Virgin are still living their brand

Virgin Trains Vs East Midlands Trains

I was in London for a very early meeting last week and chose to travel out of Grantham on the East Coast mainline that is now operated by Virgin trains. It was always a quick route, normally cheaper than East Midlands Trains and in my experience anyway, dead reliable.

I have always have had high expectations of Virgin and their brand. They promise a lot with their values, so they have a lot to live up to.

And they didn’t just live up to them, they completely exceeded them. Perfect service, genuinely chatty, friendly staff and a great choice of breakfast options delivered to your table at no extra cost. (my bacon sarnie was lovely thanks) and free wifi that was fast enough to be usable for work.

On the way home later, they added a choice of hot meals or a selection of (very tasty) sandwiches and wine or beer and teas and coffees, again all included in the price. It just feels like they are being generous in every respect, even though the actual cost must be tiny, the perceived value and the warmth this drives towards the brand is massive.

Today i’m back on the slightly more expensive and slower East Midlands Train to Nottingham. Full priced menu, wifi that doesn’t work properly (It’s so slow that I can’t even load Speedtest.net to test how bad it is). The staff are still very friendly and I did get a glass of wine on the way home, so overall, i’m not particularly inspired to travel on this route again. It’s Grantham and Virgin for me.

So this proves that you can drive your brand values right through to your service standards and you can keep delivering them over and over again and find new ways to win over and delight your customers.

Thanks Sir Richard.

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Why I won’t be buying an Apple Watch

This is why you don't need an Apple Watch - The DeTomaso Matera Automatic watch

I am a big fan of Apple. I have been forever and at 49 years old, one of my claims to fame is that I have never owned a PC of any description. I had a few Nokia phones in the early days but that’s about it. I have been Apple through and through since around 1989.

But I won’t be joining the masses in buying the rather overpriced Apple Watch. I simply can’t see the point. It alerts you to what your phone is doing in your pocket and you’ll look like a dick if you talk to it (who really uses Siri other than to make it tell you jokes?). You’ll very quickly give up checking all of the notifications as they are so frequent anyway with five email and even more social media accounts on my phone. What’s compounds the misery is that being on Bluetooth all day will only make the battery life even more useless again. It’s bad enough having to charge my iPhone twice a day, but my watch too?

No, sorry Apple. This is a step too far for me. It’s not making my life easier. I’ll stick with my simple mechanical watch that tells the time. It doesn’t try and multi-task or be my personal assistant and it manages to wind itself just by being on my wrist. No batteries, reliable as you like and it glows in the dark so I can read it at night.

Thanks Apple, but no thanks.

The launch of Notts TV

Notts TV Blue Duck

Today’s the day. Months of hard work, planning and prepping. Blue Ducks all over Nottingham and Nottinghamshire. Everyone clamouring to own one and be seen with the symbol of a whole new era in TV broadcasting. Millions of people reached and hours of TV produced and in the bag.

So, retune your TV’s to make sure you can see Freeview Channel Eight, sit back and enjoy the ride from 16.00 today.

It’s going to be astonishing and show what our city and the enormous bank of talent that choose to live and work here can achieve when we all work together.

RIP Andy Grogan – Great man, visionary for Nottingham and all round good bloke

I normally write about branding but I couldn’t let the passing of my good pal Andy Grogan go without saying a word or two about him. I met him through kids football, when his (very talented) son joined our team – the West Bridgford Sharks. He came on tour with us and laughed his way through a few seasons on the touchlines of Nottinghamshire and beyond.

But where I really got to know him was in his vision for our adopted City Of Nottingham. He had more enthusiasm and ideas than anyone else I know. He was desperate and determined to give Nottingham a Castle experience it deserved and perhaps even more excited by the prospect of revitalising Sneinton Market.

I don’t use the word visionary lightly, but he was. Perhaps he sometimes had more vision than follow through but he was an incredible talent and will be very sadly missed. I will always treasure a conversation we had one drunken evening on a footie tour in Scarborough where he put into context the work we were doing with the lads in our footie team in the year we won our league. He was one of the people who said thank you and meant it and if he disagreed with you he told you, but told you why. Thank you Andy. You were one of the good guys.

Andy Grogan RIP
Andy Grogan RIP – on tour in Scarborough back in 2009

Julie Meyer – Welcome to Entrepreneur Country

I was at an event last night where Julie Meyer was the star attraction. She first made her name in setting up and selling First Tuesday and now heads up Ariadne Capital amongst others.

I was actually lucky enough to be in the small group that got to talk to her for an hour or so beforehand. So than you New College Nottingham for the invite. She was promoting her new book Welcome to Entrepreneur Country through the Gazelle Group of Colleges, but it didn’t really feel like she was peddling a book, it was more as though she was sharing her hard fought wisdom.

But for such a successful woman, she came out with a few things, which I thought were just lovely. The one that struck me as the most amazing was her attitude to work. It’s so far from the 1980’s view of money making, it’s amazing. No more ‘lunch is for wimps’ to be replaced with the brilliant aim..

“I want to work with smart, hardworking good people win” .

Brilliant, simple, exceptional and a nice way of doing business in what she described as the ‘New Normal’ in the economy in which we trade.

I bought the book and got it signed. I’m going to read it next and report back. But if it’s as good as it promises, i’ll be an even bigger fan.

The retail sector, HMV and the public sector strike

This is not a political piece, but more of an observation of how much of an effect the public sector strike may have had on the high street spending.

For me, it looked very much like the kick start that many retailers were hoping for. I can genuinely say, that I have not seen HMV as busy as it was on Wednesday this week for some years. It was like Christmas eve in there with people grabbing almost anything with locust like avarice. They did have lots of multi buy offers, (two for £10 etc) but it was buzzing.

Disappointingly for them, the brand new technology section, seemed to be the only area you could bring your cat for a fast look around. It was their CD’s, DVD and overpriced computer games that were doing well. I was a bit peeved to find they had gone back to their policy of a higher price in the store to online, for the one thing I had gone in for.

Traffic in Nottingham was almost at gridlock from around 10.00 until well after 18.00, again a Christmas norm, but unusual, even on a Saturday.

So whilst many were complaining and many were clearly striking, there will have been a very marked positive retail effect, that few probably expected and many, many will welcome.

Maybe its the glimmer of hope the economy needs.

A dog at work makes you more efficient

Over the least few weeks my dog Frankie MooMoo Thumbelina the Schnauzer puppy has been coming to work with me and i’m convinced it’s making me work more efficiently as I now have to work to a very specific routine to keep her happy through the day.

Frankie comes to work at Purple Circle
Frankie comes to work at Purple Circle

What this means is that you work in small windows and take proper breaks. So from 08.00-10.30 I know I have to get things finished before I take her for a walk. Then 11.00 until around 2ish and then another longer walk. And then work through until we go home again.

In these 2-3 hour windows, rather than putting things off until later as I normally do, I have been aiming (and succeeding) in getting things completed and out.

It’s also introduced me to some beautiful parks in the city that I didn’t really know about. St Mary’s Rest Garden is not big, but it is beautiful for a city park that is council run. It’s looked after by one chap on his own, who takes great pride in his work place.

St Mary's Rest Garden in Nottingham City Centre
St Mary's Rest Garden in Nottingham City Centre

So, i’m not saying you need to bring a dog with you to consider changing the way you work, but think in smaller windows rather than whole days and it seems to me that you start working an awful lot more efficiently.

The future of British education

Sir Ken Robinson - Educational super hero
Sir Ken Robinson - Educational super hero

I’ve had a pretty eye opening week with the education system and I have to say, that I am massively encouraged by what I have been seeing.

It started with the fabulous book ‘The Element’ by my hero Ken Robinson, lent to me by my mate Leanna the very clever General Manager and ex teacher from BeWILDerwood.

I’ve written about Sir Ken before and loved his TED Lectures., so I guess I was on the look out for particularly creative elements in education.

As I said previously, my kids are both at Rushcliffe School in Nottingham, which is a good state school that prides itself on its results, but also uses the theory that every child should be allowed to shine in any subject. What I love about this is that it means there is life beyond maths, english and a few science subjects. Teaching young people to pass exams, does not enable them to enter the world of work.

I was there this week for some presentations and not only saw some amazing musical performances by the pupils, but a headteacher Phil Crompton, stand up and openly say he disagrees with the idea of an English baccalaureate as it will restrict young people from being able to excel in drama, music and other areas that encourage their creativity.

At last. Ken Robinson’s thinking is getting through. Thank you Mr Crompton and your team, my children are in good hands.

And then on Thursday, I went for lunch at Antenna in Nottingham with the brilliant Craig Chettle. I just love the place. It’s a hive of creativity and is giving young people the chance to learn how to produce, manage and make music and TV. It is like a gigantic sweet shop for a geek like me with technology and creatives all jammed into such a inspiring space.

Antenna is part of the Confetti Media Group that Craig runs and has TV production, music studios and a really powerful educational element to it that I would love my kids to think could be part of their future. It just doesn’t feel like an exam based place, but feels like kids will naturally shine if they have it in them to take the opportunity.

They are both places that Nottingham should be incredibly proud of. Maybe some other cities should come to us and have a look.

Reading back over this post, it sounds like a press release sponsored by Ken Robinson, Rushcliffe and Antenna, but it’s not. It’s genuinely not.

I had a pretty seriously low opinion of the way education was going and between these three events, my opinion has changed.

I was lucky enough to be at a lunch the other day too, where some senior Labour politicians came and listened to our opinions of what we thought they should do in order to get things back on track. Unsurprisingly, I said that I thought they had to invest in education and educational infrastructure. It would be money well spent and help build the future of the country by allowing more creative and open minded people to enter work and not be afraid of making mistakes on the way.

Maybe, just maybe, this is starting to happen.

Dedication’s what you need

When I was little, I was really quite into the Record Breakers programme as hosted by Roy Castle. Even before this I would read the Guinness Book of Records for hours on end. I was delighted to see on TV last night in the beautifully filmed and produced ‘Last Chance to See’ That Stephen Fry was the same. He said that he could recall great reams of facts about odd records. I blame my rather ‘statto’ like nature on Record Breakers and the big Guinness Book.

But my clearest memory came from Roy Castle himself, when he told you if you want to be a record breaker, you need dedication. It doesn’t happen by accident – apart from of course to Vesna Vulović who holds the world record for falling out of a plane that she was working on as an air stewardess, at the highest altitude and surviving, when it exploded at 33,000 feet over Czechoslovakia on my 6th birthday back in 1972. I would imagine she had a small cake to celebrate too.

But like Roy Castle advises, we have a client who is totally dedicated to what he’s doing and wants to tell the world. Lee English of Nottingham Hoods basketball team describes himself as someone who has never done that much with his life before now, but has set up a new team from scratch and is playing this new team in the National League – Quite successfully too.

He’s brought a team of lads together and has worked and worked and worked with them to build his team and he should be exceptionally proud of what he has achieved through sheer dedication. He’s avery vocal coach and they are listening and learning.

But now he’s really raised the bar and had the Nottingham Hoods logo tattooed onto his arm as a reminder of what’s important and to show how much what he is doing means to him. You can see him getting the tattoo done here. It’s a real first for us as we’ve never had one of our logos tattooed anywhere.

His Granny is disgusted apparently, but I say he’s gonna be a record breaker, because he absolutely has the dedication. Roy Castle would be, and Lee’s Granny should be, very proud indeed.

The creative answer to start-up’s problems

A little while ago, I wrote a piece about the fight that Margate and Derby were facing in attracting new retailers when they are committed to charging business rates based on the rateable value. I proposed that the councils have to be flexible and offer rent and rates free periods to attract younger start ups in, without the fear of long lease commitments – which would put the mockers on most retail start-ups in any trading times, let alone difficult trading times.

And it seems that the answer has happened right on my doorstep, with the arrival of Wayne Hemingway’s Kioskiosk Project. This project allows start-ups free use of a funky retail space within the city to see what works for them, see whether they like it and to see whether they can make money at it – without much downside risk.

Embarrassingly, I was actually invited (and had accepted) the invitation to the opening of this in Pelham Street, Nottingham, but forgot. That’s pretty bad planning on my part and appallingly rude. Sorry Wayne and sorry Nina of Invest in Nottingham who invited me.

So I went along today to see what it was all about and the star of the show today is a young designer called Gill Heeley, who actually did a placement with us a few years ago at Purple Circle. This is her at the Kiosk.

Gill Heeley of We Make T-Shirts with their three days of fame at Kioskiosk in Pelham Street Nottingham
Gill Heeley of We Make T-Shirts with their three days of fame at Kioskiosk in Pelham Street Nottingham

I asked her to look proud for the shot and I think that works! It’s also my first published shot with my new Ricoh GR camera that I bought after realising that many of the shots I got in the US were rubbish.

Gill, whilst studying graphic design at Nottingham Trent, started making T-shirts for fun and then teamed up with two friends – Tony Waddington and Mike Knight – from college to try it out as a business.

They now run a business called We Make T-shirts and you can look at their website here.

They’ve got some lovely shirts with great detailing and already look to have some good orders behind them for other independents. This independent sector is what allows any city to differentiate themselves and Kioskiosk, delivers a trial independence beautifully.

There is no way Gill and her partners would take out a lease. There is no way that any bank would lend them the cash to start up without a proven track record. But Kioskiosk gives them the chance to have a look.

Talking to Gill, she was under no illusions about how hard starting and running your own business can be, so she’s being realistic – and maybe this chance is just what her and her partners need to get started on their way to a great business.

Good luck to them and thanks for giving them the opportunity Mr Hemingway. Oh, and Nottingham City Council for giving them the space.