Choice, price and service are vital for independent survival

Community retailing faces an unprecedented number of challenges, but the best adapted businesses will survive. This was the message Booker chief executive Charles Wilson gave in his presentation to the FWD Annual Conference.

Having given an explanation of his three-year recovery plan for Booker, and how the company was already in a better shape after six months (see last month’s issue), Wilson outlined the challenges facing the sector, and suggested ways in which the best operators would adapt.

He identified three areas where retailers, and the wholesalers supplying them, had an opportunity to exploit their strengths.

Giving customers a better choice was one way he felt independents could get an edge over their bigger rivals. He said: “If you want to sell more in north west London you have got to stock some Polish ranges. It’s the fastest growing population but the multiples aren’t interested.” Another example was selling Cornish meat in the Cornish town of St Ives. He said: “If you want to sell more in St Ives get into Cornish meat. There is a real point of difference and again some of the multiples are not interested.” He added: “Choice is something we as a trade have to manage much better.”

Another area he highlighted was improving pricing. An example of how Booker had improved range and pricing was through local sourcing of fruit and vegetables. In a trial, he said, it had resulted in 300% greater range, it was 30% cheaper, and the produce was one and a half days fresher.

A third area he highlighted was the better service that independents provide. Wilson said good independents had always treated their customers better than the multiples.

He concluded: “The best adapted will survive. Being smart, and making sure you are not taking on Tesco on their home ground, is going to be key. If you are going to adapt, choice, price, and service at the local level is where we have to be.”

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