Sunday, 30 March 2008

Sudden appreciation for Harrogate

Today The Observer reported that Tesco has almost completely conquered the UK - with only Harrogate in Yorkshire still without one of its humungo-stores.

Of course, protest groups are up in arms. With each Tesco comes it's loss leaders, out-of-town parking lots and all the other vile signs of Tescopoly. How I feel about our supermarket sickness is no secret.

Today though, I decided to try, try, try to be unbiased in the way I appraise this most recent Tesco headline. I scratched my head, determined to find some good in the news.

Jobs. Surely this will bring lots of jobs to the community?

I typed the phrase 'Tesco employee engagement' into Google and followed the second link on the results page to Green Lion where I found this delightful sentence: David Richardson, Head of Tesco’s Employee Insight Unit has measured the effects of customer and employee engagement and finds that “those stores with employees who are highly committed also have the highest turnover per foot”. Interesting to see that the value they see in engaging their staff is quantitative, directly related to their already massive turnover. Anyone who has seen the hideous TV show 'Breaking into Tesco' will already know all about Tesco's focus groups and how closely they resemble a battery hen farm. Designed to breed a generation of average eaters, with average tastes in food, music, books and clothes.

Then I toddled along to the Tesco 'work for us' page (see, I can be fair!). I found lots of chat about 'corporate responsibility' (alas, no corporate social responsibility) and how 'every little helps' in the community where Tesco is working to make a difference.

I would like to invite the opinion of my good friend and employee engagement expert Samantha Wood. We've disagreed in the past and I'd be interested to see if she can provide us with any more information about the store's employee principles and processes. Perhaps she'll share some good news that I've missed.

For me, my time on the Tesco site had to end once I'd found their colourful Corporate Store Steering Wheel. The light blue, be a good neighbour piece of the pie was particularly amusing. I have now managed to convince myself that it's actually a work of irony. It has to be, surely. What do you think?

Friday, 28 March 2008

The warmest of warmest of welcomes

Today we would like to officially welcome the very lovely and talented John Grant aboard the Unchained mothership. John is joining as our first Trustee. What does that mean? Well it means he likes what we're doing and will share his (boundless) enthusiasm, wisdom and objectivity with us and that we'll get together from time to time to eat pastries and kick ideas around.

We are over the moon to have this ongoing relationship with him. John is one of those people who makes me feel like one of life's under-achievers. He was a founding partner of St. Luke's advertising agency, a brand consultant and he's somehow managed to find the time to write 4 books on creative marketing.

His most recent, Green Marketing Manifesto, has been described as the first definitive guide to the green marketing revolution.

He also has a great, big, green blog.

I Spy

We've been spied. Today The London Paper featured Unchained in their Shop Spy column. Hoorah, well done them (and us).

The paper spoke fondly of our Shopping Trip function (thank you chaps) encouraging people to plan shopping trips with our help. Of course, we think they're quite right. Click on the picture to get a 'readable' size of the article.

We're going to try to blog about the coverage we get in the press. So if you spot something we've missed drop us a line. We promise to love you forever.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Where's the catch?

I found this report on The Guardian website today really interesting.

To me it appears to be a typical case of the wrong people making the rules. There is already so much pressure on traditional artisan ways of life in this country. In order to be a successful butcher, baker and candlestick maker (ahem, you get the drift), you need shrewd business sense, an IT qualification and preferably a Marketing MBA.

It's just harsh. And as if that isn't enough, there's the EU quota issue, which is adding to the increase in fishermen calling it a day.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not exactly in favour of depleting our oceans of fish, obviously. But I also know that these fish don't become endangered because of father and son teams who take to the water in row boats.

Big businesses wade through water like tanks at war while little towns lose their souls and livelihoods paying the price.

And (one more thing) I don't know hellish much about EU rationing, but a quota system that leaves fishermen no option but to throw dead fish back into the water in a sad attempt to secure their income for the next couple of months makes me think there just has to be a better way.

If you know more about all this than we do, add a comment.

Friday, 21 March 2008

When do Bananas look like Apples?

Banana Republic has graced our British shores.

And the scenes outside the store felt rather reminiscent of the launch of the iPhone and such like. People are evidently clamouring for the preppy chic at easy-to-cough-up prices.

But news of why their price tags are so palatable might have you choking on your golf shirt. The Guardian has reported that "US last night began an investigation into allegations that workers in India who make its clothes are being forced to work more than 70 hours a week for as little as 15p an hour". Nice. And they're not the only ones, The Independent tells similarly sad tales.

Perhaps the saddest thing of all is the note in The Guardian that Banana Republic, owned by Gap, is part of the Ethical Trading Initiative. And that "the corporate members supply about 70% of the UK's food and groceries and almost 40% of its garments".

Perhaps my definition of Ethical Trading is just a bit different. What do you think? We'd love to hear your comments.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Please don't shoot

Today the three of us got together to be shot - photographically that is.

We were taking press shots for our PR campaign that starts next week. I've never loved the camera's lens, I always become a freakish, wooden version of myself - smiling too hard, looking a bit pinched. My attempts at being casual result only in the kind of wild eyes you'd hate to bump in to after dark.

The day is beautifully summed up in the shot at the top of this post. The boys look nice and friendly, trustworthy even, I just look completely barmy. I'm sure the FT's going to love it!

A big shout out and a whole world of love to the very talented Mister Greg Reed for taking the pictures for us and putting up with our very amateur giggles.

Sip this

Good news on TreeHugger today, Seattle is following San Francisco's lead by banning bottled water. Read the article on their site.

I hope the UK will soon follow. If you missed
Panorama: Bottled Water - Who Needs It? Click here to read the umpteen reasons to just ask for tap water the next time you're out.

I'd like to think most people don't need a documentary to tell them something that's common sense: buying water in a plastic bottle is irresponsible and unnecessary in a country where the tap water is just dandy.

Cheers to that.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Does your bank invest in armaments?

Today Dave was gifted an amazing book.

He toddled off to record stuff in a studio without realising he shared so many passions with Rupert, who was to be his Voice Over Artiste for the day.

Rupert Degas (otherwise known as Spud to Bob the Builder fans) is an independent-store-loving, tea-drinking, green activist - our kind of guy. He gave Dave a copy of The Good Shopping Guide. Not to be confused with the Unchained Guide to the best independent shops in London (ahem). This is the world's leading ethical reference guide listing the level of corporate social responsibility of the companies behind hundreds of everyday consumer brands.

The charts and tables are jaw-droppingly interesting. They're slightly addictive, you can't help flicking through the book just to check if your brand of toothpaste oppresses its staff. It's all right there.

They also have a site, which isn't the prettiest, but makes up in good content what it lacks in aesthetic charm. You can buy the book here or from that very big company that's named after a river.

Highly recommended by yours truly. Thanks Rupert.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Top three weird things

This entrepreneurial adventure has been amazing so far. Challenging, scary at times, fun and hugely exciting, it has been more than I ever hoped.

However, there have also been a few things that have just been a bit, well, odd. And wrapping my head around them has been quite amusing. So I thought it was high time I shared these personal discoveries with you in my aptly named 'top three weird things' post.

Weird thing number three - the highs are dizzyingly high, the lows are utterly miserable

I feel all the business highs and lows through emotional binoculars. Everything's way, way bigger and more important than it needs to be. Case in point, my first sale. The first time a shop signed up and became a bona fide Unchained member I felt like Superwoman. Better than any multi-million pound advertising pitch win, I walked out of that shop on cushion of air and immediately phoned everyone I could to tell them the amazing news. And if that's how disproportionately good I felt, you don't want to get me started on the not-so-hot days. Makes me wonder if it's possible to care too much? Nah, of course not.

Weird thing number two - so many hats, so little time

Along with this business has come a raft of job titles. I’m an Admin Assistant, Marketing Manager, Sales Director, IT consultant and Finance Director (which is particularly frightening). And without wanting to sound bratty, it's hard doing everything for yourself.

Weird thing number one - becoming 'the client'

The weirdest thing - and the reason this weird thing tops the weird thing list - is that people talk to from a safe arm's length away. I talk to suppliers (who are all brilliant and I love very much) and instead of talking back to me like a normal person, they snap into a crazed ultra-diplomatic version of human. I talk to them, they pitch to me. And (like my very brilliant friend Samantha Wood noted) it makes me take everything said from that point onwards with a large pinch of salt.

Interestingly it's taught me quite a lot about how not to treat a client. This is all stuff I wish I knew before unleashing myself on my own clients for all those years.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Can you feel the love?

A couple of days ago I met Cyndi at Anti-Apathy. Wow, wow, wow - that's right, three wows.

The complete antithesis of apathy (as the name suggests), Cyndi has a gazillion projects on the go, all of them ethical, green and inspired. Worn Again, Anti Apathy's clothing label, which has just created a range of bags made of ex-Virgin seat covers. Then there are events for like-minded lovelies to have a tipple and enjoy entertainment from the likes of The Libertines. There are also plans for the first ethical fashion awards . Phew. And as if that wasn't enough, Anti Apathy's online publication The Nag has just been voted Yahoo's best find of the year.

There are at least fifty-two-thousand ways for us to collaborate and Cyndi's already been kind enough to introduce me to some of her contacts and give Unchained a special little feature on her homepage. Aww. Can you feel the love? I sure can.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

The future of business? Let's hope so.

In the early days, when the three of us were sitting round every evening plotting, planning and dreaming what Unchained could be, we felt the belief growing in us that the best way to solve social problems was by applying a bit of business thinking.

We did our fair share of research and nobody seemed to do what we hoped to do with Unchained. It's only lately that the whole 'social entrepreneur' thing has become sizzling hot - of course there is the chance that I'm just super-aware of the seemingly incessant coverage it's getting in the press right now.

Last week, the Society pages of The Guardian were all about people doing good through business. I picked up a copy of Harpers Bazaar (not my usual read) on a flight yesterday and its supplement was all about 'Fair Traders' - women who were making it big in ethical business. I got cosy with the mag on my flight back to London reading about women who I hugely admire: Ella Heeks of Abel & Cole and Safia Minney, the founder of People Tree.

And then of course there's my favourite story of all: Tom's Shoes. What a lovely, simple, genius idea. Blake, if you're reading you're a big hunk of humanitarian, entrepreneurial love. The shoes sell for $30 (or thereabouts) and when you buy yourself a pair, a second pair gets shipped to kids in South America.

Watch the first drop off above.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Oh How I Laughed

On the final day in February word was out that Prime Minister Gordon Brown was all hot and bothered about plastic bags. And it's not the first time either. Last year Gordon Brown called on retailers to find ways to find ways to end the user of plastic bags. Hoorah him.

But on the 29th of February, he made it clear that he didn't think enough was being done. What's more, our cotton-bag-loving PM promised that the government would make reusable bags compulsory if they had to.

A day later the papers were filled with ads from the nation's supermarkets declaring their commitment to reusable bags. Sainsburys went to town with a full page letter on the back page of the Guardian. It really made me chuckle. Apparently the supermarket has "been reducing the impact of plastic bags on the environment since the 1980s". Call me cynical but I think there's very obvious reason why they don't go into any detail as what they were doing to save our planet. I suspect they were doing the same thing as everyone else in the modern world: jamming to Milli Vanilli in our shoulder pads and perms.

Sainburys choose to eradicate the use of plastic bags by issuing Guardian readers with a coupon for a free bag for life made of - drumroll please - plastic. Seriously, am I the only one that doesn't see a plastic bag as the solution to plastic bags? Oh the irony.

Then finally, beautifully nestled just to the left of the logo on the bottom of the 'letter' from Sainburys CEO Justin King, sat the slogan: Our Values Make Us Different.

If I had more time on my hands I would have created a spoof for your pleasure. It would say: Because We Bloody Have To.