Captain Vigilante


The sequence of events which resulted in two big beasts of the wholesaling jungle, Steve Fox and Steve Parfett, giving voice to the green shoots of recovery for the local independent retail sector on two peak radio news programmes, is a current fascination.

How does it all happen? Many wholesalers say they would love to be grilled on the early morning BBC Today programme and Radio 5 Live Breakfast – but it can be a test of nerves.

We need to step into the professional world of public relations and media contact to track the process which gave the two Steves the opportunity to tell listening millions that people were returning to local shops and that the rate of closures – the big doom story over past decades – may be declining.

Before National Independents’ Week, 09 this trend back to independents had been confined to an internal industry conversation piece.

On the cusp of NIW, the national and regional print and broadcast media were informed about its positive objectives and the benefits to consumers of local stores – rather than the normal independents-at-bay message fed to the media. The upturn in trading in local stores was the hook.

What happened next?


News editors are the folk who decide what stories of the day appear in the media. They can be eccentric. How will they react to a story about small neighbourhood shops just at the very moment the beleaguered Prime Minister is fighting for his political life with the formation of a new face-saving cabinet?

This was Friday morning. On Thursday night an urgent call came from the MSYS PR company seeking two wholesalers who would be willing to be put on standby for radio interviews. News editors had been persuaded that the story of the signs of the return of the independent were significant – even though Gordon Brown was drowning, not waving.

Decisions had to be made in a flash. There was no time for a trawl through the top of the industry or for detailed discussions on what might or might not happen on air. But when dawn broke on that Friday, the MSYS team expected the cabinet reshuffle to displace the two wholesalers who by now were earnestly rehearsing their lines. It was tense.

But no cancellation call came and at 8.40am Steve Fox found himself on air live on Radio 5 and at 8.45am Steve Parfett was announced on Today. The good and positive news about our sector was delivered with aplomb reaching millions of listeners some of whom would inevitably be motivated to look anew at their local shop.


There’s a struggle going on in a suburb we know between an old established grocery store and a newsagent not very far away. The newsagent has slowly built up grocery and off licence departments but the grocery store has advantages – loyal customers, family connections with the area and lots of community activity.

So the area is well provided for – it’s got ‘choice’ which regulators say is what consumers want and what the same regulators believe is provided by the giant retailers (a pig has just flown by the window).

But if one of the shops closes, it will go down in the statistics as a victim of the abuse of power by the giant corporations – just another small shop closure. But the truth is the closure would be the result of a struggle between two small shops operating on a flawed market structure.

The failure of the regulators to accept the logic of the convenience lobby’s argument has given us this: while the big corporates are protected by the passive, naive regulators, the real and brutal competition is taking place in the small shop sector working on unfair terms which the Competition Commission has, it seems, set in stone.

== BOYCOTT. ==

An astonishing decision by planners to allow yet another Tesco Express to hurt existing businesses in a pleasant part of a south coast town has resulted in no fewer than three letters – out of ten – in the local paper condemning Tesco.

It’s a grim reality that this giant which attracts millions of loyal and satisfied customers every week in every part of the UK attracts such negative publicity.

One lady, full to the brim of loathing, writes: “I would urge everyone to vote with their wallets and their purses to boycott this vile example of corporate vandalism.”

It will not happen.


What’s this? Described as a “haunting example of cool climate Pinot Noir” we are taken aback by what, on first reading, appears to be yet another Booker innovation. Bookers Vineyard red at pound;30 a bottle is highly recommended by the wine waiter.

But we resist at that price and note that the bottle is produced by the family run Bookers Vineyard in Sussex, along with a Bookers Vineyard Bubbly Brut at pound;40 a bottle. This might grace the table modestly as the cash and carry celebrates the retention of Charles Wilson, who is being intensively and shamelessly courted through the media to leave to return to M S as its new chief.

== CODE. ==

But hold! Why all his fuss about the prospect of the politicians taking over the code of practice which would protect suppliers from the harsh treatment and abuses of the giant multiples?

Having seen off the hapless CC, which innocently thought up the bright idea of a voluntary system which required the backing of the big five (include the Co-op) to appoint an ombudsman, the mighty Department for Features > Business, Innovation and Skills (Lord Mandelson) may now set up a compulsory watchdog and legal code.

More than a few suppliers are not so sure about this. But why? Surely the right course is to overlook a few mishaps overseen by the Prime Minister (missing the opportunity to reform MP’s expenses, floating and then abandoning a general election, supporting an illegal war on Iraq, the ID cards and Royal Mail climbdown, de-regulation of the banks leading to financial meltdown…) and please have faith.

A supplier asked Vigilante: “If I sent a confidential file of complaints about Tesco bullying me to the bureaucrats, would it be left on a train?”

== waste. ==

The average family throws away pound;600 of good food every year, says the Government, most of it sold by the giant superstores.

The British Retail Consortium says it is working with its giant members on nbsp;”in-store consumer messages on how to avoid waste”.

Vigilante has the answer, consultancy cost-free. POS should read: “Don’t buy so much here – avoid waste”. Or “Buy local not here for everyday needs – avoid waste”.

Will the ‘thank you’ call come today?

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