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Decisions, Decisions

 

 

DECISIONS, DECISIONS...

by John Ghent

Three months into the so-called "silly season" and 2014 is beginning to take shape for organisations up and down the country, so what of the National organisations that take us here, there and everywhere, whether it be to the Shetland Isles with the NRCC, the East to West route with the Welsh or the land of the frogs’ legs and northern Spain with too many different clubs to mention!

I have said previously that business acumen seems to be at best, "limited", within some of these organisations and fortunately, as an employee for a self-made businessman in the heart of Leicester, I get some excellent snippets of information and advice on a daily basis. My boss is somewhat eccentric but he sure knows how to run a business and I would love to let him loose on some of the organisations that are supplying us with the facility to race from the continent; I am sure some of their fortunes would turn around. One thing he discussed with me just yesterday was the benefit of "First Mover Advantage" within the business world. Take Apple's iPhone for example. This was the first smartphone to be introduced to the market and it has developed somewhat of a cult following in recent years, putting it streets ahead of the competition who are playing a constant game of catch-up on an annual basis to keep up with the advancing technologies that Apple bring to us year after year; they are currently on their 5th Edition of the much loved iPhone. I myself am a convert having been a Nokia fanatic for the last 10 years or more. So, what does this have to do with pigeon racing and more importantly, how does it relate to the here and now? Well, the National clubs are in direct competition with each other on an annual basis so if we review some of the decisions which have been taken by 3 or 4 of the larger clubs in the off season so far and then see how they would stack up as business decisions we can get a better understanding of which clubs are more pro-active and thus likely to outlast the other competition, as in a shrinking market the fittest will survive, and this, in the case of the pigeon world means the best run clubs with the biggest financial clout, much like the real business world.

FIRST MOVER ADVANTAGE

Going back to what I mentioned earlier, the club with the clear "First Mover Advantage" is the National Flying Club. It has marking stations covering a fair sized area, has been one of the premier clubs for many, many years and has published a race programme 10 years in advance, a fantastic business decision. They are basically saying, "We're here, this is what we are doing, we send upwards of 8,000 birds, come and take us on if you want but if you want to avoid us then you can!" The NFC has a hardcore of support in certain areas of the country and support on this scale does not dwindle overnight so it is a clear case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it!"

On a similar sort of line is the Midland National Flying Club. In similar vein to the NFC the MNFC has strong support in certain areas, Coventry, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire being three. It has grown over the last few years, clearly not listening to the pessimists out there saying it is a shrinking market! Some people knock the club for being a little pricey, but again nearly 8,000 birds went to Carentan Old Birds from memory and it seems to serve the sprint to middle distance fanciers very well. Their race programme was put in place with a slight tweak to the young birds for next season by going to Portland instead of Chale. I can understand the reason for the move but as with any decision you will not please everybody all of the time. If the MNFC wants to improve their business, make it more sustainable over an even longer period (although I believe it will grow again this year) do they need to change anything? It could decide to appeal to the long distance man even more. It is interesting to note that the NFC and the MNFC sent nearly exactly the same amount of birds to the first race last season, circa 8,000, but by the time the Blue Riband came around for both clubs, 2,900 went to Tarbes with the NFC but only 1,300 or so went to Bordeaux with the MNFC. I don't know the full reasons for this, possibly with Vire being on the same day some people would rather send to that, or the fact that it is held right at the end of the season compared to Tarbes which is at the start of July as opposed to the end. So if we don't include the UNC or the NEHU Classics, which I have to confess I do not know enough about to be ale to comment on their organisations, we have reviewed the 2 biggest clubs on the mainland. So what of the alternatives, the clubs that are more focused on the south of the country? This is probably where things get a little more complicated as there are a few more of them and thus competition is greater, making it more difficult to stand out and secure the birdage which is needed to sustain these clubs. Remember, they are not cheap to run. France is a ruddy long way and northern Spain even further, so you need a fair amount of diesel to get down there!

The three clubs which are the most prominent are the CSCFC, the BICC and the BBC and they have all had varying degrees of change in the off season. Generally speaking, if something isn't working then it needs the most change. Stands to reason really to alter things if they need improving or you want to attract more customers. In this case more members and more birds!

The CSCFC has a strong support in the south-west and from what I can see from the outside is an excellent regional club, getting good birdage in the short races and circa 700 birds from Tarbes, which for a regional club is not bad at all when you consider the National gets around 3,000. I must confess that what I know about the CSCFC is limited to a couple of conversations that I have had with fanciers that have more knowledge about this area than me and what I read online and in the fancy press. What I have learned is that they have an excellent secretary in place, more on this later, and they seem to offer transportation to other organisations on a fairly regular basis, which can only make good business sense. A slight tinker with the race programme dates to get the start a week later and a club which had just shy of 7,500 birds go in its 4 race old programme last season looks a solid place to be flying in 2014. Again, all of these numbers are based on a regional club with a fairly small catchment so they are certainly doing something right!

The BICC has certainly captivated the south of the UK and its force seems to be creeping ever further north. This will surely only be accelerated with a few tweaks they have made over the off season. I am very lucky to have had some email communications with a couple of members of the BICC and they truly are trying to cater for as many fanciers as possible. This is shown with the new marking station opening up in Evesham and the changing of the sections as highlighted in the BHW of 12th December by Gareth Watkins. The first two races last year attracted just shy of 5,000 birds. I am sure the committee will be hoping to tip over that magic number in 2014 and the other two old bird nationals achieved 2,453 birds and 2,182 birds. We know these numbers to be correct as the best thing about the BICC is the ability to turn up on the day with your birds. Other clubs may say this and that about wind direction and so forth putting people off but the above numbers would suggest that is a myth from the pigeon gods and does not hold true when speaking about the BICC. As well as new sections, new marking stations and a programme in 2014 where not one of the Nationals clashes with the NFC, a well thought out move by the committee, you also have the added benefit of "two clubs in one" with the BICC thanks to the International fixtures on the calendar. I have a feeling that these will start to attract more and more interest in the coming years so although in theory the BICC could quite comfortably run as a club with Nationals in its own right, it also offers us competition against Europe's best from legendary racepoints such as Pau, Barcelona and Marseille. So, no clashing with the NFC when they put their programme out, forward thinking moves from the committee to encourage more fanciers, especially in the Midlands and beyond, "two clubs in one", and you can pay on the day, thumbs up to the BICC.

Due to a secretarial change and some well known financial issues the BBC had some catching up to do in the off season and the hopes were high for an innovative approach to win some more birds, offer something a little different and make a bit of a fight back! The hands of the BBC have been somewhat tied due to the secretary being the same person that undertakes the CSCFC role and no-one can blame anyone for it not wanting to clash with the CSCFC as that would be a mammoth and probably an impossible task for someone to run two races with two different clubs on the same weekend. The issue is, with the club making a decision not to clash with the NFC, this left just 5 dates free between the start of May and the end of July in which to hold their races so the programme sort of formulated itself. So, it's no real change, no moves forward, the same programme, and therefore the same challenges as last year. The question I must ask is why? The pointers are all there to say something needed to change, the BICC was sending over 1,500 birds more on the same weekend as the BBC last year so what changes will there be in 2014? The first four BBC races are Carentan, Messac, Niort and Barcelona, on the same weekends that the BICC go to Falaise, Alencon, Poitiers and Barcelona! The programme and the decision makers appear to have matched up race for race against what is currently a superior club! Now I' m in business, I'm an estate agent, and if I am currently the second ranked agent and I go up against the biggest agent in my area and say to my customers, "I'm going to offer exactly the same product, at exactly the same time except I am going to charge you more for it," then how many extra customers am I going to get on top of my loyal customers that have used me for many moons? With all the race programmes in place for the MNFC, NFC, BICC and CSCFC, the BBC had a great opportunity to shake it up a bit and try to grab some business from the other clubs, or better yet, give the fanciers an alternative! Taking the best bits from some of the other clubs could have given the BBC a fantastic opportunity in 2014. Bringing the birdage price in line with the BICC would have to be move number one to encourage more people to have a crack, closely followed by a section adjustment as sections C and D are currently 100 miles from top to bottom which is surely too far. A simple additional banding splitting the sections at the 50 mile mark would have given a lot of encouragement to the further flyers in the sections. I am about as far North as you get in section D, 8 miles shy of section E, and I fly 229 miles from Carentan when others in my section fly around 140 miles! However, the biggest opportunity that was clearly missed was with the race programme. Quality over quantity should have been what was prescribed, instead we get the same old race points on the same weeks, clashing against the same clubs! Why not try something new. If you do the same thing over and over again and expect different results then you're mad! An option that I put down on a piece of paper at lunchtime one day a few weeks back could have given people something a little different, see below:-

 

May 17th Carentan (BICC at Alencon)

June 14th Messac (BICC at Poitiers and MNFC at Fougeres)

July 4th Barcelona (BICC at Barcelona, NFC at Tarbes and MNFC at Ancenis)

July 5th Fougeres (As Above)

July 19th Niort and Bordeaux (BICC at Marseilles and Le Mans)

 

The above programme gives six races over four weekends of quality racing, ending in Champions Day on July 19th from Bordeaux and Niort. Whilst the programme clashes with the BICC on all four weekends due to the restriction of dates available to the BBC, you will see that crucially none of the clashes are at the same distance, thus giving the fanciers choice! With it starting later it also gives the fanciers further up the country a chance to get involved, swelling the birdage, and the sprint lads and lasses in the south have even more sprint races to go out, instead of having to split the team over the BICC and the BBC. I do hope that in the future these large organisations will take note of what the others are doing, some already are, and will start to make good quality, inventive business decisions, which are made in an effort to improve the club and more importantly improve the offering to the fancy! To encourage change and looking forward, I will finish this article with a quote I stumbled across.

 

"We can't be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea. Holding onto something that is good for you now, may be the very reason why you don't have something better.”

 

In simple terms, change now or go backwards. Look at the London and South East Classic Club. It is merely the face of things yet to come and it will happen to another club in the next 5 years. The question is, which one...??

 

John Ghent

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