Captain Vigilante

UP-FOR-IT? It’s the anniversary of one of the most daring and successful independent retailer public relations exercises ever undertaken on behalf of the sector – perhaps the most successful after National Independents’ Day 05.

Many will remember it, but it’s worth telling the story for young folk. In the September 16, 1983, issue of Independent Grocer magazine (now Independent Retail News), readers throughout the country found the final battle plan for what became known as The Great Bread Raids.

The concept was this: superstores were selling bread at 28p a loaf. Independents could not buy it at that price – their retail tag was 40p.

So the Independent Grocer editorial team organised 500 readers who committed to visiting their nearby superstores, buying as many 28p loaves as they could and taking the bread back to their stores to re-sell at 28p.

The coup succeeded without a hitch – and hit every radio and TV news programme and a full hand of the national dailies.

SCANDAL. This was the first national action day ever in independent retail circles. It found a response in Government – temporary panic followed by assurances of action by Mrs Thatcher which (you’re right) were soon forgotten – and bread manufacturers (ditto).

The then editor of Independent Grocer, whose name escapes Vigilante, was interviewed at length on the main evening news by Alastair Burnet, whose body language told viewers that he thought the price differential was a scandal.

Front pages told breakfasting mums and morning commuters about the raids. It’s reminiscent of the way the current FWD My Shop Is Your Shop (MSYS) campaign talks to the consumer about “community”.

REPEAT? As we approach Christmas and the threatened price bonanza by the superstores (who can blame them in the current climate of literally fighting for their lives – wouldn’t you) is there another platform for raiding the giants?

Suppliers are not the target. They tell Vigilante privately (and they are believed) that the Big Three-And-A-Half will use beers, wines and spirits, and confectionery, as seasonal price slashing Christmas cards to be sent to “hard working families”.
Wholesalers will respond as best they can. But will it be enough?

For goodness sake, can we rely on bleating to an OFT which has a severe ear wax problem? Or has the independent retail lobby become too formal, too structured, too corporate?
Is it time for going back to the basics of genuine independent retailer radicalism? Just mulling.

PENNY-PINCHING. Trade editors, frolicking on foreign beaches, missed the most revealing and (for us) barbed comment by she-who-must-be-obeyed at the aforementioned OFT.
Penny Boys is the OFT executive director who has rather let the cat out of the bag.

Ever reliable, The Daily Telegraph of July 25 reported that the OFT “said some firms WILL be able to use their dominant position to force local rivals out of business because competition law is so complicated …”

The Torygraph quoted Penny as saying the law dealing with dominant firms is more difficult than other issues such as price fixing.. ‘Nuff said?

SUCCESS. John Murphy, new director general at FWD, slotted home an early goal in his tenure of the office at BN21 4RB. Getting stuck in right from the whistle, he completed a series of one-two’s with the drinks trade lobby to persuade a wrong-footed Revenue Customs team on how it could avoid chaos in the spirits market.

Early plans included the idea that the new spirits duty mark would make sales of bottles without it illegal from October 2006 – just ahead of the Christmas market!

But persuasive footwork skills told in the end and John has now been able to announce that wholesalers and independent retailers will be able to sell these products legally from 2007 provided they have a record of purchase.
At the final whistle FWD 1 HMRC 0. John is not on a free, so Pearce is not on the phone.

DOMINANT. Genuine independent non-affiliated grocers will still represent 48% of stores and 30% of convenience sales in five years’ time.

This is according to IGD. And with symbols accounting for 27% and 34% respectively, the independent sole trader or family business will have the bulk of the local market for many years to come.

This is the sector which the My Shop Is Your Shop campaign is designed to help – and not the Co-op or the big c-store mults or the oil companies.

MISCHIEF. Time was when buying group chiefs such as the pulsating John Irish would vent their anger – unscripted – at the antics of a rival. But this was always from a public platform – you knew the source.

Recent spats reported in the trade press have made good copy from anonymous sources but did they achieve the essential and honourable journalistic principle of balance? There are two sides to every story.

SAD. Many in the trade in Glasgow were stunned and saddened by the passing of Robin Cook, former foreign secretary and courageous anti-Iraq war advocate.

Among the tributes at his funeral, that paid by Mohammed Sarwar, MP for Govan, and director of United Wholesale Ltd from 1983-97, was poignant.

He told mourners that Robin Cook was one of the few politicians to be trusted by Britain’s Muslim community.

BLUEPRINT. Why is the envied Take Home Blueprint, the FWD award-winning BWS education scheme for independent retailers, and the seed from which Landmark’s Hot House grew, so hugely successful?

The Blueprint is NOT a typical merchandising activity. It is NOT a typical quick-in-and-out call on a retailer on a post-coded route, by a part-time lady with a clipboard and, often, a few free “encouragement goodies” in her car.

What it IS is an educational scheme manned by a small dedicated team of field advisors who befriend the retailer, spend a day, often more, physically helping to re-lay shelves and more. It is hugely successful, produces case studies by the dozen, and is irreplaceable.

SPOTTED. The chap on the extreme left in the row of stubble-chinned cowhand mourners in the 4X commercial saying goodbye to Big Ern is not Steve Denny, Vigilante can confirm to inquiring readers.

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