Captain Vigilante

VINTAGE. The consumer these days is willing to pay more for a bottle of wine, say the experts. Market data says the average price paid for a bottle in the multiples is moving up – but is it in the independent? This is a seasonal note – but it’s serious.

Once upon a time the independent fell badly behind in the wines stakes – offering unknown cheapies to consumers who were being groomed by the multiples into buying the newly promoted big wine brands.

The Blueprint For Wine saved the sector, say suppliers. Its influence was more than educational – it told wholesalers they were in the last chance saloon unless they updated their wine thinking. Which they did – and how.

CONFIDENCE. Nowadays one notes the much improved wine offering in many local stores. This embraces big advertised brands as well as own labels for which there is ample space on the Blueprint.

It’s a matter of giving the independent retailer the confidence to stock the wines that the consumer buys consistently – at the right price. We are not talking fine wines here. Just better than average.

The Blueprint For Wine gives the sector a unique objective benchmark around which wholesalers can play their own themes. It’s the basic proved platform for increased profit. Independents need to watch their cash flow. But wholesalers can give them the confidence to stock some higher priced wines and achieve better margins – which otherwise will pour into the multiple coffers unopposed (again).

MANIPULATION. What’s going on? How was Prufrock in The Sunday Times persuaded to note the “ever falling price” of Stella Artois in the multiples, citing 60x250ml for pound;20 in Morrisons.

The business supplement columnist said he would launch “Stella Watch” to keep an eye on the brand’s pricing. Perhaps he should look at other brands offered at fallen prices on home shopping websites, some of which seem just as attractive to the consumer but not to the independent retailer.

Wholesalers accept that the multiples will use price to strive for market share at Christmas. Brewers cannot do much about it – except make sure that they do not forget that it’s the wholesalers’ turn for goodies once the season is over.

DARLINGTON. This is a nice town. So are its people. In a poll, they overwhelmingly rejected a planning application by Tesco to replace the Town Hall with a superstore and flats. This is where the Competition Commission should now be digging if it seriously wants to uncover the deep-seated resentment that giant corporations arouse when they propose beastly developments.

If Vigilante had his way, he would push the CC number-crunchers onto the train with their voice recorders at the ready to get on to tape the violent opposition voiced by Darlingtonians against Tesco.

Played back to the CC leadership, these sensible honest northern opinions would have more persuasive force than many a formal argument.

NFRN. At a recent trade show organised by the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, it was more than apparent that members visiting the show proudly carry the flame of the genuine independent retailer.

Newsagents, just like independent c-stores, are a jewel in a marketplace threatened by increased multiple domination.

NFRN is a fighting machine of some valour – its leadership exactly reflecting the entrepreneurial independence of the membership. It is an organisation of much actual and potential influence in the grocery marketplace as newsagents become c-stores.

Never again will Vigilante moan about a late delivery of the Gruaniad by a sleepy-eyed newsboy employed by our local NFRN member.

GOODWILL. The My Shop Is Your Shop (MSYS) campaign is slowly but surely persuading more independent retailers to focus on their local pool of paying customers – often called “the community”.

MSYS has been supplying a few Christmas hampers to sole traders or family businesses – customers of wholesalers – to pass on to deserving local people who may be down on their luck or who are involved in helping their community.

It’s a pilot scheme designed to alert retailers to community involvement opportunities – and it’s working. One retailer will pass a hamper on to a family whose Dad was killed in a car accident. It will be done quietly, discreetly. This gesture will help one family at Christmas. What a pity hampers are in the news otherwise thanks to Farepak.

PROPAGANDA. Insiders now know the line being taken by the giant retail corporations in their submissions to the beaks at the Competition Commission.

They are saying that they are on the side of the consumer because prices are falling and consumer choice is increasing.

With the CC due to set out its “emerging thinking” imminently, do the giants really believe that this will wash?

Falling prices are funded by manufacturers. Choice is actually decreasing as more outlets fall into fewer hands.

It is inconceivable that the CC will swallow this as the superstores continue to use their power to bully back-pedalling suppliers. All the betting is now on the appointment of a market ombudsman – with very sharp teeth.

AGGRO. Returning to the MSYS campaign and the way it is slowly but surely winning hearts and minds, you may have missed this story.

Paisley licensed grocer Neil Madan identified his local community problem as anti-social behaviour by local young people, linked with drug abuse and you know what.

Now he is being helped by MSYS with a local action plan, holding forums with other traders, community leaders, parents and police to discuss solutions to this very debilitating local issue.

Jaw, jaw not war, war was a Churchillian maxim (overlooked by Tony Blair) and Neil is a believer in talking these things through. He will succeed as the problem is shared.

It’s just one more example of how MSYS, delivered through the wholesaler interface with retailers, will bring positive dividends.

2006. Come the New Year, seasoned campaigners for justice for wholesalers will look for a silver CC lining on clouds which have shrouded the industry for decades.

Vigilante looks for brave suppliers to reveal persuasive evidence of abuse of buying power by the giants. It beggars belief that global brands fear Tesco’s threats of delisting.

With the mults reigned in, wholesalers could invest in more creativity, more innovation and more marketing investment.

That’s what’s needed for a Happy New Year. And a Merry Christmas to all.

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