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Nice Bentley, Mr Scabbins

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The keynote speaker at last Friday’s National Health Store Conference, Geoff Burch, cut a slightly unlikely figure for a gathering of natural products retailers. Anticipating the likely response, Geoff quipped: “You’re probably thinking, hang on, there’s an escaped night club bouncer in the room”.

Well, he might look like 1995-vintage Frank Butcher but Geoffsounds instantly convincing when he gets going. What sets him apart from so many others on the business guru circuit is his down-to-earth style. A genuinely jargon-free zone, Geoff’s talks deal with the day-to-day, nitty-gritty of running a business.

Like the best jokes, the best business advice is often the oldest. Geoff Burch manages to re-mint it and deliver it in a way that makes it seem fresh and relevant to his many different audiences.

I wondered for a minute where Geoff was going with his beautifully told story of local Gloucester greengrocer, Mr Scabbins. A scene is painted in loving detail of old Mr Scabbins, with trembly hands in fingerless gloves, struggling to get the key in the lock as he shuts up shop up one frosty night. He’s later described shuffling, painfully slowly, across the yard in the dark… to his Turbo Bentley.

Mr Scabbins, it seems, is a genius at cross-selling — Jersey royals and cauliflower in his case.

Geoff has endless similar examples of how simple, time-proven sales and marketing techniques can make a very big difference to the bottom line. Ask him what he thinks is the most cost-effective form of marketing for small retailers and he’ll tell you “good old-fashioned leafleting right outside your shop”.

On the unquestioning devotion of so many business to ‘marketing solutions’ (“it’s an affliction”), Geoff is rather less keen — but still funny: “Everyone thinks when their businesses are going wrong it must be a marketing problem. But all that marketing can do is create expectation. If there is something fundamentally wrong with your businesses all that marketing will do is offer the opportunity to piss off your customers twice as quick”.


By Jim Manson

Natural Products editor and environment journalist
Jim Manson is editor of Natural Products magazine. He’s written widely on environment and development issues for specialist magazines and national media, including the Financial Times, The Guardian and Time Out.

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