All small stores which are to have their gantry alterations funded by Imperial Tobacco in advance of the display ban on April 6 next year have now been informed.

The mammoth communication exercise was completed ahead of schedule earlier this month with “several thousand” retailers having been told that Imperial will fund their alterations, prior to the first conversions in October.

The conversion programme, which is costing Imperial “tens of millions of pounds,” is set to be completed “long before the 6 April deadline,” Imperial Tobacco UK communications manager Gayatri Barua-Howe told Convenience Store.

“We have developed a best-in-class solution that fits the tobacco unit and have created additional solutions - for example, dedicated RYO units. Every store will be dealt with on a case by case basis.

“We are aware of how confusing the display ban legislation is to retailers and we knew that we needed to be as upfront, honest and transparent as we could within the time-scale that we had to work with. The sooner we could give retailers assurance, the better,” Barua-Howe added.

These retailers will now be supported with six-weekly visits from a team of 115 retail development executives. They will also receive fortnightly visits from dedicated availability reps who will perform a van sales service. “Their sole purpose will be to plug gaps on shelves and support our 100% availability objective,” she added.

“The next 11 months represent a key window of opportunity and now is the time for retailers to get the basics right,” she said.

Imperial has also launched a new ranging and merchandising initiative, designed to provide assistance via five tools which advise on range, stock ordering, availability issues and the cost of out of stocks - unique to each individual store.

Those retailers who will not receive display ban funding or visits from Imperial sales reps are being offered fortnightly phone calls, including legislative updates, from Imperial’s new Bristol call centre. While the manufacturer could not endorse other dark market solutions, it was sharing the details of one particular company with these retailers, Barua-Howe added.