Twin themes emerged from this year’s FWD Annual Conference. Several speakers talked about the expected inquiry into the grocery market and it dominated delegates’ discussions outside the conference; the other theme can be summed up with a single word – local.
With the OFT already having indicated it is minded to call for an inquiry, a lot of discussion was about how it would be framed. As this edition went to press the OFT was still keeping us waiting, but there was concern that the inquiry should not be sidetracked into the issue of supermarkets’ land banks, a topic which appears to fascinate the OFT chief executive John Fingleton but is a complete red herring as far as our sector is concerned. The inquiry needs to address the unfair competitive practices of the major multiples so wholesalers and their customers can compete on a level playing field.
The local theme came through in several presentations and in a number of different ways. Local produce was highlighted by both Charles Wilson of Booker and Mike Taylor of MBL. Booker has found that sourcing fruit and vegetables locally has helped cut costs and improve service, while Taylor said that locally sourced products were top sellers in Budgens stores.
Taylor also emphasised the importance of customers identifying with their local stores, and said Budgens stores were being co-branded with the name of the owner. Local involvement was highlighted by Alan Fincham, the owner of Londis News Extra in Attleborough. Readers may remember him dressing up as Darth Vader for last year’s National Independents’ Day, and he epitomised what good local retailers are all about.
Dressing up is fun but there is a serious point, he explained. He and his staff are dedicated to getting to know all their customers and wearing a costume is a great way of breaking the ice with a customer who otherwise might not strike up a conversation. Alan, and thousands of other independent retailers around the country, provide a terrific service to our communities.
When we get involved in inquiries, and support MSYS and National Independents’ Day, we should remember it is people like Alan we are defending.