Captain Vigilante

CATALYST. If the energetic lobby for commercial justice now being powered by the wholesaler/c-store and newsagent lobby does not bring a result at the Competition Commission, what next?

Researchers say independent retailers are not convinced that the CC will bring Tesco to heel and provide a basis on which independents could make a decent living.

But they should not be so pessimistic. The CC is giving more attention to the issue than former out-of-touch regulators. It is inconceivable that sole traders and family businesses will be kicked into touch yet again.

What happens next is already happening. Wholesalers are investing and they are also getting smarter at marketing. It was demonstrated at The FWD annual conference.

The CC market review has been the catalyst for this – it’s now or never and wholesalers know they can’t simply rely on waking up to a new dawn of shackled giants.

CAPITALIST. It’s a long way from the Rochdale pioneers – as they are fondly remembered in South Lancashire – who founded the Co-operative movement on old-fashioned good-neighbour socialist principles.

The Co-op in Polegate, near Eastbourne, the sun trap of the South to which you should all travel by train for your hols in this eco age, is being accused of trying to put an independent newsagent out of business.

The Co-op has now started to sell newspapers. But the nearby Train Treat newsagents has been selling them for 21 years and relies on its news takings – which the giant Co-op does not.

What makes this story different is that a petition set up to protest against the Co-op’s move into newspapers has been signed by more than 1,000 townspeople.

CHURLISH. Can the Co-op ignore this consumer protest?

Does it not seem churlish to insist on putting the national standard Co-op consumer offer including papers into every store, so putting Train Treat at risk and reducing consumer choice in this corner of Sussex?

Some say the Co-op, with its vast array of c-stores, is the biggest potential winner in any clampdown by the CC on the multiples.

It’s not a member of the demonised Big Four and will therefore escape sanctions.

But it’s acting like one. Come on, Balloon Street, a quick phone call to Polegate is all it needs. Every little helps.

EGGSACTLY. Did anyone else notice the difference in prices for Easter lines in the giants versus sole traders? And the linked – in offers?

Cadbury Creme Egg Easter Egg 200g pound;1.99 in Sainsbury plus buy one get one free; Kinnerton three egg 140g pound;1.99 plus bogof; KitKat 245g pound;1.99 plus bogof and so on.

A discussion arose with a supplier (not in confectionery, it’s true) who was adamant that this year, so he had been assured, the giants were funding their Easter price war from their own pockets.

This was a result of the said CC review – none of the Big Four would want to be convicted of screwing the supplier especially at a time of religious remembrance and when the grocery police in Southampton Row were active.

Quite.

INHALER. This incident resulted in one occasional smoker, close to Vigilante, drawing a deep breath. Accustomed to paying pound;5.80 to pound;6.20 or thereabouts for a pack of Henry Winterman half coronas from a multiple (only in an emergency) or a very good independent, the said inhaler was dismayed to be asked for pound;7.35 for the same pack by a sole trader in his shop just off Grosvenor Square.

Post-Budget they will probably be close to pound;8 at this store? Basic economics suggests that at this rate the multiples will win a growing share of this particularly profitable market segment.

Half coronas will begin to appear on the weekly big shopping list in some homes – just like beer. Independents who are not price-aware will lose out again.

CHEAPER. Independent shops have another influential fan.India Knight tells millions of readers in her Sunday Times column that by using local shops daily it is cheaper than buying weekly from the superstore giants.

In a rant against the way the superstores persuade the shopper to buy more food than they can eat and then so much has to be thrown away, India said that by buying on a daily basis from independents she throws nothing away. So she spends less.

Thrift should be rediscovered, she says, and so should shame – one third of what people buy in the giants is shamefully thrown away. “We have no idea how much we waste… or buy,” she opines.

DECLINE. The wholesaler touch of former Booker boss Gerry Johnson is seen at Waterstones where a central warehouse (does this ring bells?) is being introduced.

This will replace the current system under which books are sent direct to shops by publishers. HMV, which owns the book giant, is hoping this will help to halt a severe decline in sales and profitability.

Waterstones will cut back on academic books in order to sell more stationery. Asked if he was dumbing down the stores, Gerry, the MD, replied: “That does not dignify a response”, according to The Daily Telegraph.

Financial journalists, it seems, will need to get accustomed to unusual but decisive action being taken to rescue what was once a book-lovers’ favourite destination, 25 of which will be closed.

PARTIES. The My Shop Is Your Shop campaign is driven by a committee which is unusual and very decisive, bringing a new dimension to the clich eacute; “thinking outside the box”.

This committee (named PRAG) of wholesalers, suppliers and retailers was asked to think about how sole trader c-stores, newsagents and rural shops could demonstrate their involvement in the community.

Unlike the aforementioned Co-op or the superstores, the independent can say to his neighbourhood “I own the business and I am local and I am proud of it”.

This is the golden fundamental principle of MSYS. It puts clear blue water between the wholesalers’ customers and the rest. Which is how we come to parties.

HERITAGE. Street parties are part and parcel of our heritage. They have been organised to celebrate happy national events and local happenings for generations.

What better way to publicly demonstrate, where location and customer profile allows, the fact that the independent retailer is glued to his community, sharing its ups and downs and so on.

The idea has gone out to retailers and many of them have said that they like it as a way of celebrating National Independents’ Week (June 4).

So PRAG has issued a protocol on how to throw a street party (available from hq@fwd-uk.com). If you, wholesaler or supplier, are asked to help out with goodies, jelly,ice cream, pop, we know you’ll enter into the party spirit.

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