Saturday, August 27, 2011

Rush Electric Bikes, Weymouth - August 2011

As part of my BT Storyteller role, I’ll be following a number of Weymouth and Portland businesses through their London 2012 experience. They’ve agreed to share the expectations, achievements and frustrations that come with running a business in a major Olympic venue.

Rush Electric Bikes is a brand new business hiring out electric bicycles in Weymouth.

It began trading just days ago, when owner Kathy Stewart decided it was time to dip a toe into the market before a formal launch later in the year

Kathy, aided by her three daughters, Melissa (22), Felicity (20) and Amy-Angela (18), is currently based at The Palm House, a refurbished Edwardian glasshouse. It’s only a moment’s walk from the railway station and town centre hotels, an ideal location for people wanting to pick up and return their electric bikes.

(Photo: Melissa, Amy-Angela and Kathy Stewart).

With a background in hospitality and hotel project management in the UK and USA, Kathy is familiar with the tourism and leisure industries. But her decision to create a bicycle hire business, using start-of-the-art electrically powered models, is a new direction.

Making cycling easier for everyone

“I first saw electric bikes in Spain, three years ago,” said Kathy, “and I thought, ‘If only we’d had one when the children were younger.’” She immediately spotted the potential of a light-weight, fun form of transport that made recreational cycling more accessible.

The bikes can travel for over 50 miles before they need recharging, using a conventional power socket. The rider controls if and when the motor engages, allowing them to get the benefits of cycling without the worry of how they’ll climb the Dorset hills.

Electric bikes can be used by anyone over 14 and there’s no need for a licence.

The Olympic potential of electric bikes

Kathy chose to bring her new business to Weymouth because she felt it would appeal to visitors, and could receive an early boost from the 2012 Olympics.

Weymouth and Portland will be packed with visitors next summer. Tourists, sailing enthusiasts, athletes, officials, sponsors, local businesses and the media will be jostling for position on the area’s roads. Jumping onto a hired electric bike could allow people to cut their way through the traffic and arrive on time without getting hot and bothered.

It’s very early days for Kathy and her enthusiastic team of daughters, one of whom is training as a bicycle mechanic. Another will be handling the marketing side of the business, which will include a strong emphasis on social media.

Initial feedback from the first customers of Rush Electric Bikes has been extremely positive. The opening lines of the story of Kathy’s new business promise an exciting tale over the months ahead.

Update: you can now follow Rush Electric Bikes on Twitter @RushEbikes

Friday, August 26, 2011

New Weymouth restaurant makes business Sense

Weymouth restauranteurs, Ali and Ovidija Ghamarian, have taken the bold step of transfer-ring their successful restaurant and wine bar business into much larger premises.

The new Sense restaurant opens today in St Mary Street, an olive's throw from the town's bustling historic harbourside.

While the restaurant may only have crossed the road from its old home, it's grown massively. The original Sense, which opened four years ago, seated 36. From its small kitchen, Ali offered value for money European cuisine, and created an ambience that had local customers coming back for more.

Filling the tables with Dorset folk for night after night gave Ali and Ovidija the confidence to move to a bigger venue, which seats over one hundred diners.

"We had to turn people away," said Ali, talking about the old premises. "We had a lot of disappointed customers."

That disappointment should be a thing of the past. From today, Ali's customers will find it much easier to get a table at which to enjoy grilled succulent Ostrich steak, pan fried loin of venison or another choice from the menu, almost all of which is sourced locally.

Ali, who says he is happiest when in the kitchen, has been joined by a team of new chefs in order to cook for many more people.

The opening of the new Sense restaurant is also a success for other local businesses. Neighbours, Designa Kitchens, have created the stunning bar area which greets customers as they arrive. A host of other local contractors were also involved in the conversion of a tired building into a showpiece modern restaurant and wine bar.

If you enjoy high quality food that's prepared entirely on the premises, you really should pay a visit to Sense. But if you're planning to go in the evening, particularly at weekends, you should book ahead. While Ali and Ovidija have significantly increased the capacity of Sense, there's still a good chance it could be full.

(Photo: Ali and Ovidija Ghamarian).

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Get free publicity from Open4Business

Is your Dorset business good enough to win an award and benefit from the free PR that comes with it?

Entries for the Open4business 2011 awards close in two weeks.

Open4Business supports and promotes businesses based in south and west Dorset. Every year they present a number of awards, recognising successful local firms for achievement in a number of categories.

Businesses who enter the awards receive publicity and recognition across the county, and it can help to position them as a leader in their sector. Winners enjoy the thrill of success and the award is a great PR opportunity.

Previous winners have commented on the value of the award to their business and some have gone on to become sponsors, such is the value they place on being involved.

Entries for the 2011 Open 4 Business awards must be in by 9am on Monday 12 September.

The awards are in the following categories:

Self-nominated:
  • New business (trading less than 36 months)
  • Tourism and hospitality
  • Retailer and customer service
  • Technology and innovation
  • Small business (up to 5 employees)
  • Learning in the workplace
  • Entrepreneur award
  • Business engagement in the community
  • Export award
Chosen by the judges from the winners of the categories above:
  • Business of the year
Nominated by others:
  • Flame - female
  • Flame - male
You can apply for an award here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

New Dorset business networking group launches

If you're a mid-level business professional, you're invited to the newly formed Dorset Professionals Group.

This new group is aimed at people from any sector who are not at the top of their firm. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of business professionals in Dorset who haven't reached, or chose not to reach, Director or Partner level in their organisation. This group is for them.

Organiser, Matt Haines, says the Dorset Professionals Group intends to meet quarterly in the Weymouth, Dorchester and Bridport area. They aim to create a relaxed, informal atmosphere where people can meet, chat, and also enjoy relevant and topical presentations.

This new networking group is supported by Old Mill, accountants and financial planners in Dorset, Devon and Somerset.

The first meeting of Dorset Professionals Group is on Tuesday 27 September at 6pm in The Victoria Hotel, Dorchester. Why not join them for a game of skittles and a curry buffet? If that, and the prospect of making new contacts, isn't enough to tempt you, there's also a champagne prize draw.

For more information follow @OMDorsetProfs on Twitter or contact Matt Haines on 01305 268168 or email [email protected].

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Channel Guesthouse, Weymouth - August 2011

As part of my BT Storyteller role, I’ll be following a number of Weymouth and Portland businesses through their London 2012 experience. They’ve agreed to share the expectations, achievements and frustrations that come with running a business in a major Olympic venue.

The Channel Guesthouse is a welcoming, 11 bedroomed, family run concern on Weymouth’s Georgian seafront.

The business is owned and run by the Reay family, who took over in January 2008. Chris (44) and his mother, Sandra, world-travellers for global companies, relished the challenge of working for themselves in the hospitality industry, despite having no experience other than as guests. Chris’ father, wife and son are also part of the team.

They chose Weymouth because they’d enjoyed years of family holidays on the golden sands, and because they felt the town retained something of its historic character, which other resorts had lost. That Weymouth was an Olympic venue did not influence their choice.

The Olympic impact on guesthouse business

The Grade II listed townhouse looks out across Weymouth Bay, making this one of the few businesses I’m following from which it will be possible to watch the London 2012 sailing as it happens.

When Chris and Sandra took over The Channel in 2008, not a single 2012 booking had been made. That has not changed, although members of several Olympic and Paralympic teams have stayed there. Sailors from Argentina, the USA and Germany have all been guests, along with officials and media staff from other nations.

“There have been some Olympic enquiries,” said Chris. But he expects the real benefits to come once the Games are over. Two weeks of global television coverage of the incredible Jurassic Coast could turn it into one of the world’s leading tourist destinations. That’s his hope.

The Olympic fortnight in 2012 shouldn’t make much immediate difference to guesthouse business. “We should be full in July and August anyway,” explained Chris, “because it’s our busy season.” There are no plans to slap an Olympic premium on their regular prices.

The real focus of The Channel is to be a green business

You don’t talk to Chris and Sandra for very long without uncovering their real passion – to run a green business sourcing good quality, local produce.

In May this year, they won a coveted Gold award from the Green Tourism Business Scheme. They are one of only three accommodation providers in Dorset to win recognition for all the hard work they’ve put into balancing environmental and commercial concerns.

While the only meal they serve is breakfast, it’s one they take very seriously. They’ve gone to huge efforts to source local produce while also addressing healthy eating concerns. Cooking oil has almost been completely eliminated and they are trialling imaginative alternatives to the traditional fry up.

I look forward to talking with Chris and Sandra in the months ahead to discover what difference the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics are making to their personal and business lives in The Channel guesthouse.

Below: The Reays: Brian, Sandra, Chris, Sue and CJ.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Don't get bitten by the ASA's new teeth

Is the advertising of your services on your website legal, decent, honest and truthful?

Because if there’s room for doubt, and if one person complains to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), you could fall foul of their judgement.

From 1 March this year, the ASA’s remit was extended to include commercial websites on which businesses promote their products.

Earlier this week, Ecademy, a UK-based online community of business owners, was told by the ASA that the advertising for one of their offline social media courses had been misleading.

A dissatisfied Ecademy customer complained to the ASA as they felt the course had not covered all the areas listed in the advert. According to the judgement, published here, Ecademy disagreed, but were unable to provide any documentation to support their case.

Ecademy “considered there was no need to create handouts or other course materials”. As a result, they had no way to substantiate their claims that the course matched the original advert. The result was a judgement against them and an instruction not to use that advert again.

There are two questions that every UK business needs to ask itself. Do the services we deliver match the advertising on our own website? And if a customer complained, how would we defend ourselves?

It’s inevitable that some customers will complain. Some will press their cause by taking their grievances to external authorities, such as the ASA. That’s their right, and it’s yours, as a business, to argue your case.

Don’t think that just because your business is relatively small that it will escape attention. Ecademy is quite well known, but it’s far from a household name. It only took one disgruntled customer to bring their advert to the ASA’s attention.

The ASA is taking its responsibility to police website advertising seriously. On the same day that the complaint about Ecademy was upheld, a further eight websites were found to have breached the advertising code.  In five of these cases, it was just one person who complained.

The public already demands a close match between what your website promises and what you actually deliver. The real test of this is whether, having experienced your products, they come back for more.

But the ASA gives them another set of teeth to nip you with if they’re unhappy and you’re unable to support the accuracy of your advert.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Weymouth business hits London fashion catwalk

An innovative Weymouth-based printing service recently took part in a leading fashion show in central London.

Print Shop Express, a Dorset firm set up and run by James Collins, was selected as the official print partner for the glamorous, high society J Summer fashion show. His company provided all the printed material including posters, tickets, invitations and press passes for event.

As an official partner, James was given VIP tickets to the special “Red Carpet” event, held in the glittering surroundings of the newly restored Savoy Hotel. Here he networked with the fashion industry elite such as Paul Costello and Danny Tang, and representatives from household name fashion brands.

Print Shop Express is a bold new venture into the highly competitive printing sector. It specialises in low volume, high quality and high speed printing, supplying to customers across the UK. All orders are turned around within 24 hours.

Customers based in Dorset can benefit from a super express service. Orders placed by 3pm are delivered the following day.

James, aged 28, set up his first printing business in 2009 when, as a graphic designer, he realised that his customers were finding it hard to get a good quality, value for money service.

To meet their need he established Low Cost Quality Print. Despite this being a fiercely competitive sector, he’s seen turnover grow by 60% every year. Impressed by the combination of high quality product, service and realistic pricing, his customers keep coming back for more.

This repeat business, and word of mouth marketing, has allowed James to launch Print Shop Express, as a fast turnaround service within Low Cost Quality Print.

Continued growth means he’s moving to new, larger, premises later this year, allowing him to continue servicing his expanding customer base and permit further expansion.

James is a great example of someone who’s spotted and seized an opportunity and, through hard work and commitment to quality, made it a success.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A priceless way to lose business

I need to buy a product that I've never bought before.

I don't have a clue how much it costs. I search Google and your website appears near the top of the list. I click on it.

Will your site give me an answer to my question about price? If I'd buying a specific widget I'm sure that it will, because a shopping cart without prices won't sell anything.

But what if I'm sourcing a bespoke product? Say a patio door, some business consultancy, or a new website design. Will your website give me some indication of the potential cost?

Because if it doesn't, I'll probably move on to check a competitor's website. And I'm unlikely to come back to yours. Ever.