First published on 23rd April 2008 on www.robinsonsequestrian.com
As seasoned readers of this blog may attest, much of my information from the outside world comes from the BBC website. On one of my many forays there recently, I came across a story which made me grimace. The story was (believe it or not) ‘Riot Fears Absent Ahead of IKEA Sale‘, which on the face of it seems quite a departure from the concept of news.
Aside from the quite blatant (for the BBC) commercial nature of the story, this story tells you not what has happened, but what was unlikely to happen. Of course, the reason why the absence of riot fears was news is that in 2005, that’s precisely what happened when IKEA opened a store in Edmonton, North London. It was this story that was the reason for my cold sweat as it reminded me of the day we re-opened our Superstore on Sunday 3rd November 2003…
As you may or may not know, in September 2002, we lost our retail store in Ashton-in-Makerfield, Lancashire after it was destroyed by a fire. Happily no-one was injured, but it meant that we had to take over a year to clear the site and custom-build a brand new Superstore as a replacement. By November the following year, the anticipation amongst local riders had been building for weeks and at our Sunday opening time of 11am that day, hundreds of people were there to witness the official opening of the new Superstore which was then, as now, the largest of its kind in the UK and beyond.
As we were sponsors of The Pony Club‘s Prince Philip Cup at the time, we decided to invite the holders of the Cup (Wylye Valley) to open the Superstore. A stretch limousine, red carpets and a big ribbon were laid on, especially for the event. As a finishing touch, we even arranged for two mounted police from the Merseyside Constabulary to escort the limo, a gesture we were very grateful to accept as it helped make our opening such a great spectacle.
After such a long time of being unable to serve our retail customers, we had been concerned that we needed to win this custom back as quickly as possible, so the fact that we’d managed to generate so much interest was, I remember, a great relief. I also recall that weeks beforehand, we had decided after a fair degree of deliberation not to advertise the grand opening, just in case too many people turned up.
In retrospect, that was quite a wise move. Put simply, the day turned very quickly from being a dream to a nightmare. Once the doors opened, more and more people continued to pour in, so that by late lunchtime, the Nosebag café was gridlocked, queuing time at the main tills had risen to 45 minutes and at least one customer had fainted while waiting to be served. With so many people inside, we had begun to adopt a nightclub-style ‘one out, one in’ policy of admittance. Everything we tried to do to maintain the safety of the situation seemed to have a knock-on effect elsewhere.
Outside, things were if anything even worse. For at least half a mile in each direction along the A49, cars were parked both sides, nose-to-tail – many on yellow lines. With only enough room for two cars to pass slowly in the space between, every time a bus or a lorry came along, they had to wait for a gap in the traffic coming the other way before they could pick their way through.
Very quickly, tailbacks began to snake back both north and south. There was nothing else for me to do but to jump into the road and hold back the traffic in one direction every time a bus or a lorry was trying to get through in the other. My abiding memory in all the gathering chaos was of standing on one of the Queen’s highways, directing the traffic, holding it back so the Police horsebox could pick its way out through the congestion! I couldn’t help thinking that things were the wrong way round!!
Worse still, there was a Collectables Fair on at Haydock Racecourse that day. Again, you may or may not know that the entrance to Haydock Park is approximately 400 yards south of our Superstore, along the A49 Warrington Road. Their traffic was becoming caught up in our traffic and tailing back still further another mile south along the A49… …where it crosses the M6 motorway! It was, I believe at this point, where queues were affecting cars attempting to leave the M6 at Junction 23, that the police helicopter was mobilised!
Once you realise that you’ve lost control of a situation to that extent, you have to begin to worry about the consequences. All I could think was how much more scary the day could have been if we’d advertised our opening properly. Looking back now, I’m staggered and eternally grateful that it wasn’t worse.
With the ‘benefit’ of that experience, I now have every sympathy for all concerned when stories such as the IKEA opening happen. The moral of the story? In business, the vast majority of the time, you’re constantly guarding against failure. It can become second nature to try to maximise every opportunity because if anything doesn’t work as well as one had hoped, the costs can be high, financially, to one’s reputation and – dare I say it – one’s ego. With shop openings and high-profile promotions, it can often pay to spend a little time guarding against success. Too much of it can be even worse than not enough.
The cold sweat’s gone now I’ve shared that with you.