Captain Vigilante

CASHFLOW. It’s a word (or two) which grabs the eye. It’s to do with the My Shop Is Your Shop campaign which is working for retailers.

MSYS can increase footfall and trading. Retailers say so. Especially those who, like Bill and Lesley Brown, involve themselves in their community seamlessly.

Lesley will tell the wholesalers’ summit at the Forest of Arden Hotel, on March 27, that MSYS has provided the impetus which has been of commercial benefit to her store. And she means it. Other retailers – and wholesalers – please note that this particular PR activity works!

INVESTMENT. Yes, MSYS needs modest investment in money terms, but it does need more investment in time – retailer thinking time.

Retailers need to think about how they become involved in their community activities and how they can use the local news media to inform their shoppers of their involvement. And so build profile.

Local newspapers love local stories – especially if they involve the local shop and very especially if that shop is a newsagent (selling local papers).

ORGY. In contrast, think of the neo-sensual feast of image building and consumer manipulation indulged in by the giant superstores with their huge PR budgets.

Vigilante makes no apology for reminding fans that the battle for hearts and minds – especially the latter – is as vital in our industry as it is anywhere else.

Before we can look for an upturn in the independent retail sector there are two key requirements – fair pricing in, and positive consumer attitudes to, independent shops.

But even with the current status quo on the price front, improved attitudes by the shopper to local stores will help greatly.

C-WORD. This is where the C word will re-appear repeatedly. The sole trader and family business will need to learn to love “community” if they seek to share the Brown’s experience referred to above.

The giant multiples can use the C word too. But it stands for “cheap”.

Independents tell Vigilante that they cannot match the PR power of the giants. Nonsense. The giants have money, brains, technology, management, structures, advisors, counsellors, consultants and the rest.

But independents are unique – they have a personal human interface PR with their customers. Use it and it works.

SHAME. Channel Four kicked off a week of shame for Tesco on February 19 with its expose of its bullying tactics, tax evasion, planning permission manipulation and profiling customers.

The programme’s weakness was its focus on the link with Tony Blair and Cayman Islands connections – hasn’t everyone got these?

And millions were tempted to use the off button when it accused Gordon Brown of choosing Sir Terry as one of his new disciples.

The suggestion that the Prime Minister and Sir Terry “grew in tandem together” was preposterous. But so was Tesco’s response.

IMPERSONAL. Unlike the local independent c-store, newsagent and rural shop owner, Sir Terry could not find anyone in his massive organisation to talk to the viewer in person.

A written refutation of the programme’s allegations ended with the usual claims for Tesco’s low prices meeting consumer needs. Thanks, Channel Four!

The independent, faced with questions by his shoppers, will (a) know them probably by name and (b) explain face to face just what he’s about. This personal link with the community is a power that the giants covet but can never possess.

IMMORAL. Yes, that was the word used by BBC You and Yours, on February 20, the day after the Channel Four prime-timer, when describing Tesco’s tactics to obtain planning permission.

Wholesalers tell Vigilante that the weight of the vilification of Tesco through the media suggests that one of Tesco’s rich superstore competitors is funding it.

Blimey! Immoral, bullying, manipulation, building customer profiles to identify personal needs – could it get any worse in one week.

The answer is yes. The very next day.

MORE. The Evening Standard of February 21 put Tesco on the rack again, both on the front page and inside.

The page one screamer said people power had beaten Tesco in Tolworth where the community opposed a pound;150m plan to build a superstore and 662 homes.

Tolworth Residents Fighting Overdevelopment (TROD) forced the superstore to withdraw its planning application.

But worse, in Sir Terry’s home village of Cuffley, in leafy Hertfordshire, his neighbours are fighting a bitter battle to prevent him opening a Tesco Express on the site of an acquired Harvester pub.

Angry villagers said Sir Terry had already upset the locals when he wanted to extend his large 1930s house in green belt Cuffley.

AND MORE. Then Tesco got it in the neck again on February 23, a Friday blast from You and Yours just to end the week.

This focused on the wretched wages paid to South African women fruit pickers who labour in their fields to provide the fruit eventually sold in Tesco.

The programme said the women have to buy their own workwear to guard against the effects of pesticides. A Tesco chap appeared on the programme to say that it was an issue facing all the superstores and not only Tesco but he denied the accusation that Tesco didn’t care.

HUMPHRyS. And then the independently minded John Humphrys, sounding as if he had not had a good weekend, gave Tesco a Monday morning blast on the February 26 edition of the Today programme.

He announced to Middle England that the “big story of the day involved Tesco, which would give a trampoline to a school but only when pound;1m had been spent in its stores!”.

When JH announces these things the voice assumes a cynical edge which makes the pronouncement doubly cruel, don’t you think?

SO? What’s all this to do with wholesalers and independents and MSYS and the forthcoming National Independents’ Week (commencing June 4)?

It’s this. There is a violent struggle for the hearts and minds and money of consumers going on between the giant superstore groups who clearly dislike each other. But there is also a need for wholesalers and their retailer customers to persuade the consumer that independents are good news and that’s where MSYS strikes a chord.

In the end the consumer will decide which retailer and which wholesaler survives. It’s on the Forest of Arden (March 26/27) agenda.

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