As a Glaswegian I’ve often joked about the traffic in Edinburgh and the apparent inability to drive anywhere in Scotland’s capital easily or timely. This morning’s news that the Forth Road Bridge has closed due to structural concerns is no laughing matter though, particularly for the food and drink industry.
For those who don’t know the Forth Road Bridge, as the name suggests, it’s a suspension bridge crossing the River Forth. It connects Fife in the north with Lothian in the south and is a hugely important commuter route into Edinburgh, lying as it does just to the north west of the city. It’s also on the main route connecting three of Scotland’s largest cities, Dundee, Aberdeen and Edinburgh as well as the countless towns between them.
The lack of other routes was made clear this morning as nine mile queues formed at the only realistic alternative crossing, that queue will only grow as the day goes on.
This is particularly bad news for the food and drink industry because one of the hardest hit by this closure are lorry drivers. Tachographs don’t take into account long detours and crawling tailbacks, when the driver’s legal hours are up they are up and if the vehicle hasn’t reached its destination well tough. The logistics industry is stretched enough at this time of year as bad weather and a lack of daylight slows traffic and driving times down anyway. Add to that we’re now firmly in the middle of the busiest retail period of the year and you’ve got close to the perfect storm.
As we increasingly shop ‘online’ this affects us even more. Amazon for example has a huge state-of-the-art plant in Fife that operates 24 hours a day and must be close to capacity at this time of year. They might actually have to look at bringing in those drone deliveries after all that their PR wheeze boasted about last year!
As our economy has moved away from local suppliers to central depots and products of every description are cost-effectively trunked the length of the country every night so our haulage industry and our road infrastructure become increasingly vital to every industry. I’d venture there won’t be many businesses who aren’t directly or indirectly affected by this.
Short of leaving earlier and taking an alternative route there’s not a lot anyone can do about it in the short term. In the long term though it’s an important lesson on the value of brands. If your product can be easily substituted for an alternative then it will be. But if you have a brand that’s sought after and is demanded by consumers and retailers alike then you can ride a storm like this out. All businesses are affected by events outside of their control, from recessions to natural disasters, strikes to poor harvests from fuel costs rises to unexpected bridge closures there are issues we all need to deal with that are outside our ability to influence.
The truth is the stronger your brand the more likely your ‘buyer’ is to wait for your product, to try and buy it elsewhere or to enquire where else it is available. The weaker your brand the more likely your buyer is to shrug their shoulders and take an alternative, after all if you’ve not managed to make your product indistinguishable from its competitors don’t expect your customers to be able to either.
The bridge might well open again early next week and this will simply have been a difficult long weekend soon consigned to the memory banks, but that doesn’t change the fact that without a strong brand you are far more at risk from the vagaries of globalisation or structural engineering. Perhaps for some this might prove a salutary lesson.