The past is littered with seemingly robust organisations disappearing into oblivion. But corporate extinction rarely happens by chance. Helga Drummond offers an alternative universe to show how a prosperous business can decline if companies fail to innovate.
A foggy Friday afternoon in November. Wanting a haircut, Jan Smith walked briskly along brick-walled streets until she saw a red and white pole shining through the swirling mist on the opposite side of the road. The crumbling woodwork, peeling paint and blackened net curtains suggested that the shop had been closed for many years. But beneath the legend Anne Graves an old yellow gas lamp burned. Jan shrugged, put her mobile on silent and decided to go in. Next door, the blue glow from a TV set flickered against the yellowing net curtains. Jan hurried past and a bell rang faintly as she opened the barber shop door.
Inside, an old electric water heater dangled from a wall streaming with condensation. The sink was split by a huge crack, filled with black and green mould. The shop smelled damp and dank. Turning on her heel to bolt, only the figure emerging from the gloom arrested her movement. A woman of about fifty stood in the doorway.
“Haircut is it love? I can do you now if you like.” The woman indicated the row of hair driers – old- fashioned, fixed position driers with plush red leather seats.
As Anne shampooed, Jan looked out of the window. A light scatter of snow was beginning to fall. Passers-by huddled into their coats. Inside the salon, a propane gas fire burned. A drier had been turned on to provide more heat. There was the usual forced customer/hairdresser conversation – Anne comfortable and chatty, Jan trying to think of questions to ask. “How long have you been here?”
“Well I’m 56 now,” said Anne, leaving a pause so that Jan could say she didn’t look it. Jan stayed silent.
“And I started here when I left school,” continued Anne, “so that’s a good forty years now.”
“Half a lifetime,” Jan murmured.
“I suppose it is,” tutted Anne, “but I never think of it like that. All I ever wanted was to cut people’s hair. I worked for the old lady who owned this shop and when she retired I bought it from her. Twenty shillings a week my first wage was.”
“You must have seen some changes,” said Jan, wincing at the inanity of the statement. But Anne didn’t seem to notice anything odd about Jan’s conversational skills. “Oh, the EEC try to interfere every five minutes,” she agreed.
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