Today is one of our favourite days of the year at C-Store, as it marks the launch of our annual Sales Assistant of the Year competition. It's a rare opportunity for the people who work in the front line of our industry to catch their share of the limelight. After all, anyone who achieves anything in this trade only does so because of a successful point of purchase.
As an event, Sales Assistant is now more than 30 years old, but it is more relevant and important today than it ever has been. This is because to thrive in today's competitive climate you need to offer something the multiple chain stores do not or cannot. And that is customer service.
With the big four supermarket chains expanding relentlessly in both large and small store formats, their ranges and pricing are available in every street, and are hard to match. But for shoppers visiting those stores, chances are they will be talking to a different person each time if indeed they talk to anyone at all.
Which is where your shop staff come in. Every shopper appreciates a friendly welcome, and for the elderly and those living alone, this regular communication can be quite literally a lifeline. Great staff notice when regulars haven't turned up for their usual store visit, and can put in a phone call or a visit to check everything's okay.
And while all of our successful Sales Assistant candidates in the past have got this community focus and genuine compassion for people, they have also shown themselves to be effective commercial people who regularly meet or exceed sales targets for products or promotions.
Do you employ someone like that? If so, let us know. We'll be sending out bespoke entry forms with the next issue (July 8), and we'd love to hear from you.
Competition is intense between the multiple groups and the independent sector, but it is hotting up within the independent sector as well.
At the Blakemore Spar conference last week I heard how the group is not only looking to buy or build new c-stores for its own estate, but is also actively looking to recruit more independent store owners to its symbol group as well.
Add to this the fact that many of the original Budgens contracts with independents are due for renewal soon, and the ongoing internal fight between Costcutter and Nisa for the same group of retailers, and you get the impression that the symbol pot is being well and truly stirred.
From the retailer's point of view, though, this has got to be good news. With plenty of options available and the prospect of better deals on the table, it seems like a little turmoil is a good thing.