Things fail – bicycles, cars, washing machines, governments, recipes and businesses. A failure is something that has failed, fair enough. For me though, that word has always been impossible to apply to a person. Someone who failed to make an appointment because of a traffic jam may have failed to arrive on time but is not a failure. Life is a complex web of possibilities and the choices we make about which threads to navigate are influenced by every micro-facet of our existence, whether we are aware of it or not.
Blame is another word I have a problem with. It’s a very negative word and is used to attack and hurt people. This doesn’t mean that people are not responsible for the choices they make, responsibility is not blame, though the two terms are often used the same way. The point is, life is complex and as tiny creatures in this infinite universe where every nano action ultimately has an effect on everything, we can only pray we are making the right choices as we step onto the tightropes of those threads.
That’s the hypothesis. Now to the real world – I am a failure, I am to blame. It’s true. I am definitely responsible for the demise of what used to be a fantastic little wholefood shop. Pulse Wholefoods, which was a jewel in the tiara of Pontcanna, Cardiff’s lovely, leafy, almost-inner-city suburb. Pulse is kaput and it’s all my fault. I arrived with Rhian nearly four years ago and occupied the wonky premises, with its mythical aura. The shop was already in decline when we took it over but we had a plan. We invested everything we had and a lot we didn’t into developing the business, fitting new shelves, buying new chillers and freezers, installing a state of the art till system and expanding the range of products. It worked, turnover and profitability went up and we were ready to move on to the next phase and develop the business to include an organic veg box scheme, home deliveries, refurbished therapy rooms, upgraded kitchen, even a tea garden.
During our first year we learned a lot about the shop, its history and its previous guardians. We discovered that it was the customers who owned Pulse, not us, and we didn’t mind at all, in fact we felt incredibly privileged. The customers, a lovely and talented bunch of people, became our friends. We started to get involved in the community and along with Marc, who worked in the shop, organised a folk music event in Chapter Arts in September 2008, called Y Cardiff. We hoped it would be the first of many. I didn’t get to enjoy the performances myself since the concert was completely sold out and I spent the evening outside the theatre turning away many disappointed people.
We headed towards Christmas 2008 full of positive energy and looking forward to the buzz that comes to retail in the lead up to the festive season. We rammed the shop with stock, took on more new lines and waited for the customers to come and stock up with the best, most natural food available. There was something for everyone and everything for those people who like their purchases poison free and sourced from ethical producers. We had dozens of types and sizes of toothpaste, soap, shampoo, cleaning products, essential oils, nutritional supplements, nut butters, seaweed, tofus, burgers, chilled frozen, dried, along with all the basic wholefoods, dried beans, grains, fruit and seeds, a wide range of organic vegetables . . . anyway the list could go on.
We had everything in place, including willing and knowledgeable staff and we waited, and we waited . That Christmas was dire, turnover went down instead of up, beautiful organic veg rotted, we just couldn’t eat it all ourselves. We gave away binfuls of decaying fruit and vegetables to people for their compost heaps, stock started going out of date and had to be disposed of. It was heartbreaking. Something happened between the summer of 2008 and Christmas, the world changed, the credit crunch, the recession whatever you call it, had an immediate and devastating effect on the shop. People who used to spend thirty or forty pounds in a visit spent just ten or twelve, or reduced the number of visits or just disappeared, into the arms of the big supermarkets I presume.
That was over two and a half years ago and things didn’t improve. Of course, with hindsight, there are many things, micro and macro, we could have done differently, things to do with staffing, product range, profit margins, opening hours, bank loans, investments in equipment and what to eat for breakfast no doubt. But ultimately the simple fact is that turnover went down as a result of worldwide events in the financial markets. People reacted and changed their shopping habits, the supermarkets reacted and played a blinder, stocking an increasing range of what used to be exclusive to shops like ours, even developing their packaging to look like authentic wholefoods. Online shopping increased, trade suppliers started delivering directly to our customers to maintain their own turnover and people desperate to increase their income or to replace a lost job, set up micro businesses of their own or formed food cooperatives, working from home (even from their desks at work) with none of our overheads.
Do I really think that the demise of Pulse is my fault? I suppose that no matter how philosophical I get about it I’ll never completely convince myself that I’m not to blame. I made the wrong decisions, stepped on the wrong tightropes; but as time pushes Pulse Wholefoods into a memory, it is getting easier to come to terms with its failure.
So the shop is now closed.
There is a lot more to this story and no doubt it will come out in some way, some day, but for now we’d like to thank all the aforementioned lovely and talented bunch of people and hope to see you around.