Wholesale change

It was fascinating to hear the Bibby Line Group and Costcutter management team talking of the acquisition of the symbol group not in terms of an investment, but in terms of a catalyst for change for the entire industry.

Although we all knew it was coming, the takeover was completed slightly ahead of schedule, raising the possibility that the newly created Bibby Retail Services’ acquisition war chest could be put to use sooner rather than later.

It’s intriguing to ponder how it might play out, and whether the Bibby team’s view that consolidation in the convenience store industry is both inevitable and necessary will turn out to be the correct one, but there is no doubt that the successful takeover makes the group a significant power-broker in the sector. It now has the scope to recruit or acquire wholesalers, store chains and retail brands as opportunities arise, not to mention the ripple effect of the big decision it has yet to make regarding the supply deal with Nisa.

But it shouldn’t be forgotten that the most valuable thing that Bibby has acquired is a relationship. The interaction between the head office of a symbol group and its independent retail members has to be, and in the case of Costcutter has been to date, mutually beneficial.

If the new owners of Costcutter can deliver extra value for members and put independent retailers in general in a stronger position, then it really will be change for the better.

Local heroes

Hearty congratulations go to David Tustain from Derek and Louise Balding’s Mace-branded store in Mundesley, Norfolk, for winning this year’s Sales Assistant of the Year title. Store owners Derek and Louise deserve their share of the credit, too, for taking a chance on a young man with no useful experience to draw on, and giving him the trust and the confidence to become a champion.

The prizes are well-deserved by all our five sector winners, and my thanks and best wishes go to everyone who entered, who I hope will be cheered by the knowledge that we have seen standards in this competition rise year after year. Not long ago it used to be noteworthy for sales staff to raise money for charity in their spare time, or to deliver shopping to elderly customers who couldn’t make it out of the house. Now it is standard practice.

David’s personal achievement is remarkable - in his own words he was “going nowhere” until he started working in retail and discovered he had a passion for it - but he also represents the many thousands of employees around the country, whose dedication, skill and charm keep customers returning to independently owned shops instead of the multiples. The industry has no better champions.