The Isle of Man is just one big cartel. In fact, calling it a big cartel is inflating its importance, and therefore the importance of the jumped up bureaucrats who justify their existence by wielding their little hammers in musty chambers.
Countless times, UK companies have expressed enough confidence in the Manx pound to justify investing on the island to create new outlets or expand existing outlets (this, in spite of a challenging retail environment). Tesco have been refused permission to sell home goods and clothing several times, and now we find Next have been shown the finger for wanting to open a retail outlet selling their quality home wares.
Reasons (excuses) for these rejections add up to nothing more than protectionism. Tesco was rejected due to local traders crying foul. Next has also been stuffed due to “goods weren’t considered suitable to be sold from the site”. Town planners seem to not only be able to justify laying pink paving stones when more important road improvements are essential, but can also dictate where goods are sold on the island. They claim clothing and home wares should be sold in Douglas Town Centre. Has anyone told them about Tynwald Mills? The most expensive and pretentious building with a few shops in this side of Saudi Arabia. (Wait, isn’t that just down the road from Braddan?)
While the motives of these civil servants are to be commended they are missing two key factors which are undeniable in modern retail:
- Customers demand value, particularly in austere times. The Manx pound gets little value due to inflated prices. I don’t mind paying more, if it is backed up with good customer service. Time and time again, Manx customer service is shoddy and insulting. UK companies on island are trained to UK standards, and this shows in their service. I always shop at Boots, Tesco, B&Q and Next for this reason.
- If customers can’t get what they want on island, they will just get it on the internet. The UK retail sector is in dire straits due to the massive detrimental effect that sites like Amazon have had on bricks-and-mortar shops. If these planners think the Isle of Man is somehow above this trend they are even more stupid than I’m giving them credit for. And no daft Cretney-inspired Venda scheme can avoid this fact.
Currys/PC World are vying for the same retail unit. This has seen further opposition from various quarters bemoaning the effect on local traders such as Waltons and Colebourns. The “it’s not fair” moan is wearing thin, particularly when the sets in local outlets are typically £100+ more expensive than UK retailers. Where did I just by my new 32″ Panasonic television? Amazon. What about my audio-system? Super-fi. (Or maybe they can solve this by slapping a tax on any box with Amazon written on it as they come off the boat?)
I’m not for a minute condoning the practices of some of these UK companies by not paying their local dues, but one really should stop and think. How many people does Tesco hire? And B&Q (the Q stands for Quayle, by the way, a Manx name – something else I learnt while learning the Manx language)? Each of these people are given employment, which gives the island income through taxation and reinvestment through their wallets and purses. This is real value and while the island may miss out on sums of money in taxes, the personal income generates additional income for the island through further spending which secures jobs, investment, etc.
If these so-called planners had any sense, and I’m thinking the same level of sense I learnt during GCSE Business Studies, they would see this and maybe manage the situation a little better. Create an out-of-town retail park, but make their own car-park with their own pay-and-display income. Train and look after the local town centre shop staff. Put them on customer service and marketing courses. Subsidise their rates. Talk to their landlords and have them justify why their rents are so high. Businesses should survive only because they offer quality and value, not because their mates on the town council are “looking out for them”. At the end of the day, money talks, and money is going to be leaving the island faster than it stays for reinvestment.