Newspaper Article  #3

The following appeared in the Daily Advertiser on Saturday 01 September, 2018.

Sold on the idea of dealing with the experts

By David Regan

Is skilful salesmanship disappearing just when it is needed most?

“Can I help you?” asked the oh-so-young male shop assistant.

“Yes.” I replied optimistically. “I am after a green jacket.”

“Green jacket? We don’t have any green jackets. In fact, I don’t think we have ever had any green jackets in this shop.”

He looked about 19 and I wondered how far back in time his memory could possibly take him. His incredulity that anyone would want such a horrible thing as a green jacket was obvious. The frown and sideways glance towards his female co-worker confirmed for me that not only would I not get a green jacket from that shop but I would never get anything from that shop.

This was a recent experience of mine in a reasonably up-market menswear shop in a major shopping district in Sydney. The shop assistant had little idea of his role or how to sell. While he answered my question, he didn’t find out enough about me or what I wanted so that he could help me choose a suitable alternative from his stock. He also didn’t appreciate that part of his role was to inform me about colours and styles that were currently in fashion.

Unfortunately, poor salesmanship is not unusual.  An increasing number of sales people I come into contact with seem to work on the principle that the product will “sell itself”.   

With the threat to bricks and mortar shops from online alternatives growing rapidly, the lack of professionalism amongst salespeople is cause for concern. According to Business Insider Australia, “Online retail sales account for only 5% of total sales, but that figure is growing at over 30% per annum.”

It seems that the skill of face to face salesmanship is disappearing just when it is needed most.

Skilful sales professionals are one of the main points of difference between physical shops and online options. If customers can’t get individual and expert assistance down at the mall or on main street, then they can be forgiven if they look for cheaper online options where those things are not expected.

Despite experiences like the one above, I quite like shopping, in an actual shop rather than online. A busy market place, with hordes of people consuming and socialising, is a sign of a well-functioning community. It is evidence that people have money to spend and others are gainfully employed. Growing online sales puts all of that at risk.

A shopping experience ten or so years ago highlighted for me just how important expert sales people are. One Saturday afternoon, I stumbled into a menswear shop in Melbourne. I was killing time before the first bounce at the MCG.

“Can I help you?” Offered the sales assistant.

“Just looking, thanks,” my usual reply when not actually looking for anything.

That exchange is probably repeated in shops a thousand times each day. “Can I help you?” “Just looking, thanks.” Past experience tells me that most conversations between shoppers and salespeople end there.

She left me saying that she would come back in a few minutes to see how I was going. Something in her manner told me that she would indeed come back and that she genuinely cared about my shopping experience. Sincerity stands out and she quickly established a relationship with her customer, me.

After a few minutes she came over, held up a shirt and said “I think this would look good on you, why don’t you try it on?” I did, and even when mis-matched with my cargo shorts it looked surprisingly good.  

“Try it with these jeans,” she said.

Even my wife was impressed. “I didn’t know you could look so good,” she said, a little too astonished. Sold!

That experience set a benchmark for me. It doesn’t matter what I am looking for; books, clothes, car, house or furniture, I want someone who looks at my individual situation and can suggest things that will work for me. I want to be sold by someone with expert knowledge.

I eventually found a green jacket at one of the big department stores. I had no assistance from anyone. I wasn’t sold, I simply bought. This is unremarkable, I know, but I could have got it online for less, and with almost the same amount of human contact. The door to online shopping is ajar.

For business owners who are feeling the pressure of online competition, the message is clear; your advantage is that you can offer your customers Individual assistance, as well as expert and up to date product knowledge. Genuine, knowledgeable salespeople, who can quickly establish a relationship with customers, will always be a shop owners most valuable asset.



Newspaper Article #2

The following appeared in the Daily Advertiser on Saturday 04  August, 2018.

Shut the gate once and for all on self-interest

by David Regan

"You get the politicians you deserve,” Barack Obama told us in May 2017. This was his version of 19th century French philosopher, Joseph de Maistre’s statement, that “every nation gets the government it deserves.” Recent events have led me to wonder what on earth we did to deserve our current crop of pollies. 

We have had a steady stream of political horror stories, not just this year but for as long as I can remember. Since the Watergate scandal of the 1970s, which led to the resignation of United States President, Richard Nixon, political scandals have had the “gate” suffix attached. Bronwyn Bishop’s alleged misuse of public funds to hire a helicopter was labelled, “choppergate”. Who could forget “Grangegate”, when a bottle of wine brought about the demise of NSW Premier, Barry O’Farrell? Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd had, “utegate”. My favourites come from the UK where they have had, not one but two, “gategates”, so named due to the involvement of actual gates.

Federal member for Lindsay, Emma Husar (ALP) has taken leave in the wake of accusations of bullying. She has been accused, amongst other things, of getting her staff to pick up her dog’s poo.  Could this become known as “Poogate”?

Obama’s statement was his way of reminding people that in a democracy we all have a part to play in the electoral process. He was encouraging people to be more involved in determining who represents us and who governs us. His reasoning was that if we aren’t happy with the people who we elect, then we are responsible for that happening and it is up to us to do something about it.

The looming byelection in Wagga Wagga to replace Daryl Maguire, who hasn’t yet had a “gate” suffix attached to his alleged misdemeanours, is an opportunity for Riverina voters to get involved. But, it seems that we are consigned to simply vote for one of the candidates that other people will have put on a very short list of options.

Will we do any better with whoever we choose from that list? And, what qualifies any of those candidates to adequately represent us?

Past performance of some of our politicians suggests that whatever procedures the parties follow in their preselection processes, they could probably do with an overhaul. Perhaps each of the candidates should apply for preselection in the same manner that most of us are required when we apply for jobs. They should apply in writing and address a well-considered set of selection criteria designed to weed out the unqualified, unethical and inexperienced. They should then be short listed and interviewed by a panel of inquisitors to see if they have any hidden personal failings.

Maybe the various parties already do something like this, but there is one more step in the selection process for many jobs that should not be overlooked. If no one is deemed to be qualified or suitable for the job, they should go through the whole process again, and again if necessary, until they find someone who is a worthy candidate.  

Will this work? Will this ensure that we elect someone who embodies the very best aspects of the community? Probably not. What each candidate will undoubtedly have, is the same capacity to err as any of us.  And in that, I guess we can honestly say, they represent us. We will, unfortunately, continue to get the politicians we deserve, if only because they represent our potential to make bad decisions.

Surely, though, we can find politicians who purposefully make better choices. Hopefully, candidates will step forward who are dedicated to public service, not self-service.

It is, perhaps, a faint hope that we have no more “gate” controversies and that we may uncover a new batch of politicians that will restore our respect for the political class.


Newspaper Article  #1

The following appeared in the Daily Advertiser on Saturday 23 June, 2018.

What are we losing in this information age?
By David Regan
I cleaned out my emails the other day, well most of them anyway. Three thousand trashed and mostly unread emails reaffirmed for me just how impossible a task it is to deal with the overwhelming amount of information that comes our way in the information age. 

The problem is, that while the volume of communications demanding our attention has multiplied a hundred-fold, our capacity to deal with all of that information has changed little. Our minds can only deal with so much information and anything that comes along after we have reached our limit, just doesn’t get a look in.

Consequently, over the last 20 years or so our reading habits have changed. Even avid readers are forced to make choices about how much time they are prepared to invest in a text. When searching the Internet, I rarely go past the first page of options. And, the option I choose has about 5 seconds of my time to make an impact. It must be attractive to look at, intelligently and logically presented and tell me what I want to hear. I imagine it’s a bit like speed dating.

If I don’t have an instant attraction to what I am reading, I am going to click out and look for another option. I make the decision that it is too long and I don’t read it.

The acronym, tl;dr, is applied in such situations. It stands for, Too Long; Didn’t Read, and while the term has been around since the early 2000s, it has become more commonly used only in the last few years. Initially, the tl;dr notation was made in the margins, particularly on business communications and information texts, when the reader lost interest. It was their way of “clicking out” of a boring text. The notation would lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of an author who didn’t consider that their audience had a right to expect information that was engaging and concise. 

The problem with tl;dr, though, is that in our rush to decide what is worthy of our time and attention, we may dismiss something vital. The nagging fear that I discarded an important email has haunted me since my clean out. Family, friends, my employer, the ATO or NSW Lotteries, could all be eagerly awaiting my response to their urgent email request that I didn’t even open.

The 24-hour news cycle from so many sources also demands our attention but how much of that can we really digest? Is there something important that we missed in the last week or two? Were we so distracted by the “news” about “reality TV” celebrities that we missed something that was real and likely to impact our world? 

The United States President recently met with Kim Jong-un and Kim Kardashian. Which meeting, with which “Kim”, should I know more about?

Donald Trump, love him or not, has changed the world. His main contribution seems to be the disruption of the things that we have become comfortable with. He appears to have thrown out the rule books on international relations, dealing with the media and economic agreements. For many of us the constant stream of his disruption is too much for close or considered analysis. As we make a mental tl;dr note in the margins of each news event, what are we discarding? Is there something important here that needs closer examination? I have the uneasy feeling that time will reveal some interesting and disturbing facts. 

Luckily, I can always check my trash for that discarded email from NSW Lotteries. Other things that I have discarded may not be recoverable.