Raise the sights to new hori­zons

The Herald Business - - Straight Talking - IAN MCCON­NELL

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

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