I was happy to join many small business owners and partners in the form of the SBS (Small Business Sunday) Event on Friday 30th March 2012, Theo Paphitis was kind enough to retweet our business on Sunday night the 27th of February 2011, at the time our website was out in the wilderness of Google after a very major face lift, the result was that after all the years of building up our presence on the Internet, our visitor and buyer statistics took one almighty blow, after passing a few jokey comments between ourselves I thought why not tweet Theo on the Sunday night Small Business Sunday slot? our machine needed feeding and many people quite rightly listen to Theo and get involved in the Small Business Sunday retweets between 5.00pm and 7.30pm.
My only reservation was that our company has been around for many years and we’re a bricks and mortar business that services national and international corporate companies with unique products, to apply the tag of small business has always been against the grain from day one of our business, Theo I’m sure would appreciate my position, so through curiosity and my personal belief that it only takes an attitude to turn around the fortunes of an economy, I set off to the Birmingham Edgbaston stadium, the event was sponsored by Ryman‘s Stationary and through personal experience I needed no real introduction to their service and dedication to businesses through their retail stores and online outlet, so what to expect?, I wasn’t expecting a sales pitch strangely enough, there was something special in the air, I didn’t know what I’ll be honest, I have these gut feelings now and again which I’ve learnt to trust, the gut feeling about the SBS Event and everything that it encompassed meant I had to be there, and it was going to be worth the visit.
Before I breakdown the event I’ll better explain that this was a first of it’s kind, a unique venture with potential for UK businesses to sample and experience a new way of working together, unaware about what was to come the stadium reception area was buzzing with entrepreneurs, business owners big and small with drinks and nibbles in hand wondering what to expect and possibly in some cases, why they were there?, the why they were there feelings are best explained by these businesses being pushed, pulled, unsupported and drained for the last four years by a world that has had a “Titanic sinking” mentality…every man/woman for him/her self, why then would this event be any different?, it was, we just didn’t realise it yet, the Titanic analogy is apt because after the disaster and as the survivors returned home, there was stories and tributes laid to people who made a difference, so the world has had it’s economic disaster, what people are a little tired of is the lack of people with foresight (remember them?, we had many at one point) willing to step up to the plate.
Drinks in reception led through to the conference room where everyone took a seat and waited for the man of the moment Theo Paphitis to make an entrance, already the feeling was upbeat and relaxed, we were there for a talk and congratulations speech, slightly funny because the whole event and foundation to this conference was that Theo reviewed your website and your tweet on twitter and pressed retweet, simplistic in it’s self at first glance, surely not something that can be transported into anything more than a social media lift on the day?, actually for those first few hundreds here today, the realisation that this was something different became apparent after several months, Theo wasn’t just lifting them up… to drop them as quick, he kept interest in them, and without hopefully being presumptuous realised that although it’s good for him, it’s also something he could do proactively for business as a whole.
Theo takes the stage:
We’ve all seen Theo on TV giving interviews and doing his Dragon’s Den and Britain’s Next Big Thing programmes, we’ve seen his leadership and infectious excitement associated with his brands Ryman’s Stationary and Boux Avenue, the SBS Event was possibly us seeing Theo Paphitis at his very best, almost bemused by the momentum of his Sunday night feet up moment and what he admits has become one of the most exciting ventures he’s been the instigator of, Theo after introducing key members: Kypros Kyprianou, Tina Fotherby and the Ryman’s Stationary team, Chris Wheeler and the team at Metalfrog Studio Ltd among others, responsible for the event and taking the SBS platform forward, proceeds to announce the creation of theopaphitissbs.com a platform for SBS winners now and in the future, designed to network, offer services and be mentored by one of the most successful businessmen of our time, this was greeted by (Theo couldn’t hear but it’s what I heard left, right, in front and behind) little gasps of surprise and delight, again, I was not at all surprised by the news (maybe a little if I’m honest by the scale of time investment from Theo), I was more in awe that someone like Theo who has in his career hunted down and made opportunities “happen”, actually harnessed the truth about the changing world and made a massive leap from social media phenomenon, to a grand scale business mentor for hundreds and later thousands of small to medium sized businesses.
What does it all mean?
How can you quantify the creation of a new and ambitious way of working?, Theo in his inimitable style admitted “he hopes it fails”, little gasps again from the audience, he then delivers “because if it fails, I know this is not the way forward and I can concentrate my efforts elsewhere”, it was truthful and sincere in it’s delivery, a delivery that let’s a little chink show in the man’s armour, letting us all see a small exposed side to him, he’s passionate about this venture but he’s not handing out any golden tickets, this is a partnership in Britain’s business future and there is no sleeping partners, everyone must preform, everyone in the room now and in the future has a commitment to themselves, the venture and their businesses to succeed, and that is how it should be, I witnessed first hand a wave of freshness washing through the room, washing away years that has made entrepreneurs and business owners tired and disheartened, replacing it with motivation, passion and purpose, this is why I came, this was my gut feeling, and this is exactly what Britain needs.
Questions and answers:
Theo went on after many time deadlines passed, another indication of his enjoyment and commitment even at the end of a busy week filming the latest BBC Dragons Den series, one question particular hit all my buttons “Theo what do you see as the face of the high street in the future?”, good question, and although that’s a question for the mystic crystal ball, Theo went on to give his idea of how our city centre’s might look.
The physical high street… how that has become the focus point and concern of all people, from heads of state, politicians, business owners and people on the street, it has become the one big concern, why? I believe because it’s our bedrock and stability in each countries economy and in society, take it away and we’ve seen how a small change can drastically upset the natural balance, take away the unique job opportunities and you take away peoples vested interest in their towns, and in society, and in each other, Theo touched on how if we destroy the physical high street then we “must” replace it with unique visitor or culture attractions and unique job opportunities to match, therefore creating an inner city economy that filters wealth and jobs throughout the city and into the struggling suburbs.
My thoughts on the future of the high street was a little different, centralisation caused by big brands takes money out of every cities economy, not through choice but through logistical needs, small to medium businesses tend to buy and employ local services which feeds the inner city economies, but, take away the big brands from the high street and you take away most of the draw to the high street, take away a large portion of the small businesses and you take away the unique shops footfall that big brands require to make high street shops viable, so a meeting in the middle of businesses corporate and small was inevitable, or the consequences that we have witnessed a fraction of is dire, where does that leave my thoughts?, simple, online trading is good but is far from stable, we’ve also witnessed how online businesses can be resigned to the wilderness on the Internet for months at a time, no business can survive for this long without a comfort blanket of disposable profit in the bank, which is usually thin on the ground especially in the early years, so the stable future first and foremost in my thoughts is online and (when appropriate to the business model and type) on the high street, where a dip in one is possibly buoyed by the other.
The difference of predictions I think we’d agree is fine either way but a void would be unworkable and disastrous for any country.
The drive home:
I left the SBS Event feeling I’d witnessed a revelation and the seeds of a new beginning, I know you are only seeing it through my eyes and I didn’t go armed with a notepad so the details are largely from memory, what was apparent from our meeting is that anything can happen down the line, that’s all part of life’s excitement, the important things the event delivered was motivation, pride, community and self esteem, for me always a welcome distraction, but most of all, with these old eyes it delivered a little glint of hope for the Britain my children will inherit.
As for Small businesses up and down the country, imagine what time you have invested in your business over the years, and then think how little time it takes to send @TheoPaphitis a small description about your business and yourself, along with the hashtag #SBS in a tweet on Sunday nights between 5.00pm and 7.30pm, the SBS winners club just got a lot bigger.