Captain Vigilante

MANDY. Vigilante noted last month that Simon Jenkins, the powerful Guardian columnist, suggested that Ministers did not support the small business community because they did not know the people who run smaller concerns.

Jenkins, a former editor of The Times no less, asked: “What friend of the Secretary of State for Features > Business, Lord Mandelson, ever owned a corner shop?” Regrettably this prince of the media was on very shaky ground.

Take the reference to ‘corner shop’ to mean an independent retailer and here is the answer. Leo Gillen, Today’s retailer in Hartlepool and sector activist, remains in contact with Lord Mandelson who was once the town’s MP.

“Peter has always kept in touch. I was able to get the sector’s message to him on the tobacco display ban which resulted in a two-year extension for local shops,” Leo tells this (more accurate) columnist.

TINKERING. Few people know this – but the trial set up by Booker to sell daily newspapers in cash and carry was not the first time the idea had surfaced.

When Nurdin Peacock began to look at office equipment and supplies and other new sources of revenue in the later 1980s, the management tinkered with the idea of including newspapers in its offer to all their customers, newsagents or not.

But N P did not go ahead. With its culture of microscopic probing of costs, the company looked at the disruption to branch operations if it opened at 4am to receive bulk news supplies – there could be a few tired, bad-tempered depot managers around at the end of the long N P day.

TRICKY. Not many people know this either – but the aforementioned Nurdin Peacock, the Marks Spencer of the wholesale industry as it was known, would take the revenue hit if customers’ interests were jeopardised.

As the leader in the alcohol market, the cash and carry was the first call for brewers’ sales directors. But one top sales chief was not happy to be called to N P’s HQ at Raynes Park to explain why his company had decided to sell direct to the consumer on home delivery – leapfrogging the retailer.

Big numbers were at stake. The supplier was told the brand would be removed from depots forthwith. But the ace salesman was able to blame marketing “experts” back at the ranch whose barmy idea was quickly kicked into touch.

FAR-FETCHED? Can this be true? A neighbour was asked why she was stocking up with an excellent South African Pinotage – a bottle full to the brim of full-blown blatant fruit and that mysterious old-style lingering French claret mouth experience.

She replied that at pound;2.99 a bottle she may never see the likes of it again once the Government imposed its threatened minimum pricing legislation on alcohol.

No wonder our Lidl car park is packed. Shoppers are beginning to believe that Nanny will soon deprive us of one of the last remaining pleasures of an uncertain life.

LEAK. A Vigilante mole reports an oddity. In a committee meeting a bright spark came up with a proposal that as the check-out queues at his local M S, Tesco, Sainsbury, Lidl and the rest were growing ever-longer, this should be a subject for independents to point up.

Why queue for 20 minutes at a superstore when you can obtain quick, cheerful service by a member of your local community in your local shop?

And why not ask your local shoppers to take part in a poll to identify the giant retailer where the queues were longest – and what’s more, get the local paper to print the results of the poll.

Great idea. But the committee turned it down.

VALUE. It’s time for independents to start reading their copy of the Financial Times or perhaps The Sun to get a handle on the economic meltdown. Too many local shop windows do not scream a ‘value’ message to shoppers.

We memorise the impact of store windows as we drive through suburbs. A good glance at every small store we pass is in our DNA. This reveals too many shop windows that are not used for ‘value’ signals to the community.

From memory, only the following are in the Champions League knock-out stage for shop windows which are full of value impact with their posters shouting about bargains: Spar, Costcutter and Bargain Booze.

Is a sponsor available for a Gold Medal competition for the best ‘value’ independent shop window in the UK?

ADMIRABLE. The Federation of Small Businesses is winning hearts and minds with its deft touch and effective campaign on behalf of independent family concerns.

It had the confidence to finance a big campaign in national newspapers taking full page ads to remind the Government – spraying our cash around like confetti – of the value of small enterprises which required urgent loan facilities from lethargic banks.

And its media performances are excellent. On February 20 on Radio 4’s Today programme, the Barclays chap faltered and stuttered while the Federation’s argument was put forward with force. Excellent.

DODGY. The Federation of Wholesale Distributors has continued to work on the issue of criminals avoiding duty on alcohol, resulting in cheap beer being made available despite Government attempts to stop it.

But what about independents who buy big brands at low prices from white van man?

A trade paper reports that when questioned about buying cheap booze from dodgy sources, a small shop owner said he did not do so because it was not worth the risk of being banged up.

But there should be more than this. The retailer should have reported the incident to the police and to his wholesaler who is trading legitimately but whose business is probably losing substantial beer sales.

It’s not too late for the various retailer trade associations to get this item on to their conference programmes as a major and scandalous issue.

FUELLED. One of the biggest sellers in the Tesco toy department this year will be a six-inch model of a Tesco petrol tanker with the slogan ‘Why pay more?’ in very bold lettering along the side.

The same line in six different languages will be sold world-wide. As a motor model freak, Vigilante wants one of these which will become a collectors’ must-have. They are solid and expertly made. But, emotionally, he will refrain from purchase to gaze instead at his model of the 30s delivery van as used by The Times.

But probably two million plus children will get the ‘Every little helps’ message which the Tesco model carries.

Catch ’em young?

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