Captain Vigilante

FIRST. It’s not often that the wholesale sector can claim to be ahead of Sir Terry and his legions of public relations experts pushing out massive missives 24 hours a day from darkest Cheshunt.

But the industry can say without fear of contradiction that its community based consumer PR programme, My Shop Is Your Shop (MSYS), was years ahead of the new Tesco community strategy plastered all over the media recently.

Tesco achieved wall to wall coverage with its proposals for wind turbines powering stores and a new Express fascia to “blend in better with local settings”. We’ll admit that.

But MSYS was launched in 2004, the first ever consumer PR campaign designed to remind the shopper of the value of the independent c-store and newsagent. Thanks for the compliment, Sir Terry!

DIFFERENTIAL. While we are on about it, Vigilante can reveal that hacks have been putting the question “Is this local Tesco strategy a bang on the nose for MSYS?”. The response is a calm negative.

MSYS is not an anti-Tesco lobby. It has got its work cut out promoting the best things about sole traders and family businesses supplied by wholesalers. Leave the warfare to the warriors, says the Captain.

But surely it is clear that Sir Terry’s idea of community and that embraced by MSYS are quite different. MSYS is “local and proud of it” and not national and pretending to be local.

MSYS promotes retailers who work an average of 13 hours a day serving their communities, who live over the shop, who know seven out of 10 of their customers personally and who is a best friend to the elderly and so on.

Any Tesco Express managers up for a longer day?

SERIOUSLY. But seriously, although FWD must be flattered by Sir Terry’s conversion on the road to Community, there is a big point of difference with MSYS. It’s nothing to do with Tesco as such. They are very real professionals and it’s not in Vigilante’s remit to pretend otherwise.

The difference between an indie and any multiple is the irreplaceable interaction and intertwining of the local c-store owner and newsagent with the local community that comes from the fact that he does actually own the business.

It is a given that people who do own businesses tend to look after them and their customers with that little bit more care than a manager.

And it is proved that many customers enter independently owned stores with the intention of grabbing some conversation and human contact with the only person likely to offer these comforts in a long lonely day. The multiples can’t compete with this.

So it’s MSYS 1 Mults 0 in this leg of the Retail Community Champions League.

FAME. John Fingleton, chief executive at the Office of Fair Trading, will become a national treasure if, even after all his negative comments, the Competition Commission sorts out the flawed grocery market once and for all.

He has given little or no recognition so far to the plight of the wholesale/independent sector or the manufacturers who supply wholesalers and multiples – even though it was the small store sector complaint which triggered the new Competition Commission inquiry.

But he has sussed out the lobbyists who use mass email tactics.

He received 1,200 complaints urging a CC inquiry into the Bad Big Four. But only a handful went in from suppliers and 50 from other sources. More than 1,000 were via automated emails from the Friends Of The Earth website.

SQUEEZE-POWER. This term, copyright Vigilante, is what JF admires, so he says. It’s a shame for suppliers under the lash from the multiples. But they suffer in a silence imposed by his own office – if they squeal it could become public so they don’t (and you would do the same if your business was at their discretion).

Squeeze-power as exercised by the giants against the manufacturer is good for prices and good for consumers, says the OFT. Fair enough, but have you got to rub it in?

The Mail on Sunday City section of May 14 devoted its front page splash to a story that the OFT was ready to see small suppliers “squeezed” out of business by powerful supermarkets so long as savings are passed on to consumers.

Shurely shome mishtake?

SUGAR-COATED. A supplier said that Sir Alan Sugar would have been a great success as a cash and carry owner. The rule of anonimity, as above, applies here.

Sir Alan’s brashness, his eye for a bargain, his rapid decision making and choice language – surely these are not the qualities which mark success in our world?

Picture the scene. Sugar to buyer: “Why has the Booker down the road got a better price than us on Swedish candles?”

Buyer: “They probably buy 40 times the volume that we do!”

Sugar: “You’re fired!”.

Buyer: “But I bought them from Booker!”

Sugar: “You’re hired!”

TWIGGY. She’s getting all the credit for driving women back into M S. But it’s the old Booker marketing whiz Steven Sharp who is the mastermind behind it all.

When he followed Stuart Rose to M S from Booker, Sharp was never replaced in the same mould – an ideas man with an academic background yet with a throw-away style which was beguiling.

Once he delivered a paper at an FWD conference, deputising at the last minute for his boss who was that day signing the deal with Malcolm Walker which brought Iceland into the embryo Big Food Group.

Sharp extemporised, called Rose a “good looking, smooth so and so”, told a few home truths and left the stage to wild applause.

WINNING. Wal-Mart is a force for good, say Jack and Suzy Welch, authors of Winning, an international best seller which should be in the library of every depot manager for all sorts of reasons.

They answer the challenge that Wal-Mart does not care for its employees with the counter suggestion that in small towns the store-keeper was the one who drove the best car and lived in the biggest house.

Meanwhile, say Jack and Suzy, his employees were not sharing his wealth, had no life insurance or health benefits and did not get much training or pay.

Whereas Wal-Mart delivers massive opportunities for people to grow and gives consumers low prices due to its supplier squeeze, they say.

And anyway it’s no different from the well-loved Toyota, a company that has helped to drive less smart manufacturers out of business.

CURIOUS. When the OFT announced its market reference to the Competition Commission, the share prices of the major multiples moved up.

Morrisons were being tipped as a decent punt at 191.5p. Did you know that Sir Ken’s empire owns the freehold of 92% of its stores (in the books at pound;6. 5bn).

One of the reasons for the tipsters encouragement to buy was a note saying that Morrisons were not in the neighbourhood c-store sector and they should be.

Hey! What about a moratorium?

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