Broccoli and Stilton Soup – to celebrate London Bridge

London put on its worst summer weather when London Bridge celebrated its 800-year anniversary this year on July 11. It started threateningly in the morning with thunder storms and showers. Later it lightened up and left the city bathed in the dull light of a typical, grey cloud cover, creating perfect soup weather at the height of summer.

Traffic on the bridge had been stopped for the occasion and a London Bridge Fair put on to raise money for the Lord Mayors Appeal. Although the bridge was closed to traffic, it made no difference to pedestrians who were kept to the sidewalk. The middle of the bridge was reserved for the Liverymen who were driving sheep back and forth during the day, excercising their ancient right to do so.

City Guilds display their skills

Along the side of the bridge about 40 stalls had been set up by London’s many and varied City Guilds or Livery Companies – from the great “Worshipful Company” of Masons to the more obscure worshipful companies of Playing Card Makers and Basketweavers. They were all displaying skills and materials they would have used for their trades from medieval times.

For most of its life, until the 18th century, London Bridge was the only bridge in London. A wooden bridge is said to have been there as early as 984. However, the present bridge is relatively new, built in 1967, it is the third since the first stone construction in 1209. The previous bridge, built in 1831 was shipped to the US and erected at Lake Hatsu City, between Phoenix and Las Vegas and in 1968 and history maintains the owner did not buy it by mistake, believing it to be tower bridge.

Despite the weather, a number of brave souls turned up for the celebrations and some of the more energetic fair goers went on to the newly re-opened Monument, which has undergone 18 months of restoration, and climbed all the 600 steps to the top.

Bridge vital link to Borough Market

Others fair-goers went on to Borough Market which has undergone a revival over the past decade – but always been inextricably linked to London Bridge.

The first incarnation of the market was actually on the bridge where traders reportedly sold grain, fish, vegetables and cattle from as early as 1014. But because of the congestion, the market was moved to the southern side of the Thames, to Southwark, where it was given a permanent home in 1755.

The London Bridge was vital conduit of merchandise, being the only link between London and southern England and continental Europe. Merchants who travelled to London would find accommodation in the many Southwark inns, the most well-known of which was The Tabard, where Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrims assembled before their journey.

The famous market, London’s oldest, was bustling with tourists, visitors and shoppers who had come to have a meal, stroll among the many stalls and traders who come from all over the EU, selling delicacies from as far as Spain such as Serano ham.

Joyce opens Bedshed store at Joondalup

Joyce Corporation has opened a new-look Bedshed store at Joondalup, WA, signalling the start of a new era for Bedshed and the 127-year-old Perth company behind it.

The revamped store is boasting growth in a subdued market and reflects the company’s new strategy, to focus on maintaining future profits, is working.

The fit-out program at Bedshed is just one of several strategies the Joyce board has adopted to ensure profitable returns.

“Following the success of the pilot fit-out at Joondalup, we have begun rolling out the Evolution store update program to our 35 Bedshed stores with Morrabin in Victoria just completed,” Bedshed CEO Gavin Culmsee, said.

The Evolution store update showcased a new concept in retail offering, employing the latest technology to enable customers to browse and shop online while in store.

“In addition to the growth at Joondalup last quarter, we’re pleased to see like for like sales continue to grow strongly across the entire Bedshed group,” Culmsee said.

Joyce also plans to explore opportunities in other related industries, including the kitchen and wardrobe market to fuel future growth.

The company’s new investment in the KWB Group, owner of Australia’s biggest specialist kitchen and wardrobe retail chain, Kitchen Connection, is expected to help Joyce expand and consolidate a fragmented industry.

Demand for new custom designed kitchens  is expected to fuel more than $2bn to be spent on kitchen renovations in 2013-14 across the Australian market.

“We can leverage our retail and franchising expertise to take advantage of this consistent growth in the kitchen renovation market and assist the future growth of Kitchen Connection,” Joyce executive director Anthony Mankarios said.

“We anticipate this investment will add significant value to our shareholders through additional cash generation opportunities for the group and a National presence across three growing home renovation markets – bedroom, kitchen and wardrobe,” Mr Mankarios says.

“We’re confident the foundations put in place by our management team will lead to an ever more positive outlook across the group,” he adds.

Tougher times for small food retailers

More than half (55%) of small food retailers in Australia, eg grocers and convenience stores, reported tougher competition affecting their business over the last 12 months, according to Roy Morgan Research.

That is 23% points higher than the average small businesses overall, and 12% points higher than the average small retail businesses.

Business research director Nigel Smith said the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC’s) renewed interest in the competitive environment for food retailing was timely as many small retailers, particularly food retailers, were facing difficult conditions in 2013.

The Roy Morgan research showed more than one in two small hardware and gardening (53%) and electronics (52%) retailers also rated competition determining their overall business performance, while it was less fierce among small clothing and footwear (42%) and furniture (37%) retailers.

“Small food retailers and hardware and gardening retailers are almost twice as likely as the average small business … to face increasing competition over the next 12 months,” Smith said.

“Competition only benefits consumers when it’s maintained in the long term. Predatory pricing by larger retailers—and increased take-up by price-conscious consumers—may lead to fewer competitors, an ultimately detrimental situation for both consumers and the retail industry.”

More than half (54%) of small food retailers reported they were underperforming, 7% points more than the small retail average.

In all, 37% expect competition to be a greater influence in the coming year, compared to 26% of small retailers and 21% of small businesses, while only 5% expect it to lessen.

Nevertheless, despite high levels of competition, 45% of small food retailers had a confident outlook for 2013 and expected overall business performance to improve.