Industry experts gave their views on the issues that matter to the c-store trade

With topics spanning from wine retailing to epos, from newspapers to thriving in the recession, Live@theCounter had it all. Live panel-style interviews were followed by debate from the floor, making for a stimulating and thought-provoking series of events. Here are some of the highlights.

Booker under the spotlight

Booker retail sales director Steve Fox said the wholesaler's recent growth had enabled it to invest in its customers and develop its brands. He described the 172 branches as "listening groups".

C-Store editor David Rees asked whether symbol groups were the way forward, especially in light of Premier's success. Fox replied that symbol groups provided "a bit of professionalism", although he conceded the route wasn't right for everyone. He said the key issues for c-stores were the economic climate, legislation and competition. He warned that the full effects of the economic downturn were yet to be experienced, but insisted that "a good indie will succeed in a tough climate". Indies often have more choice and local products than those offered by multiples, he pointed out.

Coffee time. How caffeine can give food to go a buzz

Coffee Nation explained how to potentially turn one metre into £40,000 of additional income. Unveiling its latest 2G Touch machine at the Live@theCounter, it said new offering was easier to install, cheaper to run and more energy efficient.

Chief executive Scott Martin said that more retailers have the opportunity to offer quality coffee and generate additional income. "The launch of the new 2G Touch means that all Coffee Nation machines are now available with a 13amp connection, offering operators in the convenience sector an easy way to sell gourmet coffee and generate significant income."

Welcome to the world of wine...

Booker wine category manager Rob Hart spoke about the opportunities in wine retailing. He urged retailers to treat wine with the same commercial vigour they'd treat any other category. He started by offering some simple but effective tips: offer chilled wine, which multiples don't do well; start with a tight range and then build from there; and back the winners.

He said sparkling wine was thriving, driven by Champagne's comeback. He also backed rosé, which is now a year-round seller.

Hart added that there was big growth on lower abv wines, while USA was a major seller on a regional level.

Asked whether retailers should make recommendations to customers, he said you don't need technical knowledge just tell them what's popular.

Recession: survive or thrive - which will it be?

Two members of Unilever's retail advisory panel Ramesh Shingadia of Londis Southwater, West Sussex, and Shailesh Parekh, a Lifestyle Express retailer from Wolverhampton were still upbeat despite the recession.

Shailesh said his business was thriving: "I've just taken on two service stations, which I'm revamping." He said all c-stores should have grown last year, as the sector grew by 6%. "If your shop hasn't grown, you're doing something wrong."

Ramesh was also planning to expand, but said gross profit was a challenge. He advised retailers to tackle the challenge by promoting in-store and constantly monitoring the figures. Shailesh advised retailers to get the basics right, such as having an attractive shop front. "People like the underdog take advantage of that," he added.
Ramesh said he wanted manufacturers to provide impartial planograms and more pos material. Shailesh thought manufacturers should work together to help retailers fund shop refurbishments, maybe in the form of "a fund we could tap in to." Adding to the wish list, a member of the audience urged manufacturers to think of indies before the multiples. Responding from the floor, Unilever's Tom Hazleden promised: "Watch this space."

How to get more from news agency sales...

A panel of retailers, publishers, wholesalers and distributors, including representatives from Smiths, Menzies and News International, offered advice on improving the news and magazine category. Retailers were urged to invest in visual news displays to highlight headlines and promotions, contact local representatives of publishers to refine stock, and display milk, bread and cigarettes nearby. John Lennon, managing director of the Association of News Retailers, said retailers could increase sales by 17% by associating newspapers with hot drinks. But his ultimate message was one of encouragement. Newspapers, he said, were not a dead product and sold more than bread. The internet is also not as big a threat as widely perceived. However, it was up to retailers to manage the category and find a point of difference with their competitors, he added.

Cigarettes and tobacco - interview with Imperial Tobacco

The tobacco industry was still waiting for confirmation of the government's decision on the tobacco display ban while NCS was taking place. However, Imperial Tobacco head of convenience channel Mike Laney implored retailers to keep up the pressure on their local MPs. He also spoke of plain packaging proposals and his company's plans to challenge them in court if necessary. "We don't engage lightly in legal challenges, but we will do so in the case of plain packaging to protect our brands, the rights of our consumers, and the interests of our shareholders," he said. However, despite all the regulatory pressures, he expected UK tobacco sales to remain stable in 2011, thanks to the continued flow of smaller cigarette formats and more value for money products including rolling tobacco.

Costcutter science behind store development

In this session the message to retailers was to invest in technology to stay ahead of the game. Costcutter IT director Kevin Widdrington advised retailers to utilise systems available to them to enhance sales. He explained how epos can help analyse sales data, advise staff on age-restricted policies and speed up sales at the till. "Retailers can't be at their store all the time and have to rely on their staff, so it's important they have systems that will help ensure the business is operating smoothly."

He added that although there was an initial cost to an epos system, it would pay dividends. "The system will help a retailer check which lines are selling and which aren't, helping to eliminate waste. If used properly it can pay back the cost in 15 months."

He said that as well as epos, retailers should make the most of other technologies such as contactless payment. "Technology keeps pushing forward and retailers need to keep up with it to help their business grow," he explained.

Reap the rewards of going local

Retailers attending HIM's session on local produce were left in no doubt about its potential. Max Jenvey of retail consultancy Oxxygen told the audience: "75% of shoppers would be encouraged to use their local store more if it sold locally sourced products."

He was reporting on findings from HIM's 2010 Convenience Tracking Programme (CTP), which quizzed 25,000 shoppers on their retail habits. However, he warned retailers not to jump in at the deep end: "You need to start small and build up the range gradually."

Jenvey said local produce offered shoppers value for money and often better profitability for retailers, too.

Playing a part in local life was also a key focus of the session, with CTP research showing 64% of shoppers thought that c-store retailers should be at the heart of the community.

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