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As the entire industry knows, the tobacco display ban is upon us. From April 2012, shops above 280sq m in England and Scotland (from the 6th and 1st April, respectively) will be unable to display any tobacco products openly.

Meanwhile, cash and carries will have to have separate ‘tobacco rooms’ where products are hidden away and not visible to non-tobacco buyers in fact, the Department of Health guidelines suggest that customers who buy tobacco in these rooms and then display them elsewhere in the premises could render the store liable for prosecution.

But for retailers below 280sq m, the ban won’t come into effect until April 2015.

That three-year window could be an opportunity for convenience stores, particularly independent operators, as these smaller shops could look to capture new tobacco customers.

But as with any opportunity, there can be a downside if it’s not done right. In countries where there has been a display ban, such as Ireland and Australia, there is some evidence that smaller retailers have seen their sales and profits on tobacco traditionally a highly profitable area significantly eroded due to an increase in counterfeiting and smuggling. Many have even had to close.

So before the ban affects them, smaller stores need to make sure they do everything possible to attract customers and make the most of their tobacco sales now and prepare for when the display ban hits them. This is where wholesalers can step up and offer the sort of strategic, expert guidance that independent stores cannot get on their own.

For example, convenience operators will have many questions that their wholesalers are well placed to answer, including: how can I maximise my tobacco sales? What impact will the ban in other stores have on my business? And, how should I prepare for this changing environment?

And it doesn’t end there. Ahead of the display ban hitting them, they’ll want to know: how can I ensure my customers know I sell tobacco? Will customers feel they have less choice? Will my staff need additional training? Will customers be concerned that they didn’t get what they asked for?

It’s an opportunity for convenience stores and newsagents, but it’s equally an opportunity for the wholesalers that supply them a chance to offer more than just products on a shelf and become a sophisticated, strategic partner.

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