Raise the sights to new horizons
THE new year has, so far, brought a flurry of economic releases which confirmthere is no end in sight to grim conditions in the Scottish and wider UK economy.
The outlook for demand may be worse, rather than better, as the Coalition Government’s austerity programme sucks more money out of the economy through the continuing squeeze on welfare and the removal or loss of what was – until now – universal child benefit from many households.
Lloyds TSB, Scotland’s latest quarterly business monitor, signalled the economy north of the Border was in poor shape, indeed in the three months to November, with a much greater percentage of firms reporting a fall in turnover than a rise.
The Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply’s latest survey of the UK services sector has meanwhile fuelled fears that the Coalition has presided over a triple-dip in economic output.
However, those running Scottish businesses should not let their heads go down just because economic joy is in short supply as we move further into the new year.
After all, they’ve been dealing with bad economic times since 2008. And many would not, in any case, have been holding out for the miraculous economic recovery projected by Chancellor George Osborne in his debut Budget in 2010, a forecast made as he piled on an extra £40 billion per annum of austerity by 2014/15.
As we move into 2013, we can be confident that those behind many Scottish businesses, big and small, will be looking to raise their sights and their games even fur ther as the domestic economic gloom shows no signs of clearing.
And, looking outside the UK, there has been some good economic news. The US has, for now at least, avoided a plunge off the “fiscal cliff ”.
The eurozone debt situation has been a little less turbulent in recent months, although there are massive challenges still to be tackled.
And Asian market-places continue to provide attractive oppor t unities f or Scottish companies. Amid the excitement about China, Scottish players should not lose sight of opportunities in more established export markets such as Japan. High-end Scottish food and drink and textiles producers are among those to have enjoyed considerable success in the Japanese market.
Big Scottish companies such as engineer Weir Group and temporary power specialist Aggreko have been blazing the trail around the globe for many years. And hopefully more and more of Scotland’s small and medium-sized enterprises will examine the potential in export markets not just in Europe but around the globe, and enjoy successes.
While such rebalancing from domestic demand to exports will be essential, given the continuing absence of any meaningful growth in the UK economy, it is not all about overseas sales.
Many Scottish businesses, by their nature, are domesticallyf ocused. And many of these firms, even those in the most difficult of sectors, are showing what can be done by using their expertise to maximum effect.
One splendid example i s MacLeod Construction based in Lochgilphead, Argyll, which was shortlisted in The Herald’s recent Scottish Family Business Awards. No one needs to be reminded about the troubles the construction sector has faced in recent years. However, with decades of experience of dealing with the challenges of construction projects in rural areas, M&K MacLeod has been thriving in the toughest of times.
Its performance should be an inspiration for other companies which are operating in tough sectors and do not have the luxury of looking to overseas market-places for growth.
Arran hotel and leisure resort Auchrannie, winner of the rural business and customer service excellence categories in the Family Business Awards, is in another tough sector but has proved fleet of foot in adopting marketing strategies to keep occupancy levels high. This business, which attracts visitors from the UK and abroad, is looking at expansion.
When the downturn hit, this business did not follow the lemmings of the corporate world which rushed over the costcutting cliff but actually invested money in staff training. It also maintains a core of staff over the quieter winter months to help ensure quality customer service.
And it has demonstrated that customer service is crucial in this tough economic environment.
It is ever more important for people to feel that, if they are parting with their hard-earned cash, the experience has been worth it. This means great customer service is more important than ever.
Department store chain John Lewis has demonstrated what can be done with good customer service in the tough UK retail sector.
So, while 2013 will be yet another tough year, it is vital Scottish businesses do not lose sight of opportunities at home and abroad. It is also crucial they do not lose sight of the basics which will help ensure success.
Established export markets such as Japan are still proving successful for high end Scottish producers