Captain Vigilante

POLITICS. No, not the ghastly election with its nastiness but the more sophisticated politics of the trade and the consumer and the giant power bases. To whom could we give the credit for bringing home to the shopper, and to a listening trade, the facts of life and grocery politics?

Vigilante votes for Tony de Angeli during his years as editor of The Grocer and his regular explanations of supermarkets, brands, commodities and the like on the Jimmy Young radio programme. Wider consumer understanding of the workings of the giants and other food issues stems from Tony’s broadcasts – the “fireside chats” of their day.

Tony was spotted, looking as cool as ever, walking through the Arndale Centre in Eastbourne, and the Captain hears he had a small reunion recently with wordsmiths from his former reporters’ room.

TRUTH. We heard a lot about this commodity during the aforementioned election. Wholesalers have their icon of truth – the Take Home Blueprint initiatives. Yet some people, just like electors who have reservations, are sceptical.

Well, the answer to the scepticism will be found face to face with the independent retailers who have implemented the FWD’s unique educational guidance and found that it brings drinks sales increases of anything from 15% to 35% and boosts the total store business. If you are a sceptic, or unfriendly to wholesalers and independents for some reason or other (there are some of this ilk), why not have a chat to these retailers?

And, again, if you are a supplier of blue-chip calibre or of a lesser breed, why not ask your marketing people if they will guarantee, without reservation, sales increases which are sustained when they put their own planogram into a shop. The Blueprints give that guarantee. Others do not.

ENTHUSIASTS. It was at a retailers’ debate on the Blueprints, held at the Welcombe Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon, that their thirst (sorry) for knowledge was again upfront.

Independent retailers cry out for guidance – but it has got to be the right kind of education and not brand or other-agenda propaganda.

At the debate, an Independent Retail News event, no holds were barred but the Blueprints were praised as the right stuff which help retailers in a market where beers, wines and spirits are absolutely crucial to success.

Constellation Wines were represented to put the suppliers’ tuppence worth (metaphorically) into the discussion and Vigilante is sure that they will vouch for the absolute accuracy of these remarks.

SCORED. Who was it that made the superstore fraternity first sit up and, slightly shocked, notice that a lobby against their expansion into the local store sector was seriously real?

The prize goes to the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, which set alarms ringing when it actually spent real money at the Competition Appeals Tribunal, challenging the Tesco acquisition of Adminstore. Lots of worthy letters and lobby submissions have been written and headlines achieved by lots of people, but only FWD struck the cash chord, and that’s the one which sows anxiety seeds among the giants.

The legal action ran out of cash. No one, sensibly, was willing to back it beyond an agreed kitty. But as the competition chattering classes now agree, “it was FWD wot did it”, to paraphrase The Sun.

Asda is now caught in the slipstream of this historic first. It is being told to back off Somerfield. The irony is that Tesco is the beneficiary of this message. Strewth.

ALARM. That was the feeling, so Vigilante was told, when a major blue chip supplier informed a wholesaler that there had been a change of mind on the decision to go ahead with a certain promotion. Although there were emails to demonstrate confirmation of the activity and telephone conversations could be recalled, it was a case of sorry, but sorry.

The supplier’s account people were, it transpires, the victim of a back office calculation that the promotion would cause a budget to over-run. So the back office cancelled it, leaving the account manager to explain things.

Vigilante asks: are we at the mercy of degree-holding newcomers who are in charge of the cash in the back office?
The answer. Every graduate should be forced, under threat of dismissal and the loss of the BMW and the Travel Lodge loyalty card, to tour the wholesale industry and meet its nice warm visionary people. The newcomers would learn about wholesaling, its value to the supplier and its place in the great scheme of things, and would never ever think of behaving in the above fashion.

So that’s sorted then.

BOTTLED. Alf Carr, who runs the BFFF, takes up the Sudan 1 challenge. Vigilante offered a bottle of red wine if the timing of the FWD alert to the industry could be bettered.

Wholesalers received the FWD warning at 4.28pm on February 16. Alf’s email to the frozen brethren was timed at 2.38pm on February 16. Here’s to you, Alf. Your kind remarks about the sainted former DG have been passed on.

BEMUSED. One chap was out of step when The Grocer asked the usual suspects if they believed that Sir Terry had decided to halt his acquistions of small stores.

The Tesco boss said in his report, announcing profits in excess of £2bn, that future growth would be “mainly organic” (implying that it would be handled by the fresh produce buyer perhaps).
Who believed him? No one, except one still small voice. But have standards fallen to the extent that the chief of a very major plc can say one thing in his accounts (surely sacrosanct) and do something else?

Vigilante can report that the still small voice, swimming alone in a sea of cynicism, holds to the view that Sir Terry dare not break this vow. So up pops Asda to bid for Somerfield.

PRAG.The My Shop Is Your Shop campaign, being driven with aplomb by the admirably cohesive FWD PR Action Group (PRAG), is putting down its markers with an ever- increasing level of confidence.

Who would have thought that PRAG – a diverse family – could give birth to the first historic generic national money off coupon promotion exclusively for every independent of any size, fascia or not, and wean it into a reality which will break every known mould when it appears in the Daily Mirror and Daily Record on May 27?
Suppliers supporting the coupon footfall activity have been getting calls from wholesalers demanding the products involved.
Say no more.

PIPSQUEAK. Encouraged by readers to devote a few words to the mean-spirited one, who editorialised saying that efforts by FWD, ACS and SWA to halt superstore expansion were “too little, too late”, Vigilante suggests he will be watching the OFT website hoping there is no news of a reference of the Asda bid for Somerfield to the Competition Commission.

A reference would kill the bid and launch the new long-awaited OFT hard-line policy of redressing the balance in the market.
Anxious days for us all.

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