Page 1

Rural Retailer

Issue 24 l Winter 2013/14

The Journal of the Rural Shops Alliance




en inv Re er rk apt wo h et xt C e N Ne fic e Of th

■ 2014 Promotions Calendar ■ Symbol Group Pros and Cons ■ Controlling Energy Bills


Your contacts... ew rn ou ess te dr no ad s e al ea st Pl po

for more information and news...

● Rural Shops Alliance 20 Garland, Rothley Leics. LE7 7RF ● Tel: 01305 752044 ● E-mail: ● Website:

Contents... In this issue...

Cover photo: Stoke St. Gregory, 80 years on.

3 4 5 6 11 12 13

● ● ● ● ● ● ●

16 ● 21 ● 24 ● 28 ●

In My Opinion, By RSA Chief Executive RSA National Meeting Action Checklist Eastcombe Stores: A Gamekeeper turned Poacher How to write a Press Release Store is the Core legacy RSA Views: Who is standing up for Rural England? Post Office Network Reinvention: The Next Chapter RSA 2014 Calendar Symbol Group membership: The Pros and Cons Hampshire Fare: Helping Rural Shops to Stock Local Produce Controlling Energy Bills

RuralRetailer ● Published by The Rural Shops Alliance. ● Printed by: Russell Press, Nottingham. ● Design: Kavita Graphics.

2 RuralRetailer ● Winter 2013/14 ● Issue 24

In my Opinion... FOREVER IS A LONG TIME Sometimes it seems as though the shops in rural communities have been there forever. Indeed, our cover photograph shows a shop that has changed very little in appearance for a century But, this can be very misleading. In the past, even quite small villages had multiple shops, often just tiny businesses run from somebody’s front room. Most are, of course, long gone, leaving those we see today. But people forget the past; they expect things to stay as they are. The RSA obviously encourages local communities not to take their local shop for granted. We shake our heads when we see a resident drawing out their pension from the post office and then heading straight to the supermarket. We share shopkeepers’ incredulity at the nerve of supermarket home delivery van drivers coming to the shop counter seeking directions to a customer’s house. These drivers genuinely do not see the irony of their action. No doubt they are puzzled when some shopkeepers get very “confused” and entirely inadvertently send the van driver many miles out of his way. A recent development has been an increasing number of supermarket deliveries arriving at caravan parks and campsites. Some owners of such sites are now refusing entry to these delivery vans. It is disappointing that people go on holiday but feel no need to explore the local shops or to support the local economy. They do not make the link between their own actions and their long-term results. We thought we had heard pretty well everything until one of our retail members told us about a new development. Their local not-for-profit accessible transport organisation has started a minibus shopping service, picking up passengers

outside the shops in several villages and then taking them to three supermarkets in the nearest town. The fare charged is nominal and they even advertise that the driver will carry your shopping to your door. To cap it all, the local village agent asked to put a poster advertising the service up in at least one of the shops affected. Apparently this agent was somewhat taken aback by the response they received. I am sure that the people running this heavily subsidised service are genuinely nice people - nasty people do not run community transport. However, they had clearly not thought through their idea. The organisation concerned was quite taken aback when we protested. Running a village shop in a small remote village is hard enough, without do-gooders trying to take away key customers. We are sure that their passengers would be horrified if their local shop and post office closed. But if it ever does, it will be partly due to their assumption that village shops are somehow forever, with or without their support.

A traditional tiny sweet shop

Issue 24 ● Winter 2013/14 ● RuralRetailer 3

RSA NATIONAL MEETING Richard Garnett gave a presentation on the OpenHigh Street Project.

The latest National Meeting of the Rural Shops Alliance saw a number of interesting presentations, including contributions from two guest speakers. From the various discussions, we would highlight three in particular. David Fuhr from the Department for business innovation and skills presented the Department’s latest strategy update for the retail sector. This document can be found at: ent/uploads/ system/uploads/ attachment_data/ file/252383/bis-13 -1204-a-strategy -for-future-retail -industry-and -government -delivering-in -partnership.pdf

This is intended to allow independent shops to compete with the big multiples when it comes to home deliveries, with the added bonus of a local personal service together with local products rather than just national brands.

to the next level. We hope to run a full article on his progress in a future edition of Rural Retailer. ● In the meantime, see:

A pilot scheme has run in Herefordshire and Richard is now seeking support to take the concept

Our Chief Executive, Ken Parsons, provided commentary, based on national census data, on the who actually lives in rural England. His basic message was that too many rural shopkeepers believe that their community is one made up largely of retired people. They get this view because a high proportion of their customers are drawn from this demographic, whereas in fact the population of rural England is not that different in age

Age band

Urban %

Rural %

0-14 15-29 30-44 45-64 65+

19.1 19.9 22.9 22.7 15.4

17.8 14.6 21.4 28.3 17.9



4 RuralRetailer ● Winter 2013/14 ● Issue 24

breakdown from the country as a whole. Rural areas have fewer young people aged 15-29 than urban areas but more proportionately in the 45-64 age group. Only 17.9% of rural residents are aged 65 or more. The conclusion is obvious. In most rural settlements, people of working age far outnumber those that have retired. Village shops that are only open when most residents are at work are clearly restricting customers’ opportunities to visit the store. Although the number of people working from home has risen significantly in recent years, it is still the case that the vast majority of workers living in rural areas commute to work by car. ● The figures from which Ken Parsons drew his conclusions can be found in the report at: uploads/system/uploads/attach ment_data/file/260551/Census _Stats_-_Final.pdf


p p p p p p


Promotional Calendar 2014

In the centre of this edition of rural retailer, you will find a calendar for 2014 highlighting national opportunities for promotions. We suggest you add any relevant local events and you then have the basis for seasonal activity for 2014, ready to pin up on your noticeboard. Issue 24 ● Winter 2013/14 ● RuralRetailer 5

Eastcombe Stores...

A Gamekeeper turned What happens when a man who managed Tesco stores for 26 years buys his own village shop? In just 15 months, it becomes, in the words of the RSA’s Ken Parsons: “one of the most successful village shops I have ever encountered” – and that really is saying something. And what’s more remarkable is that Mike Dorey had never considered running his own shop until, by chance, he and partner Debs found their perfect home in the catchment area of their son’s new school… and the house came with the village shop attached.

The shop is not large

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Taking over Eastcombe Stores, high on the Cotswold Hills near Stroud, meant that not only did Mike and Debs face a complete change of lifestyle, the complications of buying their first business and settling the family in to a new community – but they had to earn vital goodwill among the locals, and fast. And it’s been an unmitigated success. In just over a year, weekly sales at the small shop and Post Office have leapt from £11k to an astonishing £19k; way beyond even Mike’s expectations. Customers flock to the store, appreciating not just the stock on offer and the warm welcome they receive, but the family’s commitment to the future of the enterprise and their active involvement in the local community.

By Beth Whittaker

Poacher Mike Dorey

Mike’s success has even had a direct impact on sales at the local Tesco Express, less than a mile away (and that makes him smile) and he is adamant that even Waitrose – the nearest major supermarket five miles away in Stroud – has also seen its sales affected by it. But although he admits that knowing retail inside out after all those years with Tesco has certainly helped, running a village shop has its own, very different, challenges and he’s had to learn a lot too. Not least is the need for a successful personal relationship with customers, where taking the time to get to know them really pays dividends. “We came in with enormous enthusiasm and energy and made sure we were very approachable,” he says. “We did simple things like choosing to support a local charity rather than a national one which more than doubled the donations in the collection box; we approached local organisations, clubs and societies, actively looking at ways we could support and promote them. Debs helped with

the local Scout Group and now volunteers at the village school. We’ve also sought out local suppliers – from the office window I can see the farm where our beef comes from! With my Tesco head on I was dubious about price and availability but I needn’t have worried. The quality and consistency is first class.”

The Post Office is very busy, with a fortress at the far end of the shop. Designated as a potential Local by POL. it is very hard indeed to see how POL demands to move it next to the shop counter could be accommodated

Issue 24 ● Winter 2013/14 ● RuralRetailer 7

Eastcombe Stores...continued

Counter area with strong food-to-go offer. Note bottled sweets on backwall

And, of course, it’s essential to build a mutually beneficial relationship with your core supplier – in Mike’s case the symbol group Londis (although one suspects Londis might have met their match here!) It took Londis only two months after Mike took over to decide it was worth investing in the revived Eastcombe Stores, putting up £10k towards an initial £25K refit. “They know we’re worth it,” comments Mike. “We put £30K of our own money into this project in the first year, focusing on making the shop everything local people want it to be. We changed the layout and range of products, adding more than 200 new lines and wherever possible bringing in items requested by our customers.” Mike says it’s been an interesting experience sourcing products which customers want and

8 RuralRetailer ● Winter 2013/14 ● Issue 24

maintaining margins, but customers appreciate the effort. “We’re lucky to have a sizeable storeroom so we can hold high volumes of stock which enables us to have a full shop floor. I believe one of the barriers facing a lot of small retailers is fear of holding too much stock. One of the first things we did was to alter our delivery days with Londis to suit our needs. I knew from day one that their delivery days weren’t going to suit us, and within a month we’d negotiated with Londis to have three deliveries a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Initially it was twice a week, then three but on the wrong days for us. Now we are close to that ‘just in time’ ideal. We even negotiated not to have the Londis fascia on the front because although we are delighted with the quality of the Londis brand – and I admit I have learned a lot from them - we wanted our

Aisles are quite tight and shelving is high to accommodate the range in the limited space available

customers to identify us as an independent retailer first and foremost. You’ve got to fight your corner if you want to be successful!” The shop is now heading for a second ‘mini’ refit including new tills and back office facilities, with Londis again making a major contribution. “At the moment, our till system suddenly shuts down for no reason. The customers think it’s funny in a ‘computer says no’ sort of way, but it

Strong support for Londis special offers on a prime gondola end

is frustrating,” admits Mike. It seems that the tills and back office are the only elements of the shop not working brilliantly. Even the Post Office service is a beacon of productivity thanks to welcoming and positive staff and minimal queues – all championed by Mike. “I’ve been to enough small post offices to be greeted by long queues and disconsolate staff. My whole ethos in the Post Office and in the

The off licence occupies a lot of prime space but sales justify it. The £5 wine tower can be seen in the foreground

Issue 24 ● Winter 2013/14 ● RuralRetailer 9

Eastcombe Stores...continued

Shelf profiles are well adapted to the stock on them - there is little wasted air space

store is something I did take away from Tesco – building a strong team spirit which results in happy, helpful and enthusiastic staff.” Eastcombe Stores may only have 700 sq. ft. of display space, but through judicious planning, it offers a fantastic choice of more than 2,000 lines. Mike’s mantra of “doing what the big boys can’t” is amply illustrated by their fresh bake-off products with sales rocketing from £450 a week to more than £1,000 a week. Another success is their £5 per bottle wine tower, which is creating quite a stir locally. “It’s about thinking what will encourage more people to shop here more regularly. I know what my competition is – the nearby Tesco Express and Waitrose in Stroud. I don’t want to be another Tesco and the local community seems keen to support a local independent business. I reward that support by giving them what they can’t get elsewhere,” says Mike. “You could say it’s a revolt against the might of the big superstores. You only have to visit the award-winning Stroud farmers’ market to appreciate how more people are turning to local traders for their produce. We believe we’re changing people’s perception of what a village shop can offer in terms of value for money and quality.”

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Although Eastcombe is a small village, it is right next door to a very large housing development at Bussage which brings in a lot of custom. The store’s sales breakdown includes a major contribution of £3,500 per week from beers, wines and spirits, some 18% of turnover and up from £2,000 per week when they took over. Baked goods represent 6% of sales, with fresh fruit and vegetables, much of it locally sourced, at 4% (although only in line with industry average, this represents a share of business that has doubled in 15 months). Is there room for further growth, or a danger that Mike will become, dare we say it, bored? “Debs gets up at 5am and I start at 6 - a big change to my Tesco life (whatever happened to five weeks’ holiday a year?) and my mother-in-law Colleen lives with us and gives us a huge amount of support in the running of the house and ancillary jobs for the shop. So unless we literally didn’t sleep, I can’t see we could grow much more,” muses Mike. Even the couple’s sons Tom, aged 11 and Jack, 17 (who works all day Sunday), bolster the seven part-time and two full-time staff when they can by delivering papers and helping with the threeweekly promotion change. “It’s been a fantastic success and has taken over our lives – but that’s not to say we wouldn’t consider expanding our business to take on other village shops as well,” grins Mike, perhaps dreaming of a Doreys’ empire to compete with Tesco Express?

The competition - less than a mile away

Free Publicity...

How to write a Press Release For most rural shops, paid-for advertising is expensive and does not deliver worthwhile results. However, local papers and radio stations are always looking for interesting stories to cover. If you can attract their interest, then you can get a considerable amount of publicity for free. The key to attracting media attention is the “hook”, the aspect that makes your story stand out and which will make it interesting for the audience. Use events to get publicity. It does not have to be grand in scale; a food tasting, a presentation of a charity cheque or a visit by the local MP. Stories are more likely to be taken up if they are about people rather than things. A shop having a refit is not very newsworthy; the local hundred-year-old “character” to cut the ribbon is the real story. Journalists like human interest stories, particularly those where somebody has overcome difficulties. The proprietor cooking a breakfast fry up for the staff after they have spent all night mopping up after a flood could be a story, the fact that the shop now looks nice is far less interesting. Invite the local media to your events but do not be surprised if they fail to come. Give them a couple of weeks’ notice of your event and follow up a couple of days before it. Local media are on very tight budgets and often your story may not warrant sending a reporter. Wherever possible, address correspondence to named individuals at the newspaper or radio station. Telephone their switchboard to find out who the relevant person is and get their e-mail address.

Good photographs are very important. If you are part of the story, get somebody else to photograph it. You need to be in shot and you will be too busy to do it properly yourself. Use a high-resolution camera rather than a mobile phone. If you are taking a group shot, make sure people are standing very close together. Chose the background carefully. Do make sure that nobody has a telegraph pole sticking out of the top of their head and do think what will work well – do you want your shop sign in the photograph, for example? The interior of shops can cause problems in terms of lighting and glare, so outside shots are often better. Your press release must grab the reader’s attention as quickly as possible. It should be short and to the point. Always include a direct quote from a named person. This gives the story the human angle that journalists crave. Always put any explanations or further information at the end. This is material that probably won’t appear in the article but gives the editor a clearer idea of what is going on.

Issue 24 ● Winter 2013/14 ● RuralRetailer 11

Store is the Core...

Store is the Core finishes but leaves a legacy of online resources The end of the store is the core programme in the south-west in December 2013 marked the end of an era. Funded through DEFRA, this was the last major regional support programme for rural shops. It was managed by Wiltshire Community First and the RSA was an active partner in the scheme. It has been hugely successful, supporting over 160 retailers with direct one-toone coaching and advisory support, with many others attending training seminars held across the South West region from Gloucestershire to Cornwall. Tim Coomer project manager commented, “Store is the Core has been a great success, we have worked with a great many retailers and have seen real improvements in the majority of these businesses. It’s a shame to see the scheme come to an end but the resources we have developed will help retailers for many years to come. We are

convinced that by helping a retailer to be more successful, access to vital services is maintained and helps ensure vibrant and sustainable rural communities.” Unfortunately, funding for this type of scheme now lies mainly with Local Economic Partnerships, which generally have little appetite for supporting small rural retail businesses. It is therefore important that the programme is leaving a solid legacy to ensure all the good practice, learning, skill sharing and enthusiasm is not lost. Through the scheme’s website, retailers can access a range of case studies, five training films and detailed fact sheets. These cover a variety of topics for busy retailers to access and work through in their own time. Topics range from market research through stock range, pricing, layout, staff training, to how to be sustainable in the future. The films, which are available on DVD or downloadable through the website, focus on good practice in the stores we worked with and use real life examples. ● Visit or contact Community First directly on 01380 723179 or

Tim Coomer (right) and Gareth Allen of filmmakers Soundview Media “on set” in a store Funded by:

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RSAViews Winter 2013/14

WHO IS STANDING UP FOR RURAL ENGLAND? We all tend to think of England as a country of large towns and cities. Of course, this is true, but that way of thinking masks the fact that large numbers of people live and work in rural England. Recently published data breaking down the 2011 census for rural parts of the country highlights this fact. 9.3 million people live in rural England. If this was a separate country, it would give it a similar population to Sweden. It would be double that of Eire. In a UK context, it is three times the population of Wales. In fact, the population of rural England is greater than that of Scotland and Wales combined. In some countries, there are political parties that specifically represent rural interests. The UK political system has not developed in that way. One can only wonder at the lack of attention paid to the specific interests of rural England. Compare it with the political weight wielded by Scotland and Wales; it is fair to ask just who is standing up for the people living in rural England? Both Wales and Scotland have had government funded schemes to support rural retailers and post offices. These schemes have recognised the crucial social importance of retaining local shops in rural communities. In fact, in the past government agencies in England did provide advice services and modest grants to support rural shops. Up to about 15 years ago, The Rural Development Commission did just that, with its work carried on by the successor organisation, the Countryside Agency. When that lost its

economic roles, the Regional Development Agencies provided only limited and patchy support. In a blink of an eye they too were abolished. Today we have Local Enterprise Partnerships. None, as far as we know, has any projects to specifically support our sector. â—? For National Census data on rural England, see uploads/attachment_data/file/260551/Census_Stats _-_Final.pdf


RSA Call for Better Deal for Rural PO’s (Partly) Answered! Network Reinvention – the Next Chapter Three years ago, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) published a strategy document,” Securing the Post Office Network in the Digital Age”.

open by March 2015. To date 1,400 branches have been converted, with another 800 committed, meaning there will be a massive shortfall against this target. Hence the need for a new strategy.

The Year 2020 replaces the Digital Age

The BIS minister responsible, Jo Swinson, outlined the new future for Post Office Limited (POL) in Parliament late in 2013 but this time the follow-up booklet, “Securing the Future: Strategy 2020” was published by POL itself. As regards the branch network, the plan is to create a network made up roughly as follows:

Since then, there have been four ministers with responsibility for the Post Office (Ed Davey, Norman Lamb, Jo Swinson and now Jenny Willott (her maternity cover)) and the world has changed, although not necessarily in the way predicted three short years ago. On the plus side, there have been few post office closures and there has been significant investment in the branch network. However, it is fair to say that reality has fallen far short of many of the key government commitments published in November 2010. In terms of the branch network, the BIS plan called for 6,000 new format post offices, Mains and Locals, to be

● ● ● ● ●

300 crown offices 4000 main offices 4000 local offices 2000 community offices 1400 outreach

The first two largely relate to the urban situation. Crown offices are in city centres and are operated directly by POL, whilst Main branches serve locations with larger numbers of customers from a dedicated post office area. They provide a full range of services. At the other end of the spectrum, outreach services are provided by staff coming in from another post office, setting up in a shop, village hall or other premises for a few hours a week. In some cases, services may be provided from a van.

The Community Model The recent announcements provide some good news, for offices designated as community post offices. Sub postmasters in these locations are being offered the chance to remain on the existing sub postmaster contract, with some funding available for investment to modernise the branch.

24 March


22 September

15 September

08 September


10 March

17 March

01 September


03 March

25 August

24 February

11 August 18 August


17 February

10 February

04 August

28 July


27 January

03 February

21 July


20 January

14 July

13 January

Week 07 July


06 January









WORLD CUP SEMI-FINALS (8th, 9th), FINAL (13th)


Promotional Calendar

22 December 29 December


30 June

15 December

08 December

01 December

24 November




23 June

16 June

09 June

02 June

26 May

17 November

10 November


12 May

19 May

03 November






27 October

28 April

05 May


20 October

13 October

21 April

EASTER (20th)

06 October

07 April

14 April

29 September

31 March

RSAViews The criterion is to be more than half a mile from an alternative shop. We are very surprised at the estimate of only 2000 such outlets and we would expect a large number of branches designated as Locals to appeal against their designation in the coming months. The options 1 and 2 listed below under the Local model are also open to sub postmasters with the Community model.

The Local model “Local” PO branches are located within another retail business, with a PO counter located next to the shop counter and with the post office open the same hours as the host retail business. In theory, the same staff can operate the shop counter and the post office section. The local option involves loss of the fixed core payment received by sub post offices (remuneration is solely based on transaction payments), loss of holiday pay, removal of the post office section to alongside the shop counter and post office opening hours the same as the shop. POL has sent letters to the sub postmasters in locations designated as suitable for a Local post office, offering the following options: 1. Convert to a Local. Compensation equal to a year’s remuneration would be paid and investment of up to £10,000 would be made available to convert the branch 2. Leave the network with a payment of 26 months remuneration, provided the Branch is relocated to another business nearby. 3. Appeal to be re designated as a community branch 4. If the current sub postmaster of an office designated as a local does not have a suitable retail business or is unable to offer post office services over the required hours then they can submit a business case to remedy the situation. Failure to do this will lead to the “option” of leaving the network with the 26 months remuneration package, provided POL are able to relocate the post office to a suitable retailer. It is

not clear what happens if no other suitable candidate comes forward.

Information gathering To enable POL to gather information about the business, sub postmasters are being offered a one-off payment of £2000 to complete two surveys. This sum also includes the pay increase for the next two years. The NFSP warns that the results of this survey could result in some sub post offices deemed to have insufficient retail sales to be “encouraged to leave the business, even if this is against their wishes”. The CWU goes a stage further, claiming that they face “compulsory redundancy”.

The broader picture The plans make a lot of sense at a strategic level. POL is in competition with other providers of financial services and hence its income from them is constantly under pressure. The promised new government contracts have not as yet materialised. At the same time, there are the pressures to meet customers’ demand for longer post office opening hours. It’s a tough call. 15 years ago, running a post office provided a good regular income. Sub post offices were sold on with considerable goodwill premiums and in practice the post office was often more profitable than the associated shop. Today that relationship is reversed. There is little or no profit in running a small post office and POL are actively looking for locations where a shop can support the post office operation. First the good news. It is excellent that there will be more investment funds available to improve post office outlets. We are also very pleased indeed that a large number of rural post offices will be designated as community outlets. This should go a long way to protecting the livelihood of many rural sub postmasters and the continued trading of the shop’s in which these post offices are located.

RSAViews The problem comes with the Local format. We have repeatedly suggested to government ministers and POL that it is not appropriate for a large number of rural locations. We have provided a number of case studies to POL to make our point. We are delighted that our concerns have been addressed with the creation of Community offices. This will safeguard a lot of the branches operated by our members. Full marks to POL for this aspect of policy. But for many sub post offices designated as Locals, this has no commercial or operational sense. Keeping a post office open long hours does have associated staffing costs, siting the post office counter next to the shop counter can cause significant queuing problems, removing the fortress takes away space to store parcels, etc. Converting to a Local can cause real problems, which is why so few sub postmasters have to date volunteered to do so. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. The concept can work but only in certain locations. In the past we have received repeated assurances that conversion to Local would remain voluntary. This policy would appear to have been abandoned. We would expect over time that a large number of these sub post offices would move to alternative businesses – if prospective operators can be found. Taking on a post office local is a significant commitment. POL has strong non- compete restrictions for potential new operators. If they take on a post office, they are unable to continue to

The privatisation of Royal Mail will have a long term impact on Post Office branches

offer competing services for mails or deliveries, banking, financial services, bill payment services and the National Lottery. Many may have existing contracts in place for these services. Prospective new operators are evaluated on a number of criteria by POL, including how much of the existing PO business will migrate, the impact on neighbouring branches, routes to the new site, public transport links, parking, accessibility of the potential new premises, space in the new site and opening hours. It is not a foregone conclusion that a prospective operator will be accepted and from their point of view, the business plan may simply not work. ● For more information, see: 292134%20Strategy%20Overview%20Booklet %20nov%202013_External% 20220x303mm_SP.PDF

GROCERIES CODE ADJUDICATOR USES HER POWERS The RSA is very pleased that the recently appointed Groceries Code Adjudicator has shown that she is prepared to stand up to the supermarkets. Following a complaint that Tesco was Christine Orrell Tacon, GCA

asking suppliers to pay for eye-level displays for their lines, Christine Tacon has indicated that such payments are contrary to the spirit, if not the letter, of the Groceries Supply Code of Practice. Suppliers would see them effectively as a requirement, which would not be permitted under the Code. Tesco have now backed down. We very much hope this is a sign of things to come from the GCA.

Symbol Group membership...

The Pros and Cons Retailers often bemoan the perceived competitive advantages enjoyed by the big supermarket chains. Membership of a symbol group is one important way that an independent retailer can access many of the advantages enjoyed by the big multiples whilst remaining in charge of their own business. There are now numerous different groups, each with their own approach to business and having different requirements for membership. However, many independent retailers are very cautious about the loss of independence they associate with the symbol groups.

At the RSA, we firmly believe that every owner of a rural convenience store that would qualify for membership of a group should at least investigate the pros and cons of doing so. This isn’t to say that it is the right course for everybody – it isn’t – but for many proprietors joining a symbol group has proved to be one of the best decisions they have made, transforming their business. Overleaf, we have tried to summarise the main pros and cons of membership, although of course different groups provide different packages of benefits. It is up to the individual retailer to research what each company can offer and make their own decision.

The long-term trend is for symbol group stores to be taking an ever-increasing share of the convenience store market.

Convenience channel market shares cooperatives 11% symbol groups 42% unaffiliated independents 18% convenience multiples 18% convenience forecourts 11% Issue 24 ● Winter 2013/14 ● RuralRetailer 21

Symbol Group membership...continued

The Pros...

t in help and suppor ● Availability of ards required nd sta e op to th upgrading the sh cial etimes with finan by the group, som at their th d oups deman sistance. Some gr d as an e tely, nc ple de m nfi co co to adhered ay have more ideal standards be tion ● Customers m nal ten tio re na e a th th on wi le op to sh e far more flexib ar rs he ot be more prepared to use a one shop ys and fittings. of existing displa fascia rather than n help particularly is g din an br label products ca is n The group’s ow of independent. Th el ● lev st the h ain hig ag a th ely e effectiv sinesses wi you compete mor important for bu l their sales tia of ten % po 40 y to an ere m arkets, where up rm pe ay su passing trade, wh m able d an s Be es re own label. ing t know the busin es from their sto riv e de customers do no er wh nt ing rta m It is less impo is area is beco it to compete in th need reassurance. residents who vis al loc l. e ar cia s er cru m increasingly most custo nal regular promotio a ly. is lar e gu er re th lly ua Us the shop rial ● ld ou sh opriate show mate wer of the group ramme, with appr og pr ing ● The buying po ll ow wi all is s, th y ided. Typicall good cost price and support prov enable it to offer or al offers, a higher margin e tak r cycle of promotion he lar eit gu to re a e lud of inc the retailer rm fo tickets and the sters, shelf edge the savings on in backed up with po to pass some of s. customer leaflets. lower retail price a regional keeping a g campaigns on ng can make book ici vo in l ra nt Group advertisin Ce op dr ● ● to ve a es ha m ll co wi it ps larly when . All grou or national basis lot easier, particu arrange Twitter ll or wi ok ps bo ou ce gr e Fa m ve rs. So and many ha ite bs we shipment supplie in ed liers to be includ ll. campaigns as we for your local supp d online rangements. ar s, such as EPoS an m ste sy il ta Re central invoicing lp ● he ld ou or at e sh fre up d ck provide ort and ba ordering, are often ● Training, supp ager. an puter m m co op sh eir a th as of me Use discounted cost. you to up your ga ry for many l lso na pu gio m re co a is be g ll rin systems for orde Typically, there wi u, ager to support yo . ps ou gr development man to teams often provided in essional backup rative support is ist in m d Ad together with prof an ● ing nn such as store pla yroll. areas such as pa help you in areas cing or ies of stock, redu merchandising. ● Regular deliver sh-andca e th ed to visit eliminating the ne carry. Symbol group membership does not preclude other messages

Booker’s Premier fascia has easier entry requirements than most groups

22 RuralRetailer ● Winter 2013/14 ● Issue 24

● You will be ex pected to mainta in store standards to the level expected of all group members, althoug h you would prob ably want to do this anyway . ● To a varying ex tent between grou ps, you will ● Depending on be expected to fo the group, there llow planograms, may well be special offer programm membership fees es, marketing ca or other costs. Th mpaigns ese can etc., although mos include an upfront t are more flexib joining fee, week le than ly or many independe monthly fees and nts give them cre charges for specific dit for. Again, it should no services. Against these, some grou t be too great a ha ps provide rdship to be expected to sto discounts or reba tes related to volum ck national bests ellers in e on the each category. goods you source from them. ● Customers m ● There will usua ay need reassura lly be a requirem nce that you ent for you still own the busin to order a minim um value of stock ess and that you are still an or a independent busin minimum numbe r of cases on a re essman, that the gu shop is lar ba still an integral pa from the group. sis This may inhibit rt of their comm you from unity. Some customers seeking out best prices across a ra are very keen to support nge of local businesses. different wholesa lers or using small er ● You may not suppliers. want to use the group’s ● There may be systems, such as a significant cost ordering or payroll to bring . ● Many shopke your store up to epers value their the standards ex pected of independence ve group members, depending on ho ry highly and may w good it is not want to have a third pa currently. rty involved in th eir business in any wa y.

...and Cons

Window graphics can be part of the package, if appropriate

Smart Nisa Local fascia is matched by a clean attractive sales area treatment

Some groups have improved their fresh offer massively in recent years - in this case, fruit from the Londis Supervalu range

Issue 24 ● Winter 2013/14 ● RuralRetailer 23

Hampshire Fare...

Helping Rural Shops to The Rural Shops Alliance has consistently encouraged our members to stock as many locally produced lines as possible. Apart from the benefits to the local economy, customers want to buy them and they provide rural shops with a key point of difference from the major supermarkets. Recently, the RSA and Hampshire Fare both ran sessions at a training day for rural retailers in the county and so we took this opportunity to find out more about their work and hear how a couple of retailers have benefited from their support.

Hampshire Fare was set up in 1991 by a small group of food producers eager to promote the benefits of buying local produce. More than twenty years on, this vision has grown into a food group that supports more than 260 local food, drink and craft businesses. Hampshire Fare is able to offer these businesses PR and marketing support, networking and event opportunities and the chance to promote their products and services. Bringing local producers, hospitality venues and retailers together in this way helps to strengthen their regional and national presence. The networking opportunities given to members have also led to many profitable working relationships and collaborations between members. Hampshire Fare organises the annual Hampshire Food Festival. Held throughout July, this award-winning food festival showcases and celebrates local food and farming. Events include vineyard, farm and brewery tours, cooking demonstrations and food markets, tastings and workshops. In 2013 more than 80 events were held across the county attracting 180,000 visitors. The food group also undertakes unique projects designed to support local producers. One of these projects was aimed at encouraging village shops to stock local produce. The concept of selling local products from village shops sounds simple but in practice the logistical challenges involved have often been a barrier for shop owners.

Inside Eversley Stores

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The project was run alongside an initiative led by Hampshire County Council (HCC). In 2008

Stock Local Produce Local cheese inside Eversley Stores

the council set up a grant scheme originally funded by the South East of England Development Agency. The county council collaborated with Community Action Hampshire and Hampshire Association of Local Councils to offer village shops at threat of closure a capital grant. One of the conditions of the grant was that shop owners take steps to stock local produce with the support of Hampshire Fare. The project has provided 30 grants totalling more than £400,000 to 27 shops. All remain in business and some are now much more profitable. Anne Harrison from the Economic Development team at HCC has been closely involved in the project and can see the positive results: “I recently visited Woodgreen Community Shop in the New Forest which received a grant. There is now a steady stream of customers coming to use the shop and to chat to volunteers. People love to come in and see what’s new. Local produce is one of the things that differentiates village shops from their larger counterparts. And what better shop window could a local supplier ask for?”

CASE STUDY 1: EVERSLEY CENTRE STORES Eversley Centre Stores was one of the village shops to receive a grant and benefit from the project led by Hampshire Fare aimed at helping them stock more local produce. Hampshire Fare collaborated with their Corporate Partner, The Southern Co-operative, to offer a select number of village shops the chance to access the regional food retailer’s local producers’ distribution network. The scheme enabled village shop owners to source a range of local produce through just one order. Sadly three years on the funding for the programme has come to an end but the shops involved such as Eversley Centre Stores are still able to take

Owners Gillian Lewis and John Hartle Eversley Stores

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Hampshire Fare... advantage of ordering via The Southern Cooperative. John Hartle from Eversley Stores explains what the scheme has done for their business. “We took over the shop in 2010 and were eager to give it a new lease of life including stocking local produce. However we soon discovered that one of the biggest obstacles to this is getting the local produce to the shop. We jumped at the chance to be part of the Hampshire Fare village shop scheme set up to help businesses like ours. All we had to do was place the order on a Monday and the products would be delivered to us on the Thursday. Suddenly we were able to fill our shelves with local produce and we quickly became known as the place to go for local cheese, beer, smoked fish, cakes and more. We are so lucky to have such talented producers in Hampshire, there is such variety of high quality produce. Since starting the scheme we have also spent time researching and building relationships with more local producers.

As a result I now also collect some products from the producers themselves. We have found that customers are really keen to try and buy local produce. We often hold tasting events and talks from local producers which have helped to engage the local community. We find that customers now come to the shop specifically to purchase their favourite local cheese or beer. It is definitely a draw for people. Our biggest piece of advice to other shop owners keen to stock local produce is to persevere! It takes time to work out just the right amount to order to avoid wastage. Make sure you spend time and energy promoting it so hold tasting events and talk to your customers about the new products. Don’t let the price put you off, the quality of the produce is worth it and customers can see this, they are prepared to pay a higher price. The opportunity to be involved in the programme has undoubtedly benefited our business, local produce is now an integral part of our business and without the scheme we would not have been able to stock as much as we do.”

Eversley Centre Stores - outside

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● Eversley Centre Stores is located in Hook. Find out more at


Chilbolton shop

Chilbolton Stores was taken over by Joanne Buist and David Johnston in November 2006. Before they had even opened, Jo was busy visiting local markets to seek out local producers to supply the shop. Seven years on they stock a wide range of local produce which they see as a central part of their business. Jo is positive about their experiences: “We are both passionate about using local produce ourselves and we knew from the beginning it was the direction we wanted to take the shop. Our local produce definitely sets us apart from other similar businesses. We can do local really well and it helps us to compete with supermarkets. We have become known as a shop that stocks local food and drink and so we also get approached by lots of local producers eager to supply us with their products. We also use the Hampshire Fare website to hunt out new suppliers and really enjoy discovering new producers. We have built strong relationships

with many local producers and many regularly drop off stock whilst we also collect from some producers. The challenge we have faced is changing customers’ habits. We find that people like the idea of local food but it takes time to change their buying habits. However once they do starting buying local produce, they get hooked! We use social media a lot to communicate with our customers and simple things such as black boards and tasting events. It’s about keeping your customers informed.” ● Find out more at

Chilbolton shop

● Find out more about the work of Hampshire Fare at Similar organisations exist elsewhere in the country; search the Internet to find out what help and support is available in your area

Issue 24 ● Winter 2013/14 ● RuralRetailer 27

Energy costs...

Controlling Energy “I was very inexperienced when I opened my store,” admits Heather Holmes of Tillington Village Stores in Herefordshire, who forked out on a long wall of open-deck refrigeration to display fresh produce. “I should have put in chillers with doors on but I can’t afford to replace the units for the sake of energy reduction.” Like most small shopkeepers, Holmes knows energy costs make a difference to the bottom line when margins are being squeezed and you’re fighting for customer spend. But it might be easier to reduce bills than you think. The Carbon Trust believes firms could easily make savings of about 30% by starting with the

Heather Holmes wishes she had doors on her long run of refrigeration

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basics: avoiding over-filling shelves, using insulating blinds and covers and turning off lighting inside cabinets outside trading hours. Light levels in stores can fall by as much as 50% in three years if windows, skylights and artificial lights aren’t regularly cleaned, according to Npower. It advises de-cluttering windows and doors, and removing posters to let in more light, while a new coat of light-coloured paint on walls and ceilings can help reflect light. The energy firm reckons that even having a basic lighting maintenance programme can cut costs by up to 15%. Replace blackened, flickering or dim fluorescent tubes with triphosphor coated ones - modern fluorescent

By Helen Gregory

Bills tubes with high-frequency fittings use less energy, don’t flicker or hum and can be dimmed. And it might also be worth swapping those 20W halogen spotlights for LEDs, which can save energy and cut maintenance costs too, as they last many times longer. At Baginton Village Stores in Coventry, owner Walter Bush is a convert. He says: “I’ve installed LED lights on the fascia and down the side of my dairy chiller to replace the T8 fluorescent tubes – they cost me £120 and it’s meant power use has been knocked back by 25-30%. They also last so much longer.” However, he won’t be using them throughout the store. Bush adds, “I’m waiting for the price to come down.”

1mm thick, there’s clear vision, and people can reach through them very easily – you also don’t get a real whoosh of air escaping like you do when opening glass doors.” However, retro-fitting double glazed doors is also popular with some small stores, according to Delta Refrigeration, which reports that retailers can save 40% of their energy costs this way. MD Simon Robinson says while this is a real benefit, it can make even better financial sense to buy new chillers with doors already fitted if your current cabinets are older models. “It could cost a couple of thousand pounds on something that might only last another three or four years,” he explains.

There are simple things you can do on chillers to reduce bills before forking out on new equipment. Make sure door seals are effective on cold rooms, fridges and freezers, and that condensers are free from dust, The Carbon Trust advises, while it’s also time to remove clutter around chillers which restricts the airflow. Some retailers have fitted PVC hanging chiller strips to open deck chillers and supplier Redwood Strip Curtains says that while they were hugely popular in the early ‘90s, they’ve seen a resurgence of late. “Increasing numbers of retailers are buying them as a quick, simple and cost-effective way to save energy and reduce the running costs of their chiller units,” says sales and marketing manager Peter Kew. Fitting a 2-metre cabinet costs between £150£200 and can reduce energy consumption by up to 60%, adds Kew. “Our CoolStrips are less than A new way to retain cold air within an open deck chiller

Issue 24 ● Winter 2013/14 ● RuralRetailer 29

Energy costs... Robinson insists there’s no negative impact on sales and adds that some retailers have reported the added benefit that the doors also deter shoplifters. Whilst the company can fit single glazed doors, he usually advises retailers to plump for double glazing to avoid possible condensation problems.

air, allowing it to re-enter the refrigerated airflow, reducing the workload on the compressor and hence power consumption.

For example, one village store owner has fitted 10 single-pane glass doors across all her fridges but says they constantly mist up. This means she has to keep the front door closed and constantly run the air conditioning. “This has wiped out any savings we would have made on energy bills – we’re not happy but there’s nothing we can do as the company that fitted them now tells us we should have had doubleglazed doors fitted.”

Biting the bullet and buying new equipment can cut electricity consumption and pay back the investment in a relatively short time. Creaton Post Office & Village Shop in Northamptonshire swapped one of its open chillers for an upright with sliding doors because the store was heating up too much. Owner Sylvia Winter says while customers sometimes leave the sliding doors open on her freezer, the new chiller is better because the doors close automatically. However, she doesn’t think her other two older chillers will be replaced any time soon: “Like many rural stores, we won’t be forking out on expensive equipment unless it breaks down!”

Both plastic strips and doors can be a barrier between shoppers and products, according to energy reduction specialist company Enviroglow. Instead, it suggests using ChillScoops, acrylic panels that fit along the front base of an open cabinet. These create a vortex, catching up to 90% of lost refrigerated

But energy saving doesn’t have to be expensive, insists Enviroglow, which puts together an Energy Reduction Package for stores. Says senior sales manager Roger Shenton: “The savings that we project are what pay for the installations – it becomes self funding with an average 26-month payback.” Premier Whitstone

Lightweight doors retrofitted to a chiller. The adjacent chilled produce display has been left open

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A long established idea that has fallen out of fashion, will energy prices cause them to return?

Village Stores in Holsworthy, Devon, has seen a big drop in electricity consumption after it had eight metres of ChillScoops fitted as part of its energy upgrade package, costing £8,392. Retailer Dan Cock is saving £344 a month and expects to pay back the install costs within two years. So what else can you do to save energy and money? Get a smart meter installed to provide a more accurate account of your energy consumption (Npower and others provide these free). “Many retailers feel a bit confused and vulnerable, not knowing if what they’re doing is the right thing,” explains EcoMonitor MD Brian O’Hagan. He advises monitoring usage first before spending money on equipment: “If you put in new fridge doors, monitoring your return on investment can be difficult if you’ve only got a quarterly bill to look at.”

The RSA view Visiting stores, we are often aware of chillers where the compressor is constantly working to maintain temperature instead of cutting in and out. Because the owner is in the shop all day and every day, they are seldom even aware of it. And, too often, proprietors tell us of refrigerators that are 20 years old and have had three new compressors along the way. The reality is that modern equipment is usually far more energy-efficient than older kit and that the payback period for buying new is often surprisingly short. Sometimes energysavings can equal the monthly lease purchase cost, making acquisition of new equipment effectively cost-free. Chilled product is a crucial element of the offer for most rural convenience stores. Newly fitted convenience stores from the big multiples have walls of glass fronted chillers and although this is not practical for most independents, it does point the way that the market is heading. Certainly customers are far more used to opening doors to access chilled product and they are much less of a psychological barrier than they once were. Any shopkeeper considering new refrigeration should at least look at equipment with doors to see if it is likely to work for them.

And if you haven’t already, as fuel prices rise for winter it’s a good time to either fix your energy tariff or look for a better deal. Both Baginton Village Stores and Creaton Post Office & Village Shop have swapped providers recently. Says Sylvia Winter “It has saved us 20% on our energy bills – that’s a saving of about £1,000 although we’re now tied into a three year contract, it’s worth it.”

Issue 24 ● Winter 2013/14 ● RuralRetailer 31

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