Captain Vigilante

MORATORIUM. It’s that word again, the one that the OFT hopes will go away – for reasons Vigilante does not understand.

In the current frenetic lobbying climate, the imposition of a moratorium on all acquisitions by the Big 4 and the Co-op would give everybody time to draw a breath and sort things out.

It would give OFT a breathing space – and simultaneously satisfy the wholesaler and retailer anti-multiple lobbies who seek “Action this day”, as Churchill famously urged.

MPs understand what a moratorium is. A select committee has asked for one to force ‘Two Jags’ to put on hold his plans to demolish 168,000 homes in the north, many of which they believe could be refurbished.

Vigilante continues his lonely campaign for a moratorium which would have halted Tesco’s latest buy – four Artgoal stores.

BOOKED. What is the link between Sir Alex, a giant bookseller, Manchester City, and the Booker Prize? Answer – the affable Gerry Johnson.

Now installed as managing director of bookseller Waterstones, Gerry first took the eye of the book world at the Man Booker bash, it’s said.

Well-liked, Gerry brought many novel (sorry) ideas to Booker. But a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions has cast its shadow. No, it’s not the departure of Waterstone’s chief exec and reported falling sales… It’s more important.

Gerry, a Man U fan, was inspired in his early business life by Sir Alex, genius, redeemer, gift to mankind etc. But on January 14, City drubbed the Rags 3 – 1 to become the champions of Manchester again (four points out of six). Thus ends another great Blue season!

DESPERATE. David Ramsden, we read, made the potty claim that the Government is giving state aid to small shops by preventing superstores from opening all day on Sunday.

As the leader of the drive to abolish the Sunday restrictions on superstore trading hours, Ramsden has upset Tesco, which The Telegraph editor-at-large Jeff Randall describes as “massively unloved”.

Tesco immediately distanced itself from the cranky “state aid” claim. But the giant said it was supporting the call for Sunday de-regulation “from a consumer point of view” and not from a “business point of view” (The Daily Telegraph, January 27).

That’s all right, then.

ABETTING. Taking the “state aid” theme promoted by Ramsden to another level, the response by the retail campaign should surely have been this.

Since the 1980s, successive Governments have aided and abetted the giant superstores – the most helpful kind of state aid you can have – by ignoring the growth of the latter although campaigners pointed out the dangers. A majority of MPs voted to give small stores unlimited trading hours on Sunday, but even then the Government looked the other way when it came to evaluating market domination.

This domination has reached a level where global food and drink manufacturers are running scared and frightened of complaining to the regulator lest they are de-listed! That is official.

We should encourage Ramsden to continue his “state aid” argument. He’s a loser.

SAD. The closure of the Wholesale Confectionery and Tobacco Alliance is a sad sign of the times. It was a body of influence when there was a profusion of suppliers and wholesalers in those specialised markets.

A debate arose in its ranks some years ago. Was it “politically correct” to have the T word in the title of a trade organisation?

What a fannying load of nonsense, said some. If you are into fags big time what’s the problem? Others were a little unsure – would the anti-nicotine health police downgrade the organisation? Did they?

Go’a loight, boy?

PREFERRED. When a brand owner presented his own marketing department’s ideas on how an off-licence display should look in a local shop, the listening wholesaler was mildly interested.

But this wholesaler then saw the non-prescriptive educational impartial Blueprint and its objectively thought-out shelf plans. He chose the Blueprint.

Why? Answers on a postcard please.

ON-TRADE. Talking of drink, there are substantive signs that the cash and carry market is now capturing on-trade sales to a degree thought impossible five years ago. Why?

Distribution patterns are changing. Some, not all, on-traders want lower prices and are increasingly unwilling to pay traditional delivery costs.

One cash and carry company now has about 50% of its drinks sales going to pubs, restaurants, clubs and wine bars and its sales to independent retailers are still holding up.

The on- and off-trades have different needs but they are both involved in big brands – that’s what out-of-home drinkers want just like in-home drinkers.

On-trade looks like being big 2006 news in C C.

ARTDs. Where is this decline in the once-named alcopops which some trade papers harp on about? Nubile nymphets, dressed in what appears to be their nighties while sucking bottles, are a frequent pub sighting. And local shops say they still have their loyal big brand drinkers.

Alcoholic ready-to-drinks, so named by FWD to distinguish them from Ribena-type RTDs, are a stabilising category for wholesalers some of whom are stocking too many unsupported or declining products.

As in every category, it takes time for depot managers to ditch the dust collectors. But they will. About 80 SKUs is all you need for a decent ARTD Features > Business, says our in-house nymphet who should know!

PARANOIA. It’s difficult these days to open a paper and not see a story about Tesco, its boss, the top people they are losing, how people are campaigning against them and how they are more successful than ever. Is Sir Alex their secret consultant?

Do wholesalers and their managers have nightmares centred on the T word? Is the T word the centre of their being? Would Freud, with a wholesaler on the couch, unlock his patient’s demons by finding they stemmed from the womb, his mother having been a Tesco loyalty card champion?

There’s just cause. Goldman Sachs says UK superstore giants will invest pound;1.2bn in price cuts during 2006, a figure which Vigilante predicts will be used in the big four defence against the threat of a committal to the Competition Commission.

MSYS. Some suppliers seeking to take advantage of the national consumer PR coverage of National Independents’ Day (June lst) say they are frustrated because, lacking the necessary disciplines, they cannot guarantee NID packs will not end up in the mults.

Those suppliers with the dedicated disciplines are missing a big opportunity for special NID packs, properly bar coded and planned in. Consumers, retailers and wholesalers switched on for NID provide a ready market for specials.

But in the generality, should we not expect every supplier of a brand in reasonable distribution in our sector – in the year 2006 – to have the means whereby packs can be produced and delivered to a targeted market sector?

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