a bottle of water or a carton of milk which have to be bar coded and till receipted.

Just imagine trying to make a living from that.

Then there is the pavement outside your shop which you have to keep clean because the Council doesn't and which often enough means vomit and dog shit.

If at the end of this you do look reasonably affluent, it's because you work sixty or eighty hours a week. Sometimes I just wonder what figure comes out if you convert a small shop keeper's annual pre-tax profit into a pre-tax hourly wage rate.

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