Around half of London's small businesses (or SMEs, as they are known to statisticians) are either unwilling to play or unready for the Olympics. This is according to a new report by Deloitte, the posh audit people. When you read that sentence, it seems kind of shocking. Mean, we are just about to host the biggest sports gig that there is. The whole world will be looking at us, at London. How can anyone fail to be excited? Thousands of extra people are going to pour into the city, business will boom, the economy will bounce back (a bit, according to Visa – but then they would say that anyway) the arts will flourish, and the state of the nation will register an optimism high. Right?
Well, er, not entirely. The government has made all the right moves, and has a rather impressive booklet of handy hints for businesses to follow. Unfortunately said literature concentrates on minimising the negative effects of the games rather than accentuating the positive (there's a song in there somewhere). Thus there are sections on re-routing deliveries, coping with staff shortages, facilitating home-working, adjusting your insurance, checking your utilities, upgrading your mobile and deploying extra security. Add to this the stories that we've all read in the papers about the penalties for incorrect use of the logo, or not using certain wording sequentially...it leaves one struggling to work out how exactly one can captitalise on the event.
Now this shopkeeper is an incorrigible optimist, even in the middle of a frankly godawful recession, and his penny drawer is always half full. But for the majority of small London businesses that are outside the Olympic corridor, and are not actually javelin or bunting manufacturers, the Olympics mean bugger all at this stage, and are unlikely to impact on sales even when the games are in full swing. Quite the opposite, as travel and parking will be affected right across London no matter how well the planners have done their job. It has to be said that few small businesses are likely to experience staff issues, as most employ staff who live within a modest radius.
Most fellow shopkeepers to whom we spoke (in South East London) were at best hoping that the Olympics would have no detrimental effect on their trade, and many have a gut feeling that they are somehow being stealth-taxed through the nose for it one way or another. None of them anticipated a sales boom. Many suggested that the streets will actually be quieter during the games, as people stay in glued to their tellies. Pizza shops will do well. Beer sales will soar. But, unfortunately, busy people with TV to watch usually vroom into supermarkets to get what they want rather than frequenting their local small shops. Wethinks that unless Team GB bucks the odds and snatches a few extra golds, the wave of national Olympic-related cheeriness is unlikley to materialise. We were told to expect a sports boom as we jogged towards 2012, but are there any stats to show a greater uptake? This predicted upsurge in retail confidence may also be ODA pie in the sky.
We will be watching the games (although small business owners rarely get enough time off to go watch these things live), and we want to be their friend. Please tell us we are mistaken, and that it will all be alright. Please tell us that a splendid, glorious sporting jamboree in East London CAN have a positive effect on a small launderette in Kingston. Or that a year of awesome pageantry will help sales in a cosmetic shop in Brixton... We would so love to be proved wrong.