The Business Solutions area was an oasis of calm among the crowded aisles of CRS, with visitors taking the chance to sit down, grab a sandwich and listen to some top-quality trading tips from fellow retailers, manufacturers and Essential Business' team of advisors.
The programme kicked off with a lively discussion on increasing basket spend. Independent retailer Nigel Dowdney, who has two stores in Norwich, stressed the importance of staff being able to sell, and building a relationship with customers. "Help people to fill their basket up rather than stand back and watch," he advised.
"You need to be able to talk to customers and tell them about what offers you have. My staff are friendly and welcome people into the shop - it's important that the business is part of the local community," he said.
Independent forecourt retailer Karl Brocklehurst from Northampton cited store standards and service as key factors in increasing basket spend. "The store needs to be clean and inviting, and without good service customers are never going to buy anything," he said.
Nigel Dowdney was back on the expert panel to give his views on making the best of the advertising and promotion budget. He has built a relationship with the press and regularly sends press releases with a photo to the local newspapers. He said: "With a press release, keep it brief and to the point, and always provide a photo so the journalist doesn't have to do anything. Nine out of 10 times it gets published."
Nigel's charity fundraising and publicity stunts have included having his legs waxed live on radio and abseiling down a building.
The rise of cider
The meteoric rise of certain cider brands has given the whole category a new lease of life, according to Westons Cider commercial director Roger Jackson. Last year cider recorded its highest sales in the UK for 10 years, with an additional 1.3m drinkers. "Cider offers independents the opportunity to compete with the multiples and make good money," Jackson said. He recommends retailers offer cider as part of a beer/cider three for £4 mix, or four for £5. "Cider has a heritage and a great future," he told the audience.
Tobacco's year of change
Retailers selling tobacco are facing an unprecedented year, according to Gallaher's trade communications manager Jeremy Blackburn. "After 20 years in the business I've never come across a year with so many changes," he said at the Gallaher-sponsored seminar entitled Tobacco Market Issues in the UK.
Top tips for success
Kate Davies of Hodnet Village Store in Shropshire explained how she has made a point of getting to know customers and their favourite purchases. Her advice to retailers was to try to ensure that customers buy one more thing before they leave.
Karl Brocklehurst's forecourt store saw off the challenge of a multiple which opened nearby. "They did us a favour," he told the audience. "People compared us with them, and because we were more aware of local needs and reacted so much quicker, customers decided they preferred shopping with us."
Jane Priddis, editor of the Business Solutions guide, revealed the golden rule for store owners: don't let customers compare stores on a like-for-like basis. "It's the little things you do to specialise and concentrate your offering which make all the difference," she said.
Her rules for retailers included: be clear what business you are in; understand what you are good at; know your competitors; be clear about what you will and won't do; keep checking where you are; and always accept the need for change.