Susan Connolly, four Spar stores, Wiltshire

Susan visits other retailers and invites them to visit her store to share best practice for the benefit of everyone involved.

Adam Hogwood, Morrison’s Budgens of Broadstairs, Kent

Always keen to learn new ideas, Adam works with as many retailers as he can to help improve his store.

Saki Ghafoor, Nisa stores in Northumberland and Tyne & Wear

Saki has been engaging with other retailers for years and sees it as a valuable tool for building business.

Alkesh Gadher, Best-One, Isleworth, London

Alkesh believes that by working together, retailers can create a louder voice on the issues that matter to the industry.

Do you work with any retailers at a local level?

Susan: We know the managers of other stores in our area and visit them regularly to see what they’re doing, and they’ll visit us as well. We all agreed that visiting each other’s stores would be beneficial to us all, and it’s helped build a relationship.

Adam: We work with lots of local retailers in our area via cross-promotion. We have POS material for a local DVD shop, inviting customers to have a Big Night In by getting a DVD from them, and in turn they let us place some leaflets in their store. We’ve also worked with other convenience retailers nearby.

Saki: We meet up with a few local retailers, but nothing official. I do keep open-minded about meeting retailers locally.

Alkesh: I work with a couple of local retailers on community projects. It’s not too formal, but we all try to work together whenever possible.

Are you part of any groups on a larger scale?

Susan: We’re part of the Appleby Westward Guild and are on the retailer committee. It helps us learn about the agenda for Appleby Westward and gives us a chance to shape plans for the coming year.

Adam: Not at the moment. I’d be interested to get involved with the Budgens retailer panel if I was able to. I feel I have a lot to offer and could learn from the other retailers in the group.

Saki: I speak to a lot of Nisa retailers on a regular basis. Most of my family who are involved in retail are Nisa members so we have a good relationship with many of them.

Alkesh: I’ve been on some supplier round table events that have been very helpful in discussing important issues. They’re also good for getting to meet key people from a brand as retailers usually just meet the sales representative.

What was your reason for wanting to engage with others?

Susan: We wanted to see what our competition was doing so that’s why we started speaking to local retailers. For the Guild we wanted to get involved with what Appleby Westward was doing on a larger scale.

Adam: I got the idea from the trade press. I saw other retailers who were speaking to their peers and introducing new ideas to their businesses. I thought it was a great idea and immediately set about making contact with other retailers in my area.

Saki: I’ve been speaking to other retailers for years. I wanted to grow my business and learn new ideas, and speaking to other retailers was the best way to do that.

Alkesh: I wanted to share ideas and speak to like-minded retailers who are concerned about the same issues as I am. I also enjoy meeting up with other retailers and discussing what’s working in their stores.

What is your goal for these groups?

Susan: To share best practice. We’ve discovered lots of great ideas by working with others and visiting other stores, and given other stores ideas they can use as well. It’s important if retailers want to grow their business.

Adam: As well as growing sales, working with other stores on a local level strengthens the bonds of both your businesses in the community. When people see stores working together, they know it’s something unique to that area.

Saki: To share best practice really. There’s quite a lot of information, services and products out there for retailers and it can be difficult knowing where to start. If you know that something has been successful for another retailer then it makes it easier for you to make a decision about whether it’s right for you.

Alkesh: My goal is for the important issues in the industry to be brought up and addressed.

What successes have you had thanks to engaging with other retailers?

Susan: With the Guild, we’ve put forward ideas such as the Happy or Not customer feedback machine that we introduced in our own store and it has been rolled out to other stores in the group. Plus, because we’ve put it forward, we get a discount on it for our stores so it benefits everyone.

Adam: By working with stores locally we’ve helped grow both our businesses in the eyes of the community and built up relationships with them. We’ve also discovered some fantastic ideas for our store that have helped our business.

Saki: We’ve had some great successes by implementing ideas and introducing new products that we’ve heard about from other retailers.

Alkesh: We’ve raised some very important industry issues with suppliers due to us working together. A retailer on their own will struggle to get their voice heard, but if you work together with others it’s harder to ignore you.

Why do you think it’s important for retailers to work together in this fashion?

Susan: Traditionally, retailers have been very hush hush when it comes to business and have often been unwilling to work with others and give away their ideas. Those days are gone, though, and working with other retailers means that you can share and steal ideas, as well as seeing your own store with fresh eyes.

Adam: It’s essential for retailers to work together and at the very least speaking to one another. It’s the best way to learn new ideas for their businesses.

Saki: The market is changing and retailers need to move along with it. Consumer shopping habits are different now and they’ll shop wherever suits them, rather than being loyal to one store. We need to keep customers by offering them something different to the multiples and the best way to find something different is by speaking to others in the business.

Alkesh: It’s important to get involved because there are issues taking place that affect all of us and anything that one retailer can do could help the situation. It’s also vital that retailers band together rather than taking an isolated attitude.

Where should retailers start when looking to get involved?

Susan: On a local level they should start by visiting other stores in their area and seeing what they’re doing. This can lead to a meeting with the manager to find out how they can work together. On a larger scale, they should join the Association of Convenience Stores and attend as many meetings as possible to get to know other retailers who may be in similar situations.

Adam: Social media is a good place to start. Twitter is a very low maintenance medium and there is often instant feedback and responses. I’d advise retailers to go out and speak to other retailers. I know it’s time-consuming but the more you put in, the more you get out of it.

Saki: Get out and meet other retailers. Conferences and events are a good place to meet other retailers. They won’t come to you so you have to be proactive and go to them. It can be difficult to find the time, but it is worth it.

Alkesh: Look at the trade titles such as Convenience Store to see what other retailers are doing. Also, speak to your symbol group about how you can get involved with steering groups and retailer panels.

Are you part of any online forums?

Susan: I follow the Retail Mentoring Twitter feed, which brings independent retailers together online. If you can’t get out of your store that often, going online is a good way to collaborate. It’s important to get involved, though, and leave comments as well as ask questions.

Adam: There’s a couple of Facebook pages set up for retailers that I contribute to regularly. They’re a great way for retailers to start talking to other retailers as well as a good place to vent!

Saki: There’s a Nisa online forum, which is great for speaking to other retailers and finding out how new products are doing. We also have a store Facebook page, which is great as it allows us to talk to other store owners and our customers.

Alkesh: I’m not online yet but it really interests me as a way of engaging with other retailers.

Would you be willing to work with your competition?

Susan: We already do. Even though we’re in competition, we both know it’s for the good of our industry and our businesses that we work together.

Adam: As long as we don’t encroach on each other’s territory too much. I recently met with someone who works at a nearby Tesco Extra and we shared some ideas. They’re far enough away from us that we won’t really be taking business from each other.

Saki: I wouldn’t rule it out. Retailers need to realise that if they work with other convenience store owners in their area, they can share some great ideas and learn a lot.

Alkesh: We’ve worked with our competition on quite a few local issues and it has been very beneficial. One was a responsible retailing project to cut down on underage sales and proxy purchasing. It made a great impact in the community and showed what can happen if we work together.

What do you feel is the main barrier to entry for retailers?

Susan: Some retailers have traded the same way for years and haven’t moved along with the industry. To them, collaboration is a foreign concept, but these retailers need a kick up the backside as they’re missing out on some great help.

Adam: It’s difficult to find the time to do everything required to run a store, and find more time to speak to other retailers can be tricky. It is worth it, though, and adds a lot to any business.

Saki: Time is a big factor. A lot of retailers want to share, but don’t have the time to do so. I think the mindset in the industry has changed. Retailers used to not want to talk about what’s been successful for them as they didn’t want to share their secrets, but now they realise a great idea can benefit everyone.

Alkesh: For engagement to work, you need to have retailers on a similar level otherwise it just doesn’t happen, and unfortunately there are a lot of retailers who just don’t want to engage, possibly due to apathy or perhaps because they’re too involved in the day-to-day running of their business.

Working with others

Do you get engaged with non-retailers?

Susan: They don’t come along to group meetings, but we do work closely with our local MP and police force. We have always had a good relationship with the police and have helped them on occasion by supplying CCTV footage.

Adam: Everyone can potentially offer value to you, and vice versa. There’s always a value in speaking to people from outside the industry. It’s up to the retailer to filter that information and to put it into action.

Saki: We have a great relationship with our local MP and police force. I’d advise all retailers to introduce themselves to their MP and police force as they can be great allies for your business.

Alkesh: In our responsible retailing project with other retailers we involved the police and local authorities as it helped send out a stronger message.

Each month a selection of C-Store Champions share their experience on a given topic. The C-Store Champions are professional retailers who believe in continual development of their business. If you have a topic you’d like debated, or would like to join the panel, contact, or phone 01293 610222