Captain Vigilante

INSIDER. What does the Captain know? What do you know? We are talking Competition Commission here and already those who you think do know are bigging it (get with the new grammar, you lot).

Yes, Questor in The Daily Torygraph informed investor readers (June 15) to fill their boots with Tesco shares (at 327p). He does this on the grounds that the CC “probe is likely to prove no more than a headache for Tesco which has proved it offers competitive prices”. The shares, said Questor, are ridiculously undervalued. He added, as though we had not got the message, that “this is a truly rare stock”. Will CC members and staff ignore this submission from the City?

MORATORIUM. Yes, it’s here. The block on further acquisitions in the small sector is here, it’s arrived. Didn’t you know?

Well, actually nobody knows, much to Vigilante’s chagrin. The success of his campaign for a temporary block on all acquisitions until the CC sorts the market out has failed to hit the headlines. The reason is that this is the first silent moratorium in history. No-one knows it’s here, living and breathing in every nook and cranny of the trade until a big player is silly enough to make a bid for a group of small shops. Then the OFT will spring into action saying “Hey, you can’t make a bid while the CC review panel is sitting!”

A moratorium at last. Sigh!

CLAMPED. Sit back and watch how the row about parking charges, or fines, in superstore car parks develops into a major PR issue.

From tiny insignificant beginnings, we now see consumers developing fine-rage and voting with their wheels. The Sunday Times reported how an angry couple now travel to a distant Sainsbury as a protest at being given only one and a half hours to shop at their local Tesco – or get a big parking charge.

BLUEPRINT. Many independent retailers have told Convenience Store magazine that beers, wines and spirits are their biggest sellers and they intend to give the alcohol category more space in future. The Take Home Blueprint takes much of the credit for this. Since 1994, the Blueprint activity has been consistently educating independents on the benefits that booze – handled correctly – brings to their stores. Now we have new evidence of the effectiveness of the Blueprint philosophy – its generic credibility and integrity becoming imprinted on the sector’s very being. Can you name a sole brand activity or indeed a sole brand marketing campaign which has produced the result now being reported in Convenience Store?

WEAKNESS. In contrast, says Convenience Store, grocery is proving to be a weak category for many retailers.

A quarter of respondents in their survey named grocery as the weakest section. There seems to be no doubt that the independent retailer needs some guidance on grocery as a basic fundamental of his business What’s the point of having the Blueprint luring shoppers into local stores where they could buy groceries with their booze if the grocery offering was adequate?

UNINFORMED. A letter to the editor of The Grocer praises the enterprise of Blueheath founder Douglas Gurr in launching a “stockless supply chain” for the small store sector.

But the correspondent went on to say that it was a mistake to apply the concept to independent retailers whose loyalty “would always be in question”.

And, further, Douglas should instead have bought a retail chain, and then introduced the stockless concept. But surely the flaw in the letter was the suggestion that the wholesale sector is top-heavy, requiring dramatic structural change. The writer deals only with retail and overlooks the vast catering volumes handled by wholesalers. Red card!

IRREPLACEABLE. Just as the Competition Commission is looking at the market, wholesaler leaders will remind it of the essential service provided by wholesalers to the caterer in addition to the retailer.

There are now more mixed-market wholesalers supplying retailers and caterers than ever, especially in cash and carry. If the CC damages wholesalers in its final judgement, it will damage thousands of innocent caterers too.

Estimates of the number of catering outlets of all types using cash and carry particularly vary between 350,000 and 400,000 – a huge universe. Many of these are small caterers who buy in necessarily small quantities from a nearby cash and carry.

Have you heard of a “stockless” cash and carry? If so, a postcard (stamped) please to Vigilante is requested.

DODGY. Justin King, chief executive at soaraway Sainsbury, is a Brummie and, naturally, supports a team he describes as “Man U”. This revelation may not hurt him commercially in the north west (where City are undisputed champions of Manchester) but what about soccer fans in the soft south, the Sainsbury heartland?

After this coming out as a Red, there now may be some Blues who would prefer the wife to shop at unloved Tesco.

And there could be millions of fans in the south whose lives are uplifted when Man U lose, and who may now fill up at an alternative superstore on the way to the match.

That’s life.

EDINBURGH. This great city saw National Independents’ Day celebrated on June lst in style. Particularly by Ramzan Sons, Booker Longstone customers with a store in Gorgie Road. Run by Abdul Qadar and Khalid Mohammed, the store was visited on NID by the MSP for Edinburgh Central, Sarah Boyack, who congratulated the owners on their community involvement.

The shop, near the Hearts football ground, is a convenience store plus newsagent, sandwiched between two Somerfields, a Scotmid and a Lidl, no less. And a Sainsbury is planned. Oh, and a Waitrose opened on June lst too!

Abdul says that he and Khalid will continue to wear the special MSYS T-shirts supplied by the campaign.

NID. Consumer and trade media coverage of National Independents’ Day on June lst again broke records in column inches and airtime.

More wholesalers and retailers participated than ever before. The trade press coverage of NID exceeded that for any previous happening in the history of the wholesale/independent sector. Wholesalers and independents now have in their possession a platform described by Londis retailer Jonathan James as a “big machine which is starting to roll out and impact on retailers in huge numbers”.

That almost says it all. Almost but not quite. MSYS is an on-going process, not a one-day wonder. Its leadership faces the challenge of making MSYS work for 365 days a year.

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