Jack and Sue get a guided tour of business

Recessions aren't much fun for anyone. Jack and Sue, in the process of working with local businesses, soon found out how tough some of their clients were doing it.

The local green grocer, Ralph, was a guy they'd known for a while, and when he gave them some work, they discovered he was barely if ever breaking even.

The first thing Jack noticed was the number of casuals Ralph hired. The green grocery business is a lot more difficult than it looks. Ralph had to go to the markets, buy his produce, sort it, stack it, get rid of the rotten fruit and veg, and then spend from 9AM to 7PM trying to sell it.

He couldn't do that on his own, so he had to hire someone to cover the shop while he was buying his stuff and doing all the other work. He was originally hiring part time people who'd done shop assistant work before, but of course they kept leaving. Then he tried hiring casual staff, mainly school kids, but they, naturally, needed training, and often just didn't show up. Finally, he gave up.

The result was that Ralph wound up doing all the work himself. He'd get up at about 4AM, do the market run, do all the heavy lifting and sorting and be ready to open at 9AM. That was six days a week. It was a murderous pace, and he didn't get to do much more than watch TV and eat, apart from work. On Sundays, he tried to do his paperwork, but usually there was too much work left over from the week, and he also had to check his stock was fresh, etc.

His shop rental and costs kept going up, and his profits kept going down. He just didn't have enough hours in the day to be really making money, and living like a human being.

Convinced Ralph was about to work himself into either an early grave or a hernia, Jack and Sue tried to figure out how to get things under control.

The solution, which looked obvious in hindsight, was actually pretty elegant. Jack and Sue wracked their brains, and eventually noticed that one of Ralph's other problems was he was the only food shop of any kind in that area. The others were all boutiques, offices and business shopfronts.

There had been other food shops, but they'd all moved over to the other side of the railway line a couple of years earlier. People wanting to buy food just didn't come that way.

On the other hand, reasoned Jack and Sue, the people on Ralph's side might prefer to have a food shop of their own. Ralph's shop was pretty big, and there was plenty of room for freezers, shelving, and his fruit and veg. It was more a matter of redesigning the floor space than anything else. Ralph also had plenty of space at the back, a big loading bay which was easily converted into a storage area. He didn't actually have to have all his stock out at the front.

It worked, brilliantly. The office and boutique people, who'd had to trek across the rail line to shop, swamped Ralph on the very first day.

The mixed business approach had another big advantage. The profits went way up, because while you might make a dollar on a bag of apples, you make a lot more on groceries, per unit. Ralph's profits tripled, in the first week.

He had so many customers in the first month, he had to put on a shop assistant, which he could now afford, then another, as the business picked up. People were soon coming over the railway line to shop with him, and he had to hire another shop assistant.

Ralph also now had the luxury of getting someone else to do the early morning buying and weightlifting with his fruit and veg.

Jack and Sue could also shop there for almost nothing, and every shopkeeper in the district was soon asking for their help.

A lot more people got hired, after they were through.