MTJ PR has launched a new initiative, its Retail Excellence Panel. The panel, made up of independent convenience retailers from across the UK, is one of the ways MTJ ensures that our partners’ launches, promotions, and messaging has the best chance of engaging independent business owners. During a lively first session, retailers shared the biggest challenges their business currently faces, with stock availability at an “all-time low” for some. We also discussed opportunities that store owners are exploring to drive their sales and profits.

In this three-part series, we reveal insight from the panel that suppliers can apply to their strategies. Here, we uncover the biggest challenges our panellists are facing.

  1. Stock availability

The main challenge highlighted by all store owners on the call was stock availability, with retailers reporting there was no end to the issues in sight.  “We can face up to 650 out of across all categories. Customers don’t understand it either. We get comments from them such as ‘are you shutting down?’ all the time,” said Sophie Towers, owner of Kibble Bank One Stop, Burnley, Lancashire.

Imtiyaz Mamode Wych Lane PremierImtiyaz Mamode of Wych Lane Premier in Gosport, Hampshire, said the issues meant that planning deliveries was impossible as often extra stock from a previous order would be added to a new one. “We recently ordered bananas and were told they were out of stock. We ordered again and we ended up with too many boxes. Most of it went off.”

  1. Concern over promotions

Retailers voiced their concerns that suppliers would eventually start pulling promotions out of wholesalers due to them no longer selling high enough volumes because of low availability. In turn, will wholesalers reduce rebates and ‘spend and save’ schemes for store owners?

As Natalie Lightfoot of Londis Solo Convenience, Glasgow explained: “If you’re not able to order your bestsellers, spend will be lower. Long-term, I’m concerned how this will affect how suppliers view the channel. Will they wind up giving even more favourable treatment to the supermarkets?”

Suppliers and wholesalers must communicate how they will continue to be a reliable partner for independents through this challenging trading period and beyond.

  1. Standing out from other stores

Whether it’s food to go, vaping, or American confectionery, convenience retailers have always looked for profitable new lines and categories to stand out from the competition. However, the uncertainty of being able to stock bestsellers is causing stores to prioritise this more than before. Bubble tea, alcoholic slushes, and Smart Soda were some of the more recent innovations for retailers on the call.

Gail Watling Tidings
As multiples continue to invest in selling their own-label products through independent stores, the pressure is on for retailers to communicate their independence, despite what the names might be on the products they sell. “My customers can see Jack’s by Tesco on the packaging,” said Gail Watling of Tidings Newsagents in Norwich, Norfolk. “They think I’m just going to Tesco to buy my stock. It’s a real challenge.”

For symbol retailers, there’s also an emphasis for those who are doing the right thing to stand out from unscrupulous store owners.

“We’ve got stores near us selling illegal vapes and because they sell it, customers come to me and expect me to sell it,” said Imtiyaz. “It really affects the reputation of all retailers.”

  1. Sexism

“In all the years I’ve been in retail, I’ve never had a single supplier launch in my store, no one has ever approached me. I don’t get many reps in. When they have visited, I get: ‘Is your dad in?’”

Sophie’s experience resonated with all the female store owners on the call.

Sophie Towers Kibble Bank One Stop“There’s this core group of – mostly male – retailers who seem to sit on all the panels and they get everything from suppliers. Why do they take priority when I’ve been around as long or longer? There’s still this issue that female retailers aren’t equal. It’s so frustrating.”

Suppliers need to ensure that they are working with, and gaining feedback from, retailers who are outside the main 30-50 retailers who are often quoted in trade press. There are 33,000 independent stores in the country, many ran by brilliant businesspeople who deserve the spotlight too.

  1. High Fat Salt Sugar legislation

For the retailers on the call, HFSS legislation is still an abstract concept, but some stores are getting ahead of it. Imtiyaz said: “We changed our store to be HFSS-ready this summer. We had sweets and chocolates underneath the counter and now we only sell toys there. We sell a lot more now. It’s going very well. Kids start pestering their parents when they see something they want and often it gets bought by them!”

Of course, with a new Prime Minister in Downing Street who is well-known for being against laws such as this, the future of HFSS legislation is now in doubt. Suppliers, however, still need to support retailers who are looking to help their customers make healthier choices.

Retail Excellence PanelMore insight from The Retail Excellence Panel: