The shadow side of scale

As we adapt to the changes to our day to day lives consequent on coronavirus, things that were previously invisible emerge from the shadows.

In my Derbyshire village are three small shops; a local family butcher, a small co-op and a franchised chemist.

Their reactions to the challenges have been instructive:

– the butcher is just doing whatever it takes. Delivering, working late, communicating. We know he’s more expensive, and we really don’t mind. His goods and service are worth it.

– the co-op is more constrained by policy, but work round it. They know their customers, and enjoy what they do.

– the chemist, which used to be private but is now part of a large chain, is by some way the least adaptive. Although at this time maybe the most important of the three, it suffers from imposed scale and the consequent lack of flexibility. It’s prescriptions are compiled at an external central unit, meaning it takes four days from ordering to be available. All the other hallmarks of a lack of agency show. The staff are good, but comparatively impotent.

Scale is great when things are running smoothly and predictably, less so when not.

The difference in the way they operate has become something of a topic. When we get past the current problems, the butcher and the coop will have an enhanced reputation, the chemist will not.

Consideration, service and effort are remembered for a long time, whether we are shops, employers or employees.

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