Captain Vigilante

RANT. Let’s open this month with another rant. It’s to do with our local symbol store which our family and all of our neighbours want to support so much that it hurts.

But when the appetite calls for a PBA, or a premium bottled ale to the uninitiated, what do we find? To describe the PBA display in the store as uninteresting is sympathetic to the nice people who run the shop. Newcastle Brown is there and so is Speckled, but….

A car trip to the local Tesco superstore reveals yet one more reason why some local shops are just not with it and we wish so much that they were.

My mathematician mate says that 13.85% of the beer fixture in the 24-hour all singin’ and dancin’ giant is dedicated to PBAs.

And the display simply glows with interest, from the NFU’s Farmers’ Harvest to Broadside and so many other thirst-building brand names.

The moral of this story is …complete this sentence in your own well chosen words.

STALINIST. Look out of the window of our local pub and you will see a shop with a fascia which quite simply says ‘The Local’. A nice touch this, a fascia linking the shop, which is a basic off licence, with the image of the pub and all the heritage of the real local.

But there’s more. A huge window bill, clearly readable from the pub, declares “8 pints for pound;8″. Our landlord, a positive thinker who is not buckling under the general gloom in which the pub trade is currently swamped, is not, however, amused.

Pub enthusiasts will calculate how just how much eight pints will cost, pulled with expertise and served over the bar by a smiling well-built barmaid.

The price per pint benefit enjoyed by the shop opposite is huge.

Lobbies seek minimum – meaning higher – prices for alcohol sold in shops. This is a Stalinist solution to the binge drinking issue, say some.

Others add that this will merely increase the margins enjoyed by the giant superstores giving them even bigger profits to be used to win even more market share.

TINKERING. Is there an answer to all this? The brewers are not to blame – they operate in a competitive market encouraged by Brussels where downward pressure on prices to give consumers the best deal is sacrosanct.

Disastrous political interference in the pub trade by Lord Young of the infamous Beer Orders, resulting in the severe decline of the wonderful ‘free house’ and the growth of awful ‘theme’ chains, is apparently one reason preventing the Brown administration from acting on the issue.

Tinkering in markets is not favoured by ministers unless it’s banking.

Vigilante blames the passive shareholders of ‘The Local’ for allowing their managers to promote the price of a pint to such a ridiculously cheap level. This lust for footfall dilutes or probably removes available margin which shareholders should rightfully expect to see swelling their dividends.

VICTIM. The new strategy for the sector’s next submission of protest to the Competition Commission in 2014, exclusively unveiled by Vigilante (ProWholesaler, April 09) has another case to consider.

This strategy would consist of detailed case studies of independents who have been forced out of business by the giant superstores and/or wholesalers’ inability to supply at viable cost prices. Step forward Peter and Marion Durose.

Here’s a reminder of the Vigilante concept for new thinking which arose out of the failure of the convenience lobby to persuade the recent review by the CC of the plight of small shops.

Rather than put up highly paid economists to fight our corner, competing with even higher-paid economists in the pay of the giants (you’ll never win), why not collate case studies of every small shop failure to put before the beak? Realism at its best.

Here comes Peter, who quit his pound;250,000 a year job with Tesco – next step a seat on the board at pound;1.5m – to open The English Grocer in March 2007 selling top of the range breads, cheeses, hams, coffees, hampers and so on. What happened next?

BLESS ‘EM. Sales were steady but then they slumped suddenly last November. New parking restrictions did not help. Villagers told Peter and his wife they wanted groceries at prices they were accustomed to at, yes, Tesco.

This meant the end of The English Grocer, a mini Waitrose with bells on. But hold, is this a suitable case of unfair competition for the CC or is it an example of a closure which could have been avoided by tweaking the marketing plan in the face of the economic crisis?

Peter and Marion, bless ’em, had a dream. But for the recession it would have worked.

It could have been an embryo franchise. But as the dream unfolded did it fail to remember the heart-warming slogan of Peter’s ex-employer; every little helps?

WEATHER-MAN. If we have a good summer we should all thank Booker’s Bryan Drew for his uncanny but public prayer to the meteorological gods in the paper he delivered at the annual FWD conference.

He described the success of Booker’s remarkable recovery programme – a feat which should win the top Oscar of the total world of UK business if there ever was one.

Then to give the audience a further insight into company thinking he added that we were due for a good summer after some poor ones.

Long spells of hot weather are good for local shop trade and resort caterers.

Five days later it was official. Every news channel reported that a long hot summer was forecast – the Drew vibe was at work in meteorological circles.

We should all dig into our sub-conscious spiritual persona (Freud) to support that vibe to ensure it comes about. Cool, Bryan.

CONSUMERS. Often overlooked, the shopper will be the central feature of Drinksummit which takes place at the Cotswold Water Park on June 22-23. It’s a first for FWD.

Navel-gazing once devoured lots of time in the wholesaling industry with its over-heated grapevine focusing on gossip, domestic issues, who’s doing what with what and to whom and so on. Today wholesalers are outward looking and shopper focused, it is alleged.

In the late part of the 20th century, one of the favourite pastimes was the ‘car park count’ in which a member of staff would be asked, quietly and unobserved, to tot up the number of vans in any nearby competing cash and carry parking area.

Famously, one assistant manager was spotted on counting duty by the targeted opposition whose depot manager promptly offered him a job. The offer was accepted.

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