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FRANK SOBEY: We can make a difference in 2013

By This is SouthDevon  |  Posted: January 10, 2013

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I DIDN’T send any Christmas cards this year which, sadly, is a first. To be quite honest, I simply didn’t have the appetite for that lengthy process as I tend to hand write a few paragraphs in each.

Times have changed and the once yearly contact has been usurped by regular Facebook posting, blogs and numerous other cyberspace community platforms.

But it was more than that.

Watching my business washed away by the ‘tsunami’ of economic change that left much of the independent retail sector also in tatters was a little too soul destroying for enthusiastic script.

You can be as good as you like in the micro (the local economy) but if the macro (the wider international market place) is shattered then the fight is somewhat hopeless.

It is interesting to note that one of my city centre shops is now occupied by a charity.

That, I guess, is part of the new town centre trading topography as charity shops, second-hand shops, takeaways and betting shops take centre stage while supermarkets suck the spending horde to the suburban outskirts leaving a trail of broken independent traders.

Mind you, since that personal disaster we’ve managed to start trading again from Paignton harbour as a partnership but the road is bumpy and the future somewhat uncertain. A curious tapestry offering new challenges!

So, instead of a Christmas card, I did send out a brief seasonal blog to friends in cyberspace (www.franksobey.blogspot.com) commenting on some of the fantastic highs — three wonderful weddings and an exciting engagement — and stomach-dropping lows — 30-plus years of business falling over.

Not quite the same as writing numerous tactile cards with an inky pen and sticking costly stamps of personally addressed envelopes but there you go!

At least those that did get my cards in previous years don’t have to spend hours deciphering my spiderlike dysfunctional handwriting.

Shortly before Christmas I happened to bump into mayor Gordon Oliver at a lunchtime gathering at the house of a friend.

He sounded very upbeat about 2013 for Torbay.

Certainly the thrust of his conversation seemed to be about job creation through new businesses centred on the industrial estates while not losing sight of our huge tourist economy.

There is huge debate about the role of a mayor but, like it or not, he is the man with the power locally which is something Torbay voted for.

Also at the lunchtime gathering was the head of a local hotel trade association.

We both slumped when our conversation reached the summer weather for the past five years!

You can do what you like in a tourist resort to generate business but if the sun doesn’t shine we all suffer.

My own business was about summer fun, shorts, T-shirts, sunglasses, surf kit, outdoor toys and we did suffer.

Ah yes, now comes the cry that we need things to do when it does rain.

Yes, we do but that doesn’t take away that essential holiday ingredient of decent sunshine.

My conversational friend in the hotel business said much the same thing, of course, which any intelligent individual not looking through rose tinted glasses would understand.

The year 2012 was, without doubt, a very soggy period in our history and battling along Paignton beach with my dog through torrential rain on December 31 just about said it all.

During my conversation with our leader, I happened to touch upon Parkfield in Paignton.

Those of you who read my words from time to time will remember me waxing lyrical when the £4.8million youth facility opened last year near the Redcliffe Hotel on Paignton seafront.

He didn’t say too much but from my own research and comments from others, I do worry about the future of this brilliant facility.

I gather the centre, which has a sports hall, cafe, music room in addition to an international standard BMX track and skatepark, is now closed on Sundays and Mondays.

That is a worry since this has to be seen as an investment in the future of our young folk.

Sadly, it’s all very well having these new schemes but they must be sustainable.

It is one thing stumping up the grant to get them going but quite another to fund the running on a daily basis. Hmm.

So here is a new year’s resolution for our community — keep your eyes open for the potentially damaging changes caused by local apathy.

Look for the areas where you can help, speak out when you can see things happening that will work against the greater good, make the decision makers accountable and support those struggling to make a positive difference.

Don’t say it’s not your problem because that attitude allows the selfish to gain more at the expense of us all. We can make a difference and we must!

Anyway, happy new year and do keep the smile.

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  • SidneyNuff  |  January 10 2013, 9:35PM

    Frank might not be a little spoilt child who thinks that everything bad that happens to him is somebody else's fault, but he does sound like one.

  • mikelister66  |  January 10 2013, 2:05PM

    It applies as much to Frank as it does the Bay's economy generally but it has always led to my confusion as to why operate businesses that are so dependant on the quality of the weather. How you make any business plan against the unpredictable British weather I don't know. Even out of the recession it could still ruin your year. Every business is influenced by outside sources (except perhaps Funeral Directors - everybody dies sometime so they say) but surely you would want to limit that exposure and risk. As for the shop and staff I've never had any trouble when I've been in. I do echo Franks closing sentiments though about getting involved with local projects and opportunties to change the status quo. The neighbourhood plans in all three towns are doing good work. They have brought together groups of dedicated, motivated individuals and they are making positive proposals for the Bay. Unfortunately local apathy appears at least to be quite large, let's hope that changes.

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  • daretodream  |  January 10 2013, 1:38PM

    The more I hear poor Frank protest, declaring how hard done by he is and blaming the demise of his retail outlets purely on the events in the economy and changes in shopping habits over the last few years, the more I feel he has missed the point. For sure it's been tough, but did anybody actually ever visit Frank's establishments over the last few years? I did, on a number of occasions and what I found quite frankly would have made a great training video on 'how not to retail'. Visually very poor merchandising, stock that was limited in its range, but most annoyingly the staff….heaven forbid you should actually pull them away from their conversation on the events of the previous evening or even worse, tax them with a question relating to their products. I think that if they had, and found the apathy and general distain with which potential customers were treated, it wouldn't come as so much of a surprise that his business failed. Yes I'm sorry that any business failed, but I can't stand to have someone profess to have been so hard done by and portray themselves as a victim when they are in no small part responsible! I think some inward contemplation regarding complacency, lack of innovation and a parochial approach may lead Frank to question whether the 'tsunami' he felt wasn't just a little bit self-inflicted? Frank, move with the times and in the words of Richard Branson amongst other, businesses must innovate or die….learn a lesson and don't make it the latter!

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  • SidneyNuff  |  January 10 2013, 1:17PM

    Not like Mr Sobey to write an article all about himself and his own self interests. I wonder how many mirrors this guy has in his house.

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