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One-handed eating changes the demand for knives

Monday, July 20, 2009

How do you eat your ready meal dinner or Sunday lunch?  Evidence of changing social habits suggests that we are increasingly turning into a nation of one-handed eating…

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Absenteeism - the effect of the fear factor?

Fascinating research issue by the CIPD today sheds light on an important topic in HR management - absenteeism…

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Pay-as-you-go holiday spending money

Saturday, July 18, 2009

As sterling is so much weaker than it was a year ago, anyone travelling abroad for their summer holidays is going to find that their spending money buys far less. One result of this is that fewer of us are travelling abroad – see Innes Robinson’s piece ‘Recession hits Tenerife beaches’ on the GCSE blog, with its link to a video report on the BBC website showing glorious empty beaches, and the business closures, cancelled flights and growing unemployment in Tenerife as a result. Another result is that holiday makers will feel that their spending budgets are under pressure, and finding the best exchange rate could make a big difference. The BBC found that the cost of buying 500 euros varied hugely, from £423 to £463, which really makes shopping around worthwhile.

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Fantasy Football hit by the weakness of sterling

Friday, July 17, 2009

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a top European footballer, perhaps from Italy, Spain or Portugal – something like Cristiano Ronaldo but better looking and more modest. Now imagine that two years ago you signed for a top Premiership club, perhaps Chelsea or Manchester United, for a transfer fee of around £25million plus a weekly salary of £100,000 – a reasonable and modest sum, given the quality of your football. When you started to play in the UK the top rate of tax was 40%, so after the first week when you benefitted from the lower tax rates on the first £40,000 or so of your annual pay, you have paid £40,000 income tax per week. But next April the top rate is set to rise to 50%, so your net (or take-home) pay will fall by a further £10,000 per week. Will you have to start watching your spending a bit more carefully?

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Playing The Ethical Business Game

The better business game from BT is a useful resource for helping students to think about some of the ethical issues involved in running a business, and balancing the responsibilities of a business with the need to make money.

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Product life cycle - end of the line for Teletext

After 35 years of providing TV listings, sports results and weather forecasts, the analogue information service known as Teletext is to be closed…

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Sources of finance: BA goes for the convertible bond

You won’t find this source of finance in any of the new A Level Business textbooks, though it is likely to be an increasingly popular option for quoted companies who want to raise substantial new financeo over the next year or two…

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Workforce planning - getting ready for swine flu

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The swine flu pandemic has the potential to cause substantial disruption to the operations and workforces of many businesses - large and small.  Forget the media hysteria.  Employers around the UK are now being given direct advice on how to prepare for the potential storm…

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Pet Airways - Is This a Shaggy Dog Story?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I’m not convinced that this business start-up is for real. But the story comes from the US, and its featured on the venerable BBC, so it must be true…

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Corporate culture - inside the HQ of Twitter

The Guardian takes a guided tour round the HQ of the Internet’s hottest property - Twitter.  Some interesting observations on corporate culture, the need for focus and fast decision-making etc.  The reader comments below the article suggest that many Guardian readers are not enthusiastic supporters of Twitter though!

Mapping The TV Market

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The new Edexcel specifications introduce Market Mapping as a GCSE topic, and it is a great way of getting students to put forward their own views and then justifying them.  It’s also a useful way of helping students to recognise that there are no concrete answers in business, and that their market map may not be the same as other students.

Of course students need to be familiar with the market being mapped.  That usually means food (e.g. the crisp market, chocolate market), mobile phones, or TV.  So this example from the Channel 4 website, which maps the channels that are considered competitors of E4, may prove to be useful.


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What’s really in our food?

Where does M&S’s lochmuir salmon come from? How can you double the size of a chicken breast in 40 seconds? Does the chicken in a Birdseye ‘Great British Menu’ prepared meal come from Brazil, and would it matter to you if it does? Was a bag of ‘organic salad’ washed in organic water before it was packed? I am kicking myself for not having set the DVD recorder for this programme on BBC1 at 9pm last night. Initially it focuses on marketing techniques used to persuade consumers to buy food products through suggestion of the origin of the ingredients. Are the marketers clever, devious or unethical here? Later the programme moves on to a more serious investigation of food fraud - deliberate misrepresentation of the ingredients used in food products. Food scientists are, apparently, developing all sorts of techniques to hide the DNA evidence of what is in our food, but others are fighting back by using the same technology as that used to identify extinct animal special such as Tyrannosaurus Rex to identify the source of protein used in our food. Some of the opinions sought from consumers shopping in British markets are clearly manipulated by the producers of the programme to get a good old-fashioned ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ response to what marketers might call imaginative promotion. Elsewhere there is evidence that fraudulent labelling is used to imply that products made from halal chicken actually contain beef and pork. If you missed the programme, it is worth watching on the i-player.

Video briefing - Doing Business in China

A very useful video which highlights the opportunities and issues facing UK businesses looking to do business in China

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Introducing Fling - Mars’ first new confectionery product launch for 20 years

Monday, July 13, 2009

I’m more than surprised that global confectionery giant Mars hasn’t launched a new brand for 20 years (according to the FT).  But that has just changed with the arrival of a new chocolate product aimed fairly and squarely at women…

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How to improve profitability? - give customers a “staff appraisal”

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mike Southon is essential reading in the FT on a Saturday and his latest entry makes some really useful points for business students…

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Business angels take flight - just when small businesses need them

An interesting article from Andrew Stone this morning in the Sunday Times highlights the growing funding problems faced by small business who are looking for external investment by business angels…

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Batch production in action - cricket bats

Forget those boring textbook examples of batch production - loaves of bread, school dinners, building a house etc etc.  Here is a great pictorial example of batch production in action…

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Regulating quack medicine

Friday, July 10, 2009


It’s getting close to the end of term, so if you follow this blog you will get a link to a Mitchell and Webb comedy clip that neatly expresses my sentiments about ‘alternative’ medicine.  This year the government has taken some first steps to regulate a business worth around £4.5 billion, with ‘treatments’ ranging from aromatherapy and energy channelling to yogic healing.  Apparently 1 in 5 Britons has visited one of the 150,000 alternative therapists in the UK.

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Innovation helps firm buck the recession

Thursday, July 09, 2009

A fascinating insight into some new technologies that are enabling a Cambridge-based firm to grow, despite the impact of the global downturn…

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Starter Activities - UK Retailers

Here are some puzzle-style starter activities based around a collection of well-known UK retailers…

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Microsoft and Google compete head-to-head


A dramatic shake-up for the information-technology (IT) industry is coming.  Google is promising to release an operating system (like XP or Vista) for personal computers.  This represents a direct attack on Microsoft, the world’s biggest software firm.

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Starter/ Plenary - The Completed Crossword

Here is an activity that my students are buzzing about.

So, so simple but so, so effective.

Rather than giving a crossword out of key terms at the start of the lesson, how about giving them a completed crossword and asking them to write in the clues?

I tried this yesterday and the results were amazing. You could really see the students thinking and the level of differentiation was incredible. There are lots of crossword creators on-line, and the cool thing about this is, you don’t need to come up with the clues. Let the students do the work (I’m sure that is what teaching is supposed to be about!)


Welsh Business Benefits from the Ashes

A nice video clip from the BBC website examines the direct and indirect economic effects enjoyed by businesses in Wales as the Ashes cricket series comes to Cardiff:  A good example to use as students consider the effect on demand of external influences.

Business Teacher Discussion Forums

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Our Business Teacher Discussion Forums are now fully live.  We’re hoping to make the discussion boards into a lively and useful source of help, debate and materials for Business teachers in the UK and overseas. 

We’ve got separate boards for various Business courses, including GCSE, AS/A2, BTEC First and IB Business & Management.  You can visit them here

To register with the discussion boards, click here

Wonky Veg - Poor Quality or Just Cute?

EU legislation which prescribes the required shape for a range of fruit and vegetables, is being relaxed.  So can you now look forward to seeing a lot more “wonky” veg in the supermarkets?  Or will the main grocery chains continue to source good-looking vegetables to meet the needs of customers who like their products to look just right?

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PuzzlePacks for the new GCSE Business Specifications

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

We’re hard at work putting the finishing touches to a new collection of PuzzlePacks for the new GCSE Business specifications…

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Coffee Republic struggles with the daily grind

This will be a story that is worth following over the Summer.  Leading coffee shop chain Coffee Republic is on the bring of going into administration according to the papers yesterday.  A story of over-ambitious expansion, unprofitable growth through franchises, the impact of the credit crunch and a struggle to handle intense competition from from better-resourced rivals such as Starbucks and Costa Coffee.  So far as I’m aware, Coffee Republic has never made a profit - though it has long been feted as an entrepreneurial success story…

What makes a profitable menu?

Here’s a challenge you could set your students…

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Standing room only - on Ryanair?

The undisputed kings of publicity are at it again.  The Telegraph is reporting a story in the Sun (an interesting decision in itself) that Ryanair is considering offering standing room options rather than seats on some of its flights.  Apparently it can increase the passenger capacity by up to 50% and reduce costs (unit costs per passenger?) by 20% by doing this.  A good example to use with students who might want to consider the +‘s and -‘s from various business perspectives…

Entrepreneurial Brothers in Arms - The Egos Have Landed

Monday, July 06, 2009

Just picked up on this detailed story in the Sunday Tmes last week which speculates about whether media mogul Simon Cowell is about to set up a business in partnership with retail magnate Philip Green.  The two entrepreneurs are believed to have been plotting (sorry, business planning) the venture in Beverley Hills for a while.  Much potential here for an interesting discussion with students about the potential upsides and downsides of putting two high-profile business people together.  Are their skills closely and appropriately matched? (as suggested by the article).  Or is this an argument and falling-out just waiting to happen?

Job applications please - but no more than 160 letters long…

Here’s an interesting twist on the recruitment and selection process. The standard business studies textbook waxes lyrical about the traditional job application form + advantages / disadvantages compared with a traditional CV.  But the business featured in this news story is using the job application process to find out in a very practical way whether applicants can demonstrate they have the required attributes…Read on here

Instore Takes a Pounding

Knowing what your customers want is key to the success of any business.  This is particularly true for so called “pound” shops;  their customers are focused on value and price. 

The importance of this is perhaps reinforced by the tale of two retailers who operate within the value market.  Poundland has gone from strength to strength, as shown in earlier blog articles, and is set to open at least 30 new stores over the next 12 months.

InStore, on the other hand decided that their customers should move upmarket - and replaced the familiar £-stretcher fascia with the less familiar InStore fascia.

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The Biz Quiz - 6 July 2009

Our final Biz Quiz for 2008/2009.  We return in the first week of September 2009!

Launch interactive version

Download printable pdf version (incl answers at the back)

Spare capacity prompts a fall in business investment

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The recession is creating a growing amount of spare productive capacity across many different markets and industries. From container ships to hotels and from steel plants to airlines, the fall in demand has lowered capacity utilisation and put a big squeeze on profits. That pressure on profit margins comes not just from weaker revenues. Keep in mind that many businesses have a large fixed cost component such as the overhead costs of operating a network. Thus when output is contracting, the average fixed costs of production increase.

Declining demand and rising productive slack inevitably cause a fall in planned investment spending - economists term this a negative accelerator effect. BBC news reports that British Airways is cutting capital spending in response to the slump in demand and mounting losses. “The airline said it had cut spending by 20% to £580m ($952m) from £725m, and had lengthened its schedule of orders for 12 Airbus A380 aircraft.”

Further evidence for the reverse accelerator affect comes from Japan where Japanese firms cut their capital spending by a record level in the first quarter of 2009. In contrast Stagecoach is increasing investment in a fleet of greener buses.

Embarrassing names – should they be told?!

Friday, July 03, 2009


This is a story that will never end, to the great amusement of people with a slightly immature sense of humour.  I might even be describing myself.  In a globalised marketplace, words, terms or phrases that make perfect sense in their own language can be unintentionally crazy, daft or rude when they cross over into other cultures.

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Return of the Den

The BBC has confirmed that the new series of Dragons’ Den will air on Wednesday 15th July at 9pm on BBC2

Topic Tennis

Thursday, July 02, 2009

This is a cracking starter/ plenary activity that goes down great this time of year.

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Swimsuit malfunction - a failure of quality or just the wrong size?

Taking advantage of the sweltering temperatures outside whilst I write this, here is a mini case study in quality control…

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U2 on Tour - Investment appraisal and capacity utilisation rolled into one!

A fantastic example of investment appraisal and capacity utilisation in this article in the Guardian, which describes the risks and returns of the new U2 tour.

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The Hunt Continues

I am still looking to fill a vacancy for September. Do get in touch if you are interested.

Calling all Business Studies and Economics teachers: If you are looking for a job from September I would be very interested to hear from you. I have a vacancy in the department for a full time teacher. We offer GCSE, A Level and IB Economics and Business Studies.

Email me directly if you are interested and would like further details, I would be delighted to hear from you (

The school website.

Franchisees - An Example of When Things Go Wrong

Franchises are now a common feature of the business curriculum, and the textbooks generally paint a very positive picture of how they work.  But things can, and do, go wrong.  Here’s a great example….

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Stock control - de-stocking was over £5bn in Q1 of 2009

Fascinating evidence from the Office of National Statistics about what happened to firms inventories during the first three months of 2009.  Data form the ONS estimates that the value of stocks held fell by £5.4bn during the quarter - a significant reduction.  Students might consider why this happened.  There will be a variety of causes:

- Deiberate attempts to reduce finished goods stocks by converting them into cash (perhaps by offering lower prices or promotional discounts)
- Closure (temporary or permanent) of production capacity
- Delays in ordering new raw materials and components as a way of conserving cash

Q&A - Outline the main costs and benefits of inflation

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Inflation has many important costs and consequences for both society and business. However a stable and low level of inflation also provides some upsides for business.

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Q&A - Explain the causes of inflation

There are two main causes of inflation:
• Demand-pull (when there is excess demand), and
• Cost-push (when costs rise)

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Q&A - What is inflation and how is it measured?

Inflation is a sustained increase in the average price level of a country. The rate of inflation is measured by the annual percentage change in the level of prices.

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Marketing Objectives in Action

A great article on Sainsbury’s strategy to accelerate its growth plans.  I used this article as an example of what Internal and External constraints their can be on a businesses Marketing Objectives, but it could also be used for the impact on Operations, HR or Finance.

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Q&A - What role do mission statements play in business?

Mission statements: an exercise in public relations or a key part of providing the direction that management and employees need as they go about their business?  The debate about the relevance and usefulness of mission statements has raged for many years.

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Q&A - Explain the role of corporate objectives in business strategy

Corporate strategies are essentially about what the business wants to achieve.  Business strategy is the gameplan for how those corporate objectives are to be achieved.

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Q&A - What are business objectives?

Objectives play a key role in business management.  They provide the measurable statements of what a business wants to achieve, from the top (corporate) level of the firm right down to the detailed functional activities of the business.

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East Coast Rail Line is Nationalised

The government is taking the East Coast rail line that runs from London to Edinburgh and which has been operated by National Express into public ownership. National Express has struggled with falling revenues and higher costs that have contributed to rising losses on the line. In a press release, National Express said that higher hedged fuel costs added £11 million of cost in the first half of 2009, while increased pension costs cost the business a further £3 million.

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