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Turning on a sixpence

Alan McGrath
National Organiser, Health Stores Ireland

Words come into our heads and inhabit our vocabulary like unwelcome visitors. Sometimes they hang around for a while. Sometimes they just visit us briefly and then leave without a trace. At times you are forced to re-engage with them unexpectedly.

Perhaps you’ve used one in a social media post or blog that jumps out at you first thing in the morning from your “memories” tab. I put my hands up and declare many (or “several” depending on which dictionary I’ve embedded to my Word App) overused words in my vocabulary.

“Journey” gets plastered about by me far too often for my own liking. Very often misused by me to try to coerce colleagues into a leap of faith. #Trending in my head these days though is “pivot”.

It wasn’t me that started it. In over 30 years connected with retail I never once needed to pivot about anything. Sometimes I have had to take uncomfortable U-turns. Occasionally I would get myself into a spin about things. Once I think I even attempted, unsuccessfully, to turn on a sixpence.

But never was I asked or attempted to pivot, yet the term seems to enter in and out of my consciousness like a subatomic particle on a daily basis.

Is it wise for a business to pivot? The business gurus and dragons seem to think that it’s the only way for us to survive in these crazy days. So much for fight or flight? These days when faced with imminent danger and almost certain disaster it seems we need to spin rapidly on the spot. Resolving to fight seems beyond good reason.

While the health food trade has always had a healthy hue of anti-establishment, it was clear from early days of lockdowns and containment that compliance, with a degree of pivoting, was the only logical response for those who wanted their businesses to survive. A very bitter pill for many to swallow, but in Ireland in 2010 we witnessed a full sector overnight take-down of so-called ‘head’ shops, on the whim of a talk radio host. Today CBD tea shops and dispensaries are getting taken down on an almost weekly basis. The ones that step up for the fight seem to be the first to get bowled over.

Restaurants have pivoted to speciality grocery. Pubs have pivoted to become restaurants. Health food stores held firm to their core practice but pivoted to online or ‘customer not present’ options at dizzying speed and with varying degrees of success.

The rapid turn arounds may have energised many and perhaps distracted us for the last couple of years. I wonder when we dust ourselves off and indulge in some hindsight at a vastly changed retail landscape and dramatically different customer engagement will there be regrets about not stepping up for a fight.

Probably not. We’re still here and doing what we love best. Perhaps the pirouette is the best response to a charging man-eating lion after all.

Health Stores Ireland is the professional trade association representing more than 110 independent health stores in Ireland. Visit, Facebook

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