What to buy Barbara, my wife, for her birthday is my latest dilemma. Like many men who indulge their wives outrageously, I could not think what to buy her – she already has me! But I suddenly had a brainwave. I would buy her an honour.But I had a problem. Should I give Tony at Number 10 £5 and a £50 loan to make her a Dame or £10 and a £100 loan to make her Lady? I quite fancied being Lord Phillips the Country Baker myself! Well, you all know by now that it is too late to buy a title. As usual my timing was off. I should have acted earlier. Timing is vital in achieving success in both your business and private lives. Surprisingly enough, my business life is usually marred by being too early with many new products, hence the reason for my lack of success! I remember trying muffins and the sales were very poor so we dropped them. Now we sell quite a lot. A big factor in this was buying a flow-wrapper, which enabled us to give them a much longer shelf-life and make much larger displays.One of the reasons most of our new lines fail is that the sales per shop are low. We can never make a big enough display as our wastage percentage would be astronomical.I have just returned from the Birmingham NEC and the two-day conference of the British Society of Baking. It was absolutely terrific! The speakers were all of a very high standard and anyone attending who did not return home bubbling with enthusiasm and great ideas must have been asleep.The only regret many people had was that Jean Grieves has retired from organising the conference and speakers. To say she will be sorely missed would be the understatement of the year. While I suppose nobody is irreplaceable, she must be as near as you can get to it. All I can say on behalf of small humble members like myself is thank you for making us feel as welcome at the meetings as the large successful bakery companies we get to meet and talk with. By the way, I got to talk to Sir Michael Darrington, MD of Greggs, at the conference and I can assure you he is the odd one out. He got his title on merit! Mind you I did find it hard to understand how such a nice man could allow his company to gazump me on a shop lease and cost me a £1,000. Maybe he had one or two other minor matters to deal with rather than a single shop in Gloucestershire!To put his mind at rest, I will promise not to open shops next to all of his if he promises not to do it again. During the conference the one thing that kept being mentioned was quality; without it there is no way smaller companies like mine can survive.We have to face the fact that the big boys with their buying power can always produce more cheaply than we can, and their quality is good. So we have to be that much better and a very easy way to do this is to use the best ingredients money can buy.If we pay, say, 2p more for an ingredient, we can increase the selling price by, say, 4p because it is a higher quality product. This is how we can make money and compete.