Samantha Coldbeck: Responsible retailing

Every little helps

Posted by: Samantha Coldbeck Wed, 28 Nov 2018

Sustainability is a bit like Marmite. You either love it or hate it. Whatever your view, the government has realised it is a vote winner and, once again, it’s got retailers in its sights to be the ones to change the habits of a generation.

From reducing plastic consumption, energy use and food waste, as retailers we have a pretty important job to do on top of the 1,001 other things we do daily. The fact of the matter is, though, by taking sustainability seriously we can reduce our overheads and win the support of customers who want to “do their bit” to live a more sustainable life.

The carrier bag levy, although not affecting us directly yet, has made us change the way we interact with customers. By asking if they need a bag, more people remember that they’ve actually got one tucked away, or can carry what they’ve bought.

Energy is a big expense for us. A few years ago we visited stores that looked warmer and more welcoming than ours. It turned out the vast array of LED lighting available could give our store a different feel, not emit heat and be cheaper to run. Although the initial cost was high, the running costs soon made things more economical and our business more sustainable.

Is it possible to live a totally sustainable life, free of plastic? Plastic is a massive part of our lives and, when treated responsibly, has its place in society. I will look forward to seeing what ideas suppliers have to help us deliver what more of our customers are looking for, and hope our planet recovers from the lapse of care in preparing it for future generations. Until then, I’ll carry on doing my little bit to help.

A familiar story

Posted by: Samantha Coldbeck Fri, 7 Sep 2018

As tobacco sales decline, vaping has given us an opportunity to plug the gap in our falling turnover and help customers who want to stop smoking safely.

Vaping has grown into a lucrative business for many retailers, but sadly a familiar story is unfolding on the streets once again. While retailers battle to pay rates, staff and utility bills, illegal vape liquid and accessories are openly available and are being sold from front rooms, car boots and sports bags.

Legislation has been slow, hesitation that I presume was due to the speed of growth in the market and the uncertainty that vaping was really a safe way to stop smoking. The first attempt in May 2017 to control the market resulted in an influx of non-compliant stock onto the black market. Stock that was perfectly legal to sell one day was made illegal the next as limits were put on the size of bottles, packaging was redesigned, nicotine strengths were reduced and tank sizes were limited. What happened to the stock that was no longer compliant? Vast quantities ended up on social media and on the streets.

Many retailers saw sales drop as customers were confused into thinking they were doing nothing wrong by buying stock they’d seen on retailers’ shelves being sold for half the price in the pub.

We are now regularly seeing illegal vape liquids and tanks on social media in flavours and strengths we wouldn’t dream of stocking.

Once again education is lacking. The government must realise that illegal products cost lives and cause communities to lose the hard-working, responsible retailers who care for customers on a daily basis.

Protect reponsible retailers

Posted by: Samantha Coldbeck Wed, 4 Jul 2018

We have seen huge changes over the past few years. Tobacco plain packaging and the abolition of 10s and 12.5g packs started the ball rolling, the soft drinks levy came in in April and minimum pricing of alcohol in Scotland was introduced in May and passed by the Welsh Assembly last week.

We are seeing many supermarkets in England adopting a voluntary code of practice preventing the sale of energy drinks to under-16s. They are, however, selling alcohol at rock bottom prices and much cheaper than independent retailers can buy from their own suppliers.

As independent retailers, we’re at the forefront of customer comments, complaints and criticism regarding many of the changes we’ve seen recently. A few have said that Britain is turning into a nanny state; smokers have defiantly stated that photos on olive green packs won’t make them quit; and some have complained 
at having to pay more for their favourite soft drink after they’ve spent an hour at the gym.

One thing is clear: responsible retailers are once again those enforcing the law and losing out to unscrupulous retailers who continue to sell cheap illicit tobacco and buy soft drinks from sources not affected by the levy.

Hopefully we can learn lessons as an industry and start to adopt changes that benefit us and our consumers without the need for legislation and further taxes, and the government needs to realise that legislation has to be policed correctly to protect the many responsible retailers who often lose out financially because they comply with the law.

Set an example

Posted by: Samantha Coldbeck Tue, 6 Mar 2018

It’s been interesting reading various articles recently from Asda, Aldi and Co-op, stating they will voluntarily restrict the sale of energy drinks to children. My first thought was that we’ve been doing this for years, along with many other responsible independents.

The dangers of artificial sweeteners, caffeine and high levels of taurine and B vitamins in a child’s system surely shouldn’t be encouraged, but should they be legislated?

There are shops on every street that have no morals; they will sell anything to children to make a living, whether they are trading on the right side of the law or not. But there is also a blossoming market for illicit and age-restricted goods to change hands on market stalls, garden sheds and car boots.

Legislation is easy when you’re targeting retailers who make an honest living, have a valuable reputation to uphold and have the community’s best interests at heart, which I firmly believe is the majority in the retail sector.

Education should never be undervalued when it comes to the health and wellbeing of our future generation. Parents, teachers, politicians and even retailers are invaluable when it comes to teaching kids the importance of making the right choices. Legislation makes a product more appealing, piquing the curiosity of children when they’re told they can’t have something.

Legislation has its place in society, but so too does care and responsibility. As retailers, we need to make it clear what our policies are and take comfort in the fact that where independent retailers lead, supermarkets will follow. What none of us need is more red tape.

Monitoring festivities

Posted by: Samantha Coldbeck Fri, 22 Dec 2017

Our Christmas preparations have been under way since May. The decorations are now up and the shop is brimming with products for every eventuality! The final piece in our Christmas jigsaw is to refresh the team on the importance of festive responsible retailing.

Christmas is typically the time of year most people do things to excess. Alcohol sales go through the roof, but we face challenges we don’t normally face at other times of the year.

The guy who comes in each morning for his paper and breakfast who may mumble ‘good morning’ is now a staggering wreck who grasps two cases of Stella and can barely stand up! We don’t want to upset him as we are part of his daily routine throughout the year, but we need to point out that for his own safety he’s had enough. The responsibility is his as much as it’s ours, but we are held accountable as we hold the licence.

Young people are more likely to attempt to try their luck so we find ourselves constantly assessing the situation on all sales. Challenge 25 gives our staff confidence and saves them being embarrassed about asking for ID which prevents them making presumptions on age, safeguarding our licence and reputation.

We find consistency with clear policy statements posted around the shop. A strict one rule for all and a firm but friendly approach deals with most situations.

We occasionally encounter the social hand grenade who drinks once a year and thinks he is Anthony Joshua, but in the main most people want to have a good time and be remembered only for being the life and soul of the party season.

Strong foundation

Posted by: Samantha Coldbeck Wed, 6 Sep 2017

Our workforce is our strongest link to the community and yet it’s sometimes an effort to discuss the business with them. I am time-poor and my husband Mark and I work on the shop floor alongside our team every day. Orders, customers, disasters, late deliveries, paperwork, suppliers and office work often come before the very people at the front of house.

If a test purchase is carried out in our store, the chances are our staff will successfully defend our high standards, refuse the sale, record the failed purchase in our log book and carry on with their day.

If a customer becomes abusive because they are too drunk to be served, the chances are our staff will calmly handle the situation and ensure the customer leaves, record the failed purchase in our log book and carry on with their day.

If a little boy wanders in and picks an energy drink up, the chances are our staff will explain to him (and sometimes his mum) that little boys don’t need extra energy and we can only serve them to older boys and girls, record the failed purchase in our log book and carry on with their day.

No matter how much time we spend in our business, if we have a system in place and the training, support and back up we give staff is strong and consistent, they know they can tell us if they suspect a shop theft and we will follow it up and take action. Equally, if they are subjected to abuse, they know we will take action to make them feel safe.

We have a good, strong team at Wharfedale and value their hard work. We’ve learned that we can build the business and make it successful, but our staff are our foundations.

Come together

Posted by: Samantha Coldbeck Wed, 14 Jun 2017

Watching the recent Election unfold has left me feeling uncertain. How will our new Coalition deal with wage increases, an ageing population, employment law, policing and crime?

Costs are up, competition is increasing and profits in some areas are being eaten away by theft. Tobacco sales have taken a thump and illicit sales are rife, with Trading Standards having meagre resources to effectively prosecute.

I don’t think we are going to see an increase to police numbers or a boost to Trading Standards’ budgets any time soon, but I would like to see some of the help that is offered to Trading Standards by the tobacco companies expanded. Relationships seem to be getting better, but imagine how much better it could be with extra sniffer dogs, secure facilities to incinerate counterfeit tobacco, and intelligence built between reps and retailers shared with Trading Standards.

Think of the benefits to retailers if Neighbourhood Policing teams could teach us how to write a simple statement, produce handouts identifying prolific shoplifters and set up WhatsApp groups to share information with each other about forged notes, suspected shoplifters and scams in their area.

Imagine the reluctance some retailers may have to sell illicit goods if it was possible to get suppliers to pledge that, if they were prosecuted, the retailer would lose their alcohol licence, Lottery terminal and cash and carry access.

As a responsible retailer, I’d love to see our industry working together and caring for its retailers to help us face the next few years with determination and strength.

Teaching the mults

Posted by: Samantha Coldbeck Tue, 21 Feb 2017

As we enter the final stages of the tobacco legislation that has seen shutters introduced to block the choice of a legal product, and the introduction of a sea of olive packs making sales and merchandising practically impossible without a Master’s degree, I have to wonder how long it will be before the government turns its attention to alcohol in the rest of Britain, as the Scottish government has.

While I agree that tobacco and alcohol wreck lives when not consumed responsibly, I feel that with education, age restriction and the correct social circumstances, both can be enjoyed by adults as part of their weekly ritual.

Shops selling alcohol and tobacco have a responsibility to customers to help protect the young and vulnerable, and attempt to offer guidance to those who have become dependent in excess. How long will supermarkets push the boundaries with branding such as ‘Everyday Value’ and ‘Basics’? Should alcohol really be viewed as an everyday product?

C-stores tend to know their customers, and are often pillars of their local community. This puts us in a unique position to help customers make informed choices and offer age-restricted products in a controlled environment at sensible prices.

Tesco and Booker could soon become one, bringing many supermarkets and c-stores under the same umbrella. While I welcome the union, I think it’s time we taught the big boys a thing or two about responsible retailing before the government crushes another category in the interest of public health.
It’s not necessarily the drinking that’s the problem, it’s the excess.

Work with the police

Posted by: Samantha Coldbeck Tue, 15 Dec 2015

Everybody breathed a sigh of relief at the news there would be no more cuts to police funding during the latest Budget. There are, however, painful decisions still to be made by forces up and down the country to meet demands set out in a previous budget.

I strongly believe that retailers need to reassess their view on shop theft and the ever-increasing risk of damage to our bottom line.

CCTV is a bit like epos: it doesn’t matter how high tech it is, you need to use it properly to make it pay. How many times do you think to yourself that reporting a shop theft is useless, or that the response you get is rubbish?

I’ve learned that persistence pays. Many years ago, I learned how to write a good police statement. How to structure it, what to put in and what to leave out. I now ensure that every time we have a theft, no matter how small, we report it. I write my own statement, prepare the CCTV and drop it off at a police station. If retailers were taught how to carry out this process, the police couldn’t simply refuse to attend, the statistics would be recorded and retail crime would be recognised as an area that needed funding.

At Wharfedale Premier we provide our staff with good security back-up; they have a 16 lane CCTV system, monitors giving views of blind spots, and are instructed never to put themselves between an offender and the door. By giving staff the knowledge to handle aggressive customers, we are doing everything possible to keep our team safe.

Our police service is fragile and needs to rebuild. By doing our bit and supporting the local policing team, bonds are strengthened and we can make the best of a bad job.

Taking on responsibilities

Posted by: Samantha Coldbeck Tue, 25 Aug 2015

It was wonderful to win the Responsible Retailing accolade at the Convenience Retailing Awards in London this year. Many of you will already be responsible retailers without giving it a second thought.

As you go about your daily business at the heart of your community, most of you wouldn’t dream of selling cigarettes to children. Most of you will regularly be running the gauntlet - asking a young lady to prove her age only to be met with the sort of language that would make a docker blush, while many others invest in fingerprint recognition technology and epos prompts to avoid accidental underage sales.

But however you look at responsible retailing, one thing is for certain - it’s not something you can do by yourself. Everyone that works behind your counter needs to be on board. By providing staff with a refusals register, you can monitor who is rejecting underage sales and when your problem times are.

Staff can take part in training schemes which educate them on dealing with age-restricted sales, while the Challenge 25 scheme gives staff a safety net by asking every customer requesting alcohol to prove they are over 25 with shop signage and badges. Having older customers on board is also vital. By placing a poster in your store informing them that proxy purchasing is an offence, you may cut down on the chances of children having age-restricted products bought for them.

Local policing teams are also a great resource. If required, they can visit your shop at vulnerable times and also visit schools, informing teachers of any issues of underage attempts to buy alcohol, lottery or cigarettes.

We also have a policy of not selling energy drinks to under 14 year olds. As a mum of two boys, I think kids have far too much natural energy, without making matters worse for the poor teachers!

Responsible retailing is probably one of the easiest areas to get right. As retailers, we all have a vested interest in protecting children and helping to produce a community we can all be proud of.

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