What retailers want from MSYS

The My Shop Is Your Shop (MSYS) campaign is a long-term scheme designed to increase awareness among consumers of the value of the local retailer, the family business or sole trader.
Of course, the campaign brings added focus to the trade interface between the retailer and the wholesaler which is why MSYS must be wholesaler driven. But in order to achieve more footfall in independent stores, the consumer must be reminded and persuaded that the independent will meet local community needs more efficiently than the giants.

Therefore the campaign highlights the value of the family business or sole trader to the local community – a community in which the retailer lives and in which his family share the experiences, good and not so good, of the folk who form that community.

It is worth repeating here that the local c-store satellite of the giant superstore corporation might be an efficient selling unit, but its management will not OWN the shop, the marketing strategy for which will be decided by distant number crunchers.
MSYS has recruited what one commentator has perhaps unkindly called its own Barmy Army of independent retailers who have signed up to support the campaign at local level. This band of brothers, 500 strong, was supplied with stickers, T-shirts, hats and balloons for National Independents’ Day (NID) and many were featured wearing the T-shirts in the media.

In a questionnaire sent to the retailer supporters who are officially known in MSYS circles as Community Stars, one of the columns invited the respondents to add their own comments on any aspect of the NID help they received from campaign HQ at FWD.

It was through this comment column that the organisers now know that the bright yellow T-shirts with the bold lettering were considered to be too bright – one retailer described them as “garish” – by a few Community Stars. So the colour will be put to a vote for future supplies.

A small point some may think, but the FWD PR Action Group (PRAG) which runs the campaign believes that every detail in the development of the activity must be examined and confirmed in order to obtain the support of independents who are notoriously just that – independent!

But the MSYS survey among its Community Stars revealed massive support for the campaign with many respondents asking for it to be beefed up and to be given more support by wholesalers and suppliers.

For example, Neil O’Dell, from Harlow, Essex, said he wanted more big brand promotions and wholesaler support. He was not alone in suggesting that local produce should be featured in the MSYS campaign.

Julian Norris, of Weston-super-Mare, suggested that Community Stars should be provided with press releases in a format which can be personalised to those retailers taking part for onward transmission to the regional and local media – this will be done.
Teresa Higginson, of Pocklington, wants the publicity to be boosted to greater intensity well in advance. Teresa said no other shops in her locality were aware of the campaign but in these early formative days of MSYS it is not a priority to engage every type of non-food retailer. Who knows what the future holds?
David James Ward, of Lincoln, said: “I would like to say thank you for all the POS. Very well done. I will support MSYS 100% in future.”

There were many similar expressions of thanks and support which PRAG appreciates, but it is the blunt comments of retailers who want improvements which will guide MSYS in future. This is what our Community Star in Minster, Ramsgate, Kent, proposed for NID: “You must identify key stores which are community inspired and provide them with leaflets and coupons for distribution locally highlighting the opportunity there is for shopping locally.”

From Upper Caldecot, in Bedfordshire, came the proposal that promotions should be advertised in the local press, in schools, churches and community centres. Sarah Dike, of Stoke-sub-Hamden, Somerset, wanted more press coverage and radio reports but also requested that local MPs and councils should be involved.

Sarah makes a good point. We know that some Community Stars have invited their MP to their store without success. It all depends on just how interested the MP is in community matters. It is an MP’s duty to be interested.

Involvement by local councils might be hampered by the local bureaucracy but where the mayor or leader of the council is a local businessperson, which they often are, then surely a Community Star could give the alert and invite the mayor to the store?

Kate Brown, of Rothwell, was slightly disappointed that NID did not produce more sales. It’s early days, Kate – but customers did visit her store to have their photographs taken with the local rugby mascot and show support on the day.

Christopher O’Neil, in Belfast, urged more support for MSYS in Northern Ireland (yes, we will put that in the plan, Christopher) and sought more promotion and advertising for NID.

As in all promotional activity, budget considerations enable only so many suggestions to be put into operation but the survey has revealed some priorities which will go into the planning agenda for PRAG – a committee of activists from the wholesaler and supplier communities.

David Watson, of Reepham, Lincolnshire, said the MSYS should revert to the old slogan: “If you don’t use it you’ll lose it.” It’s a point. Perhaps this call to action has been over-used and has not been as impactful as it might because it has a negative tone, David?

This raises the question of the overall strategy of MSYS. Its philosophy is positively promoting the value of the local independent in the local community. This is a positive message. It constructively builds on a tangible aspect, linking the community with a local business owned and managed by a local person who is part of that community.

It is the responsibility of PRAG and FWD and supportive suppliers – who are the special partners in the activity – to promote this positive aspect. MSYS is not anti-superstore, it is pro-independent and pro-community.

MSYS does not have the time or resource to be an anti-superstore lobby which is the job of the FWD political lobby and that of other trade associations. But I am asked: “On television news I saw an MSYS spokesman commenting on the threat posed by the giant superstores. What about that?”
It is true that the media will raise the issue, but that is their prerogative and the opportunity then arises for the merits of the local independent to be praised and publicised, promoting the human values, community aspects which are exclusive to the independent, and so on.

Sharon Paice, of Rushmoor, Farnham, commented in her response to the questionnaire: “I wish we had been informed earlier in the year of this event. We could have made a really good day of it in our village.”

Well, Sharon, the trade press did carry lots of information about NID well before it happened but not everything sticks with readers – as I know from long experience – and you are a very busy retailer so the campaign will, in the light of your response, review its processes in connection with its early warnings. But we would hope that everyone now knows that NID will happen on June 1 every year.

We Want More, say Community Stars
Independent retailers are the focus of a big general marketing spend by the big brands. But this is through the year activity channelled through wholesalers and mostly based on price offers – and nothing wrong with that.

The FWD survey of retailers signed into MSYS and known as Community Stars reveals that independent stores seek more promotional help actually linked into MSYS campaigning.
Lisa Coulson, a Community Star with a business in Easingwold, said in her response to the survey: “We definitely want more MSYS promotions and more TV and radio coverage in my area.”
Michael Benger, of Warminster, said: “More promotions please.”
Damian Edwards, of Middleton, Manchester, said: “Better offers are wanted together with customer samples, pens and key rings etc.”

Kral Bishia, of West Lynn, Norfolk, commented: “What about more promotions – a freebie bag of brands for the first ten customers?”

Media training for star retailers
Independent retailers are busy people running their businesses in a very competitive market. But they need to find time to promote their community values in local press, radio and TV media.

This need became apparent during NID 05. Responding to it, the MSYS campaign has asked Nexus, its PR consultancy, to design a media training template.

This will include actual studio environment coaching for selected Community Stars from all areas of the country.
For MSYS 06 more emphasis will be placed on help for independent retailers on how to exploit local media opportunities.

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