Living over the shop’ is the profit base

In recent years the local store sector has expressed its yearning to be regarded as professional and marketing orientated, offering the consumer the right product at the right price and so on.

The old image of the ‘corner shop’ with the family cat stalking the displays (or sleeping in the window), run by a genial proprietor in a white apron has been buried along with the bacon slicer and wire cheese cutter.

The question often asked is this: has the sole trader or family owned local shop lost the mainstream marketing platform of ‘community’ on which the business should be based?

The My Shop Is Your Shop (MSYS) campaign, with its slogan of ‘Local and proud of it’, was launched in 2004 by the Federation of Wholesale Distributors on the principle of community involvement. MSYS has as its centrepiece National Independents’ Day (NID), an annual celebration of the independent retailer on June lst.

The originators of the campaign believed that independents had retained their sense of community – but there was a need to remind the shopper of the value of the local owner-managed shop and encourage more visits to it. A second line of thought soon evolved – there was also a need to ensure that the retailer (and the wholesaler on whom the retailer relies) worked on a community involvement platform to the maximum.

FWD is building a list of community stars – retailers who are a vital element in the local community. Community stars receive help packages for NID and a useful list of 50 ideas on how to maximise local trading through community links.

A survey carried out among community stars revealed massive support for MSYS and a call for more special promotional support from suppliers focused on NID on June l.

Some independent retailers do not live ‘over the shop’ but the phrase is the best shorthand we can find to project the unique close contact that the sole trader and family business – every wholesaler’s core customer base – will have with their community.

We can adopt ‘living over the shop’ as a metaphor for profit. By doing so the independent claims a unique positioning in the market.

They can say to their neighbours: “It’s my business. I own it. But it’s your shop too. I am one of you. I make all the decisions on what to stock and what not to stock. They are the goods you want. These decisions are not made by a distant head office. I am local and I am proud of it”

This link, this connection with local people, has not changed since the day of the ‘corner shop’. What has changed is the market structure – but independents can maximise their relationship with the people who live around their store, whose children go to the same school as their children, and who experience the daily ups and downs which occur in any neighbourhood.

But, as in any market, the consumer must be reminded about what the trade describes as the alternative channel. That’s the challenge accepted by MSYS and it needs wholesaler and supplier backing. The independent retailer cannot do it alone.

The best quality research demonstrating public support for local shops emerged from the Lancaster University Management School project commissioned by FWD for MSYS in 2005. These were some of the conclusions reported by the Opinion Matters survey:

more than 70% of respondents said that locally owned businesses and shops were vital in creating a sense of local culture

more than 66% said that local high streets were becoming increasingly homogenised

local shopkeepers topped the poll when respondents were asked “Who do you think really understands the interests of your local community?”

on this question, local shopkeepers came out well ahead of local councillors, local clergy, local police, the local MP and, importantly, the local supermarket manager

local grocers came out top on offering a personalised service, ahead of local banks and supermarkets

52% of respondents said they would change their shopping habits if their local store was under threat from larger, non-local competition.

Source: Opinion Matters, research commissioned by FWD.

Wholesalers are to be invited to nominate independent retailers for professional training in media matters and radio and TV interview techniques.

Sponsored by MSYS supporter Gallaher, the training sessions will give the selected retailers studio experience and guidance on how to respond to media questions.

Some retailers are naturals when it comes to handling the media, but others, who have a good story to tell, need the confidence which professional training will give them.
Many retailers throughout the country are fully involved in their local community in many different ways. Their stories will inspire other retailers, and will demonstrate to listeners and viewers how the local sole trader and family business is of great value to the local neighbourhood.

The training will be designed by Nexus, the leading London PR consultancy which is represented on the FWD PR Action Group (PRAG) driving the MSYS retailer support marketing campaign.

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