C-Store Champions discuss their views on the challenges presented by legislation

Lesley Brown,
Frankmarsh Stores, Barnstaple, Devon
Lesley and husband William have had a real battle on their hands of late ensuring that their store survives the opening of a nearby Tesco.

Raj Aggarwal,
Londis, Wigston, Leicester
A staunch charity fundraiser and supporter of his local community, Raj gets involved with National Independents’ Day each year through a raft of different ideas.

David Nice,
Nisa, Maylandsea, Essex
David isn’t afraid to try out new ideas and was the first retailer to adopt Nisa’s Store of the Future concept. He is also a firm believer in top-level customer service.

Andrew Porter,
Eurospar at Creightons of Finaghy, Belfast
Andrew knows that in-store theatre is key to attracting customers and isn’t afraid to try out new ideas. The lastest is food sampling tables in his store.

Mark Johnson,
Celebrations off-licence, Stockport, Cheshire
Mark takes a very professional approach to point of sale, and claims that the key is to combine a high-quality product image with a simple message.

How does legislation affect the day-to-day running of your business?

: It means I have to spend more time away from the shop floor and away from the customers, and it adds to my staffing costs.

Raj: Very much so because we’re penalised if we don’t comply and being a small business we can’t afford to take the risks.

David: It doesn’t dramatically affect it on a day-to-day basis. The biggest problem is silent legislation the monthly form filling we have to do.

Andrew: It takes up a lot of time, especially when it comes to dealing with human resources and health and safety issues.

Mark: As long as you’re aware of what the legislation is and you are compliant with it, then it’s not a problem.

What piece of legislation would you most like to do away with Lesley: The display ban is unnecessary buying cigarettes is legal and it should be customer choice. Shops like us take a responsible attitude and we’re being penalised. 

Raj: I’d get rid of the tobacco display ban. It’s going to be a nightmare not so much the ban itself, but the knock-on effect it will have on the illicit trade. 

David: The waste paper legislation where you have to tell the government how much waste paper you’re creating and how much is being recycled. It’s a total waste of time. 

Andrew: Waste paper legislation the calculations that a store owner has to work out are crazy. 

Mark: The tobacco display ban is a waste of time and will cause problems further down the line from a security point of view.

How much time do you spend on compliance activities?

: It depends on the time of year. In the weeks running up to April and October, when new legislation is implemented, I spend about 50% of my time on compliance activities. If you’re part of a symbol group they’ll offer you advice on what to do, but as an unaffiliated independent I have to do it all myself it’s a nightmare.

Raj: I spend a good hour a day making sure everything is right some legislation is just a waste of time.

David: We spend an hour a week talking about and acting on it.

Andrew: There’s not a specific amount of time; it’s more of a constant responsibility as and when issues arise.

Mark: Not long at all renewing alcohol licences and training staff is just part of the routine of running the store.

Do you employ anyone specifically to ensure you comply with regulations?

: I am that person! I’m the personnel-come-admin manager, so it’s all down to me.

Raj: We wouldn’t be able to afford that. We do a lot of it ourselves.

David: We have a PAYE administrator who deals with all the employment laws and holiday entitlements.

Andrew: Different people look after different areas of legislation. For example, on the forecourt we use health and safety specialists to ensure we satisfy the petroleum officer at the local council.

Mark: I deal with all the legislation issues I’m literally a one-stop shop!

What are the most onerous pieces of red tape in your business?

: Dealing with employment matters is so complicated, but it has to be done: if you get them wrong it can be costly.

Raj: The tobacco display ban is going to be really onerous. We all thought the government might reconsider going ahead with it, but that hasn’t happened unfortunately.

David: The forms we have to fill in regarding general expenditure such as building and shelving changes, as well as turnover, are very tedious. The wording is often unusual and not easy to comprehend.

Andrew: Employment legislation can be burdensome. Staff have more and more rights, but they seem to know more about them than me!

Mark: The dreaded tax and VAT returns are time-consuming, but they’ve got to be done.

What piece of legislation would you like to put in place to improve business?

: I would like attempted purchases of cigarettes by underage customers to be treated as an offence in the same way that alcohol is.

Raj: I’d like to see much stricter rules on planning applications for the big supermarkets. I’d also like to see independent retailers better supported as we are so important to so many local communities.

David: A general reduction in paperwork requirements would be good.

Andrew: I’d like legislation to slow the incredibly rapid expansion of the multiples. There is a place for them of course, but they’re so aggressive, particularly within the convenience sector.

Mark: I’d like a level playing field for alcohol pricing. At the moment the situation with the supermarkets is extremely unfair. Of course, it shouldn’t actually require legislation; it should be down to the multiples to be responsible and sell alcohol at the right price instead of making it cheap and too easily accessible, with undesirable results.

How do you keep abreast of changing legislation? Lesley: We read Convenience Store regularly and go on the Business Link website. The Federation of Small Businesses and The British Institute of Innkeeping are also very helpful. I read the Association of Convenience Stores’ (ACS) daily bulletin, too it’s very useful. 

Raj: I keep up with things through the trade press, and also read the weekly news bulletins issued by Londis, which are extremely helpful. 

David: Nisa keeps us abreast of changes, such as employment legislation. 

Andrew: We’re an independent store, but we buy through the Henderson Group, and part of their function is to answer any legislative queries we may have. 

Mark: I get information through trade magazines and cash & carries, and from talking to other retailers. Also, if you’ve got a reputation for being a diligent retailer then the local authorities can advise you on compliance issues.

How effective do you expect the government’s Red Tape Challenge website to be?

: To be honest I think it’s just a publicity stunt. I’m not sure it’ll do any good.

Raj: I think it will be very good. If enough retailers click on the rules we don’t agree with then people will listen and hopefully things will change.

David: If anything happens it’ll be great, but I think it’s an exercise in lip service.

Andrew: I don’t know politicians promise things, but they don’t always happen. I’d be sceptical.

Mark: I think it’s all a government smoke-screen to try to convince people that they’re listening when the reality is that they’re not.

Which groups do you believe will have the biggest impact when it comes to getting independent retailers’ views on legislation across?

: The ACS and the Federation of Small Businesses lobby all the time.

Raj: The ACS it is heavily involved in lobbying the government directly.

David: The ACS has a big lobbying remit, which is great, but I’m not sure what it achieves. However, there’s no doubt it tries very hard to get the message across.

Andrew: Through the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association we employ someone full-time to act on our behalf and he’s very good at contacting local and national politicians.

Mark: The trade press report on everyone’s views both retailers and suppliers and what they write often gets picked up by the national media.

What can retailers do to better get their voices heard?

Lesley: Lobby your MP and deal with decision-makers directly. Retailers need to keep banging away at issues, and maybe even get elected themselves!

Raj: You can call in your local MP and explain what issues you’re concerned about. You can also look for information on the ACS website. Speaking to other retailers is also important.

David: You have to be active locally for example, you could write an open letter with 1,000 signatures on it and send it to the local council.

Andrew: Local trade associations are useful groups to be involved with, along with suppliers by making contact with them, they can take up the mantle on your behalf.

Mark: Retailers can ring up Convenience Store and put their views across so that they can be picked up by a wider audience.