Ideas and inspiration were in abundance at the new National Convenience Show

Retailers from across the country returned to their stores inspired and invigorated by last week's National Convenience Show (NCS) at the Birmingham NEC. Whether it was the opportunity to network, talk to suppliers and manufacturers, hear about new products, or learn from industry experts, the three-day event offered something for everyone.

Retailers’ views 

Gary Coren & Joanne Thompson 
Ruyton XI PO & Stores, Shrewsbury 
"This is our first time here and we've seen some great ideas already. I've picked up a food label printer, which I think will really add to the store. We've had the store for about 11 years so we thought it was time to freshen things up." 

Rajandra Shah, Southfield Market, Bradford 
"I'm here to find some new ideas for my store. Business has been a bit slow lately so I'm looking for anything that will drive sales up a bit." 

Bob Dhanak, Hitchin Wine Cellar, Hertfordshire
"The show has been a real eye-opener this year. The number of brands that I could speak to was brilliant. I'm looking to open a second store so I got some advice on what new areas to take it in and spoke to a couple of the symbol groups about what they can do for me." 

Steve Bassett, four stores, Southern England 
"I come here every year to learn about new back office products. I can research products on my own, but I visit NCS to look at new technology that will help me run my store better. I've had a look at some cash management and safety options which I think will become a big part of every store in the coming years." 

Robert Bent, manager, Malcolms Stores, Coventry 
"I've been working in retail for the past seven years and am looking to run my own store. NCS has given me some great ideas that I would be very interested in introducing when it opens."

Ian Mitchell, The Village Store, Drongan, East Ayrshire 
"It's all about seeing people face-to-face and getting a chance to find out more about their brands. You can't get that opportunity anywhere else, and it has allowed me to make better decisions about what will happen in my store." 

Vinod, Pritesh & Peter Patel
Convenience Express, Corby, Northamptonshire 

"We have one store and are looking to open a second so we're here to find some ideas on that. It's great to be able to talk to manufacturers directly here as it's not always possible on the phone. We've already seen some great food-to-go ideas that we think we'll use as it's an area we want to invest in."
The Live@theCounter programme was packed full of enthusiastic debate, live interviews, product launches and tastings. Meanwhile, the Ask the Experts advice centre provided retailers with some invaluable tips on a range of relevant issues. Retailer Kishor Patel was one of the experts and had a varied book of appointments including a couple from a village near Bath who have a community store and were looking for ideas to improve sales, promotions and PR. "This store may have some correlation to one of our village stores, where we started with sales of £2,000 per week and now trades at £28,000-plus per week, so there may be some ideas to pick out there and I will be linking them up with potential supply chain partners," Kishor said.

"I also met a lady from Devon who took over a store two weeks ago, with no retail experience. We discussed in detail the importance of communicating clearly to the villagers who you are, what plans you have for the store, and how you will benefit their community."

There were also some more unusual queries, such as a supplier who wanted to analyse whether there was a UK market for 24-hour vending and a Turkish designer who had developed a "new pure drink" and was looking for effective distribution. "It was a bit different to my day job, but I could understand her needs and the marketplace for her product. I put her in touch with a broker who is working with a coffee shop chain," Kishor said.

What's new at NCS

The Webb Group commenced the rollout of its new brand identity for DVD rental service Rent it Here at this year's NCS. The new terminals, which the Webb Group hopes will be in 500 new locations in 2011, take up just 0.3 square metres and offer retailers a 20% share of revenue generated.

Pork Farms celebrated its 80th anniversairy with a £1m rebrand of its range. The new packaging showcases the brand's heritage. It also released a new selection of pastry slices available in four flavours: chicken & mushroom; chicken & bacon; peppered steak; and cheese & onion.

Unilever and Milk Link launched I Can't Believe It's Not Cheddar! Described as one of the biggest cheese launches in recent years, the new product has 30% less fat than cheddar so can't be called cheddar, but it gets the message across by using the 'I Can't Believe It's Not' name. The cheese comes in resealable packaging using "the same principle as Velcro".

Aimia Foods launched the No Fear Extreme Energy drink in a 250ml slimline can. The smaller format is being introduced on the back of strong sales of the 485ml can within the past six months. It is being marketed as an ideal mixer or as on-the-go energy drink.

Philip Morris International unveiled two new tobacco products for cash-conscious smokers at NCS. Chesterfield cigarettes were launched nationally. With an rrp of £5.75 for 20 and £2.95 for 10, the Virginia blend Blue, Red and Menthol variants bear a striking pack design which symbolises the modern British lifestyle. Also launched was Marlboro Gold Touch a noticeably thinner cigarette with the slimmer rrp of £6.20 for 20.

Fairfield unveiled its mixed colour five-pack balloons and birthday-themed Illoom Balloons. These contain a battery-operated LED and light up once their cardboard tag has been pulled and can then be inflated or filled with helium. Shelf-life isn't a concern as the balloons' batteries last seven years.

Just four ingredients go into making new ice cream Moocluck, which is available in strawberry, blueberry and mango flavours. The product has fewer than 100 calories per 100ml serving and each 500ml tub contains at least 250ml of fruit juice. 

Gift idea named as best

Innovative gifting firm LetterBox Gifts won the accolade of Best New Idea at the show, as voted for by visitors. 

The product's key feature is double-sided packaging which means that the pack which contains confectionery such as jelly beans or Thornton's chocolates plus a panel for a personalised message can be given either as a gift in person or sent through the post. Products include birthday, Valentine's and Mother's Day versions and an instruction video is available at

The company's sole employees are husband-and-wife team Nico and Elkie Nicholas, pictured above with C-Store editor David Rees (right). The former award-winning bridalwear designers had sold their company and were looking for a new venture when they came up with the idea. Nico Nicholas said: "This is a convenience product, and we designed it with this sector in mind."

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