I got the job!

I had my interview for the role of Subpostmaster of Brodick Post Office last Friday in Ayr. They recently changed the procedure for Post Office applicants from a traditional interview to a presentation. I was actually the first applicant that the interviewers had had as part of the new format so they were rather curious themselves about how it would work. Thankfully I’m reasonably experienced with presentations so I wasn’t too nervous and knew roughly how much prep work was required. I decided not to rely on any slideshow technology and went old-school with a printed handout and a transcript all neatly bound together for each of the two interviewers. We came out feeling confident that we’d done well and then got ready to head off to the Isle of Arran for a five day trip.

Whilst I was sitting in the bank manager’s office on Monday afternoon, my mobile rang with a message to call the interviewer for the results. So we headed off down to Brodick shore with the Post Office at our backs and the beautiful landscape of Goatfell and the Firth of Clyde spread out before us. I made the call and got the good news that our application was successful! So all the months and months of hard work and planning have paid off!


The next hurdle to cross will be finding rented accommodation. We found one place that would be perfect, about three miles from the Post Office, 4 bedrooms, two minutes’ walk from the beach and off the main road. What more could we want? We had an interview with the landlady on the mainland on Wednesday and are now waiting to hear back from her after she’s interviewed the remaining three parties. We’re not actually that confident that we’ll get it, as she said during the interview that she personally knows two of the three other interested parties, but I guess you never know. If it doesn’t work out, it will be quite difficult finding something else, given that we’re in Luxembourg and the fact that the rental market on Arran is geared towards short-term summer lets.Here’s the house we’re after:

Nice, huh?

So, now that the application is done, it’s time to start clearing out the clutter and getting rid of stuff on eBay.

Leaving for the Interview…

We’re Scotland bound tomorrow for the interview on Friday in Ayr at 11.30 a.m. The presentation is done – I’m not going to bother with a slideshow and have instead elected to go with the more archaic method of using a handout. Less to go wrong and less to worry about.We’re heading to Arran the day after the interview for a few days of holiday. I’m glad that the interview is at the beginning of our trip rather than the end so we can relax a bit. Freya’s looking forward to playing on the beach, paddling in the sea, making sandcastles and playing with her cousins.Wish us luck!


Post Office progress — the interview…

We just got the date through for the interview – Friday 17 August! The guy that’s been dealing with us is really friendly and accommodating. When we sent our business plan, we put in a letter to request either August 16 or 17 as we will be in Scotland then anyway. It’s a narrow window to be sure, but they managed to fit us in! And not only is it on the date that we wanted, it’s also in AYR! The original timeline said that it would be in Glasgow and that would have been much less convenient. Ayr is much closer to where we will be.

So, I’ll be spending the next few days putting together a presentation — I’ve to talk for 20–45 minutes about how I will drive the business forward and maintain excellent customer service. Guess it’s time to dig out the buzz-phrase generator!

I’m not sure whether to take my MacBook with me and do the presentation in Keynote, or do it in Powerpoint on the PC and use the laptop provided at the interview. I’m familiar with neither Keynote nor Powerpoint. And if I choose to do it in Keynote, should I upgrade to iLife 08 first? I suppose if I’m gonna learn it, I might as well learn the latest version!

So, wish us luck everyone!

Post Office Application

It’s been a while since I blogged about our progress with the Post Office purchase. The thing is, it’s such a darned long process.

Our offer was accepted back in mid-June (no thanks to our incompetent solicitor) and only then could I begin the process of applying for the position through the Post Office. That involved doing another business plan, which thought would be easy since we’d already submitted one to the bank. But the pro-forma had changed and was, without a doubt, one of the worst Word docs I’ve ever had to deal with. It was locked down tight and information could be added only in the fields provided. Very frustrating. In the one we sent to the bank (which was based on the PO one) I had replaced all the tables with Excel objects, making for a very nice form indeed, thank you very much.

Anyway, long story short, I got the form finished last night and went through the online application process this morning. There were many more questions to go through online, including things like Outline your employment history over the last five years. Strange, since part of or the application form included a CV (which, thankfully, I was permitted to ignore and replace with my own PROPER CV).

So, the application form is submitted. All that remains is to post the photocopied docs today and then await the response. We’re hoping to be able to arrange the interview for August when we’re visiting – the interview is in Glasgow.

Fingers crossed!

Our offer was accepted!

We got word today that our offer was accepted. Our solicitor was playing silly buggers and we didn’t get to speak to him until 11.30 am. The deadline was 12 noon. Anyway, it’s done now. There are still some legal papers to go back and forth, but now we know what it’s gonna cost us.

Arran update: the offer’s in

We couldn’t get in contact with our solicitor until 50 minutes before the deadline, but it was enough. Following his advice, we offered the full asking price of £90,000. We figured that we might as well give it our best shot off the bat.

So now we wait…

Arran update

Monday’s the big day: deadline time. All the bullshit we’ve had to go through to get to the stage where we could put in an offer was pissing the vendor off and so finally she put a deadline on getting our offer in. It was mainly down to the bank manager dragging his feet and being incompetent. But finally he called on Friday night at 8 pm to give us the valuation that his mate, the surveyor, had come up with.

The asking price is offers over £90k and the surveyor valued it at £85k. So we have to decide what to offer by Monday and then get onto our solicitor first thing. We’ve got until noon.

I suppose in the grand scheme of things, 5 grand is not a big premium to get the change of lifestyle that we so desperately want, but we’ll be stretching ourselves rather thinly and every little helps.

We’ll ask the solicitor for advice. It could be that we’ll have time to offer 85 and up it to 90 if it gets rejected.

It’s a scary time in our lives and I really could do with a big drink right about now. <sigh>

Wish us luck.

Arran Post Office update

I met a chartered accountant at a guitar thing I was and he kindly agreed to look over the figures for me. This he did and was surprised to discover that all we had were extracts of the accounts. So we requested the full accounts, including for the last financial year which we did not previously have. We just heard from our bank manager that he has received those accounts and has forwarded them on to us and a copy to my accountant friend. Unfortunately my accountant friend (to whom I shall henceforth refer to as Charles, since that is his name) is leaving for Spain tomorrow and there’s no way he’ll get the docs before he leaves.

The bank manager also got a copy of the lease which he has forwarded on to our solicitor. The solicitor has to confirm that the lease is being transferred into your name, that there is sufficient
time to repay your 10-year obligation and that there are no restrictive or onerous clauses. The solicitor also to confirm the purchase price of £x.

We did get an encouraging e-mail from the bank manager today, in which he said that the seller seems keen to sell to us. Encouraging news indeed.

We were asked by the bank to put together an income and expenditure forecast based on what we will be earning and spending once we get to Arran. This put me into full procrastination mode as it seemed such an impossible task, but thankfully Lorraine is a bit more together than I and she put together the document very well. I did the whole business plan and current income and expenditure form, but then ran out of momentum. It seems we make a good team when all is said and done!

So, what’s up now? The bank manager has authorised a commercial survey, now that he has the full set of accounts for the last three years, and we should hopefully get an estimated valuation of the business. Hopefully Charles will get a chance to look over them soon, and we’ll get a second valuation that way.

Charles also mentioned that it would be worthwhile forming a limited company rather than buying the business as a sole trader, which was what I was initially planning to do. That kicked off a weekend of research and much head-scratching. Seemingly it’s not quite so clear cut as that, but there do seem to be many advantages to proceeding this way. I got in touch with someone from the National Federation of Sub Postmasters to find out whether the PO is okay with appointing the subpostmaster position to an individual who was an employee of a limited company and this seems to be okay. So more head-scratching to come about that.

We’ll wait until we get the full accounts before we submit our income and expenditure forecast as the most recent year’s figures are apparently better than we had hoped and it could put us in a stronger position regarding the bank loan application. It’s doubtful that they will arrive before the weekend, which is a shame, so it will be the middle or end of next week before we get the next task completed.

So, all in all, we are making progress. It’s a long and difficult process and sometimes the whole thing just starts to seem impossible and a bad idea, but it’s my nature to think that way, particularly when I’m feeling overwhelmed and am facing seemingly impossible tasks. If I were on my own, I’d have stumbled and fallen long ago. Thankfully, the teamwork seems to be pulling us along. We really do want this to happen, so we’ve just got to keep plodding along and dealing with each piece of the puzzle in rightful order.

Buying a Post Office case study


The largest retail network in Europe is not Tesco, or Carrefour, or Marks and Spencer, as many might guess. It is, in fact, the trustworthy British institution of the Post Office.

There are around 17,000 local post offices within the UK, meaning that 94% of the population lives within one mile of a branch – the sort of coverage that a multinational company would envy.
The scope of services offered by post offices are about to grow enormously, and many are beginning to see the opportunities the network might offer those with the energy, ideas and enthusiasm.

Around 500 offices in the network are “Crown Offices”, run by people directly employed by the Post Office. The remainder, however, are run as sub-post offices by sub-postmasters – private
business people who often also run a retail business, such as a stationers or newsagents, on the same premises.

The Post Office pays the sub-postmaster a fixed payment together with a supplement according to how many transactions pass over the counter.

However, although it is quite easy to buy a post office business, prospective owners must apply for the post of sub-postmaster by filling in an official application form and producing a business plan.

This might all sound daunting, but the combination of a guaranteed payment from the post office and an income from your own business offers owners a lot more stability than most private ventures.

You may have read a lot of bad news in the press about post offices. Last year, the closure of some 3,000 unviable rural sub-post offices was endorsed by the government. Meanwhile, this year, the government has started paying state benefits and pensions directly into accounts, reducing the amount of counter business at many branches.

To soften the closures, the government allocated £450m over three years to allow rural post offices to develop new systems and services and to support sub-postmasters’ salary.

Meanwhile, the £15m Deprived Urban Post Office fund offers £15,000 grants to make branches in the poorest areas of the country bigger, brighter and more attractive.

But, in reality, the business in changing – and to many, it is offering opportunities rather than threats.

The government wants the network to provide more help to customers in dealing with administration – and also provide a wealth of new products and services, particularly in areas where there may be few other outlets.

There are new banking, insurance and travel services available in addition to the mainstays of bill payment, licensing, postage and the National Lottery.

This year, for example, the Post Office has started selling unsecured personal loans ranging from £1,000 to £25,000 through 200 Midlands branches. Meanwhile, thirty-one new currencies have been made available at branches, making the network the largest supplier of foreign money in the country.

One in six basic bank accounts are now available at post offices, and the government is considering setting up a special account – “Universal Banking Services” – for those in receipt of benefits without access to a bank. The restrictions currently in place on what a sub-post office can provide are currently being reviewed. And most importantly, other organisations are beginning to see the advantages of using Europe’s largest and most extensive retail network to deliver their services.

All of which strengthens both the comfort of government support and the potential for entrepreneurship – an ideal for many. But not everyone is suited to the job.

Most sub-postmasters have had a background in a customer-facing industry and are more than happy to deal with and explain complicated matters to the general public. People with experience in other retail areas, particularly banking, make up a high proportion of buyer – but some knowledge of running a business is also vital. Computers and technology are also becoming more important within the job.

The post office prefers applicants who are both stable and mature. Running a sub-post office carries more responsibilities than most businesses as you are legally responsible for the delivery of registered letters and giros – and, perhaps most importantly, vulnerable local people are dependent on your services. In very rural areas the branch can be the bedrock of the community.

Nevertheless potential sub-postmasters are provided with training before taking on the job. This takes the form of workbooks together with one or two days in the classroom. This will be followed by a day with an experienced sub-postmaster and a couple of weeks of on-site training.

Given the right combination of responsibility, reliability and business acumen, a buyer could then take advantage of all the opportunities that the government and the largest retail network in Europe are about to support and unlock.

According to http://www.subpostmasters.org.uk, a prospective sub-postmasters’ business plan should include:

    • How the premises will be run
    • Competitors
    • Business Hours
    • Cost Projections
    • General Business Objectives
    • Marketing and Advertising
    • Customer Base
    • Use of technology
    • Role in local community
    • Accounts
    • Staffing
    • Finances
    • Profit Budget
    • Cash Flow Forecasts

More information on becoming a sub-postmaster can be found at www.subpostmasters.org.uk

Post Office Dilemma

I’m not sure whether writing this down will help, but I won’t know unless I try.

We visited the Post Office last week and were getting excited about it. Whilst I was away, I also discovered that a guitar-playing friend of mine happens to be a chartered accountant and he very kindly offered to cast his accountant’s eye over the numbers for the business. I spoke to him at length last night and he believes that the business is overvalued quite considerably and that we should be offering about £50k rather than the asking price of £90k.

I clicked a link he sent which showed various Post Offices for sale, and, judging by that, it doesn’t look like ours is expensive. But, looking at our numbers again, it seems that the net profit as it stands today would not sustain a family of four whilst paying back a considerable loan and it’s breaking my heart. The reason for moving is not primarily to make money; it’s a means of getting to the place where we have dreamed of living for a long time now. But having said that, I do not want to spend the next 10 years being miserable because we have no money. That would be worse than the position we’re in now. I know that money doesn’t bring happiness, but the lack of it can sure bring misery (and I know from experience that that is how I would feel).

My accountant friend has asked that we get the full accounts, rather than the extracts that we were provided with, so that he can look more closely. I pointed out the potential for increasing the net profit, to which his response was that we should not be valuing and paying for potential, but only paying for what the business is worth as it stands today.

The latest year’s figures should be available any day now, so I guess the thing to do would be to request the full set of accounts for the latest year and for the previous two years and then take it from there. The problem is the worry that somebody else will get in first and we’ll lose our dream, but I suppose we really ought to be looking at everything as closely as we possibly can before putting in an offer. Alternatively, we could offer considerably less than the asking price and see what happens, but I’m a bit nervous about doing that and either losing out to someone else or offending the vendor.

We don’t actually know how the vendor came up with the figure that she did, so it might very well be the case that she’s chancing her arm to see if there is any interest at that price, in which case if we offer less than the asking price but it turns out to be the only offer, it could work.

I feel that, based on the current net profit of the business, if we were to borrow what we have applied for and pay the asking price, we would be stretching ourselves too thinly for the next 10 years (which is the term of the loan). We would have very little room for manoeuvre and have next to nothing with which to improve the business. My fear is that the asking price is too high, but there’s just no real way of knowing. Up until now, we have been concentrating on how we would improve the business and looking for ways to increase the net profit; but, as my accountant friend points out, that is mere potential and we shouldn’t be paying for that.

I suppose that last night’s discussion with the accountant has knocked the rose-tinted specs right off my nose and I’m only now seeing the raw data, as it were, without taking into account the emotional attachment. And as the accountant told me, that is how accountants tend to see the world, at least in the business sense.

So what, dear friends, are we to do? It’s a dilemma to be sure.

 I guess the next steps should be these:

1. Request the full accounts for three years (including last year’s figures which are hot off the press and we don’t yet have);

2. Make a spreadsheet of other leasehold Post Offices for sale around the country, entering their data for the sake of comparison and get a feel for how these things are valued.

3. Try to stop worrying quite so much about it.

There, did that help? D’you know what? I think it did.