It's time for change

Are you moving with the times? It's an interesting question, because according to HIM's recent study, The Future of Convenience, most of you think you are doing so, but most of your customers think that you aren't.

Surveys often confirm what's common knowledge anyway, and in this case it's no surprise to hear that shoppers want bigger ranges, lower prices and better service, all at the same time.

But, as my friends at HIM rightly point out, when it comes to customers, perception is reality, and you have to listen to them if you want to survive for the long term.

The independent sector has focused tremendously well on its key selling point, customer service, in the past couple of years, and store owners can be rightly proud of their achievements here. But perhaps it is time to think about how you can make better use of technology, not to replace your good service, but to enhance it.

Do you shop on behalf of elderly customers, or offer home deliveries? You can use technology to store and update your customers' regular grocery lists, and to make delivery schedules operate more efficiently hugely important with fuel prices as they are now.

Or perhaps you co-ordinate local events or fundraising as part of your community engagement? Well, you'll find that a lot easier to do with a company website.

So I think it's time to embrace change, and start taking the steps now that will ensure your customers continue to think fondly of you in the future.

A win for Wales

It's not absolutely signed and sealed yet, but it very much looks as though Blakemore's and Capper will soon be combining their operations. It's one of those good news/bad news deals, but I genuinely think it's mostly good.

Being half Welsh myself, half of me thinks it's a pity that South Wales Spar retailers won't have a Welsh company to affiliate to, but then retailers in North Wales have been working with Blakemore's for years, with great success. Indeed, you would struggle to find a wholesale operation with a higher reputation than AF Blakemore, so existing Capper-supplied retailers have little to worry about.

Aerial photography also suggests that the merger would be a good thing, with the combined catchment areas of the Spar wholesalers turning two awkward rectangles into a large, efficient square.

And finally, I believe suppliers who often struggle to get the results they want from the independent sector will also welcome a larger, centrally positioned Spar wholesaler. From their point of view fewer wholesalers means fewer complications, and that should mean lower costs. And that's got to be good news.