Community is the key

PRAG is not short for pragmatic but it could be. The committee that drives MSYS consists of wholesaler and supplier representatives with a genuine ambition to push at the boundaries of what is possible in a co-ordinated structure of this kind.

In the run up to National Independents’ Day (NID) the outsider would have no idea about the volume of tasks which had to be undertaken to make the most of the event.

The group members are polished PR and marketing folk, senior professionals from the manufacturer community, trade association communicators and senior wholesale company managers of vast experience. So they know what they are about. In fact, PRAG is probably the most talented co-ordination group working in the wholesale/independent marketing arena today. And it needs to be.

In the run up to NID, the different needs of wholesalers and suppliers, and the provision of MSYS services to retailers, added to the workload of every member of PRAG but there was never a whimper, such was the commitment of people who live and breathe for the cause. It is as well to remind the industry of the roots of MSYS, since they can become obscured in the hectic day-to-day life of the wholesaler community.

The campaign has its seeds in the earliest days of Morrisons’ bid for Safeway, when every superstore PR department took the opportunity to use free time on TV, radio and in the press to say why they should be allowed to buy the failing retailer. The result was that millions of consumer hits were achieved by the giants through a naïve media – and every hit was a message that this or that superstore was cheap, or very cheap, or even cheaper for the weekly shop.

“We are the cheapest, so we should be allowed to buy Safeway to give even more shoppers the benefit of our cheap prices” was the signal carried by the media on behalf of the big four day after day ad nauseum.

The wholesale sector cannot match the superstores’ public relations power and consumer penetration and reach. But it can begin the process of reminding the shopper of one huge unique advantage that wholesalers’ customers have over the superstores. That advantage is called family, it is called independent sole trader and it is also called, importantly, community.

The superstore satellite c-store may be slick and attractive. But it is managed. The manager cannot say My Shop Is Your Shop because it is clearly a store owned by distant shareholders and run according to disciplines set down at an equally distant head office.

The independent’s head office is his back room. The success of his store depends on meeting local community needs, on becoming involved with the community. The genuine independent trader can say “my shop is your shop” and mean it.
The c-store satellite manager will be on a career path, here today gone tomorrow. The success of his shop will depend on the policy and product buying decisions made not by him but by the chiefs at head office. It can only be so.

By focusing on community, thinking community, eating and sleeping community, the local family independent c-store and newsagent can impose a neighbourhood presence which in itself will develop into a trading benefit. And every one of the 50,000 or so local family business and sole trader independents has a crucial interface with a cash and carry or delivered wholesaler or both – which is why wholesalers are the natural drivers and controllers of the activity.

What has PRAG achieved so far ?
Primarily it has driven home the need for every wholesaler to motivate his retailer customers by persuading them to use their community involvement to the maximum. The community itself needs and wants a focal point and the local independent store is the natural location for that focal point. Research proves this.

PRAG has achieved far more than was thought possible when it first met 18 months ago. Any cross-industry body needs time to develop its internal energy and PRAG is no exception. But it has succeeded, on a comparatively modest budget provided by wholesalers and supportive suppliers, to establish MSYS in the awareness of the wholesaler and the independent retailer across the board.

PRAG has provided guidance on handling local media to independents who committed to the campaign, recruited by a telephone canvass from the offices of FWD at Eastbourne. About 500 of these “community stars” scattered throughout England, Scotland and Wales are the pioneers of an on-going campaign by wholesalers. It aims to encourage their retailer customers to use local media, to become involved in the community, to become more than a retail outlet … to become the local focal point.

Help for independents provided by PRAG in the run up to June 1
Money-off coupons in the Daily Mirror and Daily Record (Scotland) for seven major brands – an historic first generic national incentive for every independent’s customers

Editorial coverage in the Daily Mirror and Daily Record encouraging readers to value their local independent

Star retailers chosen at random were named and given publicity in these newspapers

NID coverage in local media reminding shoppers of the value of their local independent organised by Nexus, the top London PR agency

Supply of T-shirts, caps, balloons and window stickers bearing the MSYS logo

MSYS manual describing the objectives of the campaign, guidance on how to use local media interview opportunities and 50 ideas on how to maximise community involvement

An MSYS helpline

Artwork for wholesalers to supply to independents which can be tailor-made to the wholesaler’s own style.

Members of PRAG
Barrie Breward (Nisa-Today’s), Becky Campbell (Nisa-Today’s), James Hall (Bestway), Geoff Monk (Bestway), Graham Shelley (IMA), Emma Sadler (IMA, Parfetts), Ray Donelan (Landmark), Michael Saxton (Key Lekkerland), Sue Knowles (Costco Wholesale), Virginie White (Musgrave Budgens-Londis), Rosie McFarlane (Musgrave Budgens-Londis), Alan Twigg (Nexus), Louise Stone (Nexus), Ann Merritt (FWD), Catherine Tong (NFRN), Sean Carter (Rural Shops Alliance), Trevor Dixon (Rural Shops Alliance), Zenon Gray (iStore Media), Adam Whalley (Makro), Barry Wallis (Spar).

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