Rama and Subhash Varambhia in Leicester kept getting calls from a company selling reading glasses using contact details handed over by Smiths. "They knew our address, bank details, Smiths' box number and yet wouldn't give us any information about themselves. When we rang Smiths and asked for details they said they could not give us their number because of the Data Protection Act," said Rama. The irony was not lost on the couple.
A Bristol retailer wasn't best pleased by the offer from Freedom Eagle cash card via Smiths. On the phone he was told it was a free trial. When they arrived he discovered that each card cost £7.50 and he would be charged through Smiths. Leftovers after three months would be refunded. He had a fight on the phone to get it cancelled.
Ray Khela rang to ask about the fate of the minimum entry level (MEL) cost of news supplies now that the newspaper code of practice was due to end. Ray, a Premier retailer, has two stores in Rotherham and one in Sheffield. One of his stores never reaches the minimum sales level which was originally set at £314, then reduced to £287. He has been told by Menzies that it will further reduce to £195 in October. The cost at the moment for news supplies in that store is around £70-£100 but he pays it because it brings people in. He wondered whether the MEL for his third store, which has no news supplies as yet, would also be set at £195.
David Daniel, trade relations manager at the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, says that it is his understanding that the current MEL will be replaced by a universal one and that Smiths will apply a minimum financial target which won't be less than the MEL. "We're pushing hard at the Office of Fair Trading to get it abolished."
And I've saved the best for last. For the past few weeks Lesley Devereux, who runs Cocktails, has been getting demands from Smiths for supplies even though there have been no supplies. "We never signed a contract or direct debit instruction and we ceased doing papers through Dawsons on July 25 before Smiths got involved."
She made this decision after reviewing costs, thinking that it would be a good time to quit as Dawsons went under.
"However, it seems that Smiths are doing 'ghost' deliveries to us even though we signed nothing with them and had ceased news before they took over."
She sent me copies of the invoices (which are clearly headed "ZZClosed S & L Devereux). Most odd. I rang the credit controller that she has been attempting to talk to. I didn't get through either.
She has also received a new account number from Menzies, with whom she has also never dealt. I hope they don't start sending her bills, too.
Interestingly, Lesley adds: "We must say for the record, that the lack of news has given our shop a breath of fresh air, and reduced the paperwork and telephone hassle immensely. It has had little effect on our takings and our profit margin has increased probably because the main ancillary sales sold with news were low-profit margin cigarettes and tobacco."