With National Independents Day just three weeks away, Jo de Mille finds out what it means to independent retailers to be a part of the campaign.

If you haven’t already read about it in C-Store, you would have heard about it on national radio or read something about it in the papers. And for those of you who have somehow managed to miss all three, you are about to become a My Shop is Your Shop (MSYS) guru. Hopefully, if you are an independent retailer who isn’t already involved, you will see how important the Federation of Wholesaler Distributor’s MSYS scheme could be to the survival of your store at a time when the multiples are becoming all too powerful. MSYS aims to make customers more aware of the many services their local independent store provides and its vital role in the community. Services retailers offer could include anything from helping out housebound elderly customers with home deliveries or collecting prescriptions for them, promoting local events on a display board in the store window, or offering extra utilities in store such as dry cleaning, shoe repairs or photocopying, to name but a few. Retailers are given kits which contain balloons and window stickers to decorate the store, as well as T shirts and caps to wear while serving customers. This will not only let consumers know you are a part of the scheme but will encourage customers to ask more about it. Launched last year, the 2005 campaign is based on a series of events, including National Independents Day (NID) on June 1. Londis retailer Sid Ali, whose store is in the village of Mintlaw, Scotland, became involved with MSYS last year. He says the scheme helped raise the profile of his store: “Our customers are now much more aware of what we stand for and why our prices are dearer than the multiples. “They understand that it is all about supporting local businesses: our butcher buys only local Scottish meat, and our eggs come from a farm three miles away. “Similarly, our customers understand that if they didn’t visit us, we wouldn’t survive and their shopping options would become very limited.” Since becoming involved in the scheme, footfall has increased and his local produce sales have risen by a third. Sid is very active in the community and has spent the past year campaigning for an all-weather sports ground to be built in Mintlaw.

The idea was that it would cut down on vandalism in the area by providing a pastime for the local youths. And it clearly paid off, for work began two weeks ago on the foundations of the pitch. As he explains: “It’s a self-fulfiling prophecy: more facilities in the village means more footfall in our shop and, ultimately, more business for us.” As well as providing a home delivery service for local pensioners, Sid chairs quarterly meetings with local retailers where they help each other overcome problems such as parking or underage customers trying to buy alcohol or cigarettes. Over the past year, he has featured twice on BBC Scotland, all through his involvement in MSYS, which has also raised his personal profile in the village. Three months ago an Asda store opened just nine miles away from his store, yet through his active role in the community, his sales are still up on last year. Retailer John Speakman, who with his partner Vivienne Knowles owns Grocer Jacks, in Hyde, near Stockport, Greater Manchester, says: “We’ve been wearing our T shirts for just an hour this morning and already our customers are asking us what it’s all about. “It’s good we have something to celebrate for a change and that it’s extended to our customers. Ultimately, it’s thanks to them for helping to support us and keep us going successfully.” John’s shop is more than just a c-store and off-licence. He tries to accommodate requests from customers, one of which was for a Flymo lawnmower. The shop has just held a raffle on behalf of a local boxing club to help raise funds to sponsor a group of boys from a club in Canada to visit the UK. John and Vivienne’s store is open 365 days a year (half a day on Christmas Day). As John says: “We don’t do holidays anymore. We have in the past but it’s very hard to trust anyone with the responsibility of running the store in our absence.”

John and Vivienne, with the help of their wholesaler Parfetts, will be decorating their store in time for NID and supporting all the special promotions that are going on throughout the week of June 1. Another store which focuses on the local community by offering help and support to local charities through raffles and promoting local good causes is A&PE Bakers, a family-owned store for the past 30 years. Marcus and Dave Baker currently own the store, which is in Offerton, the heartland of Stockport County Football Club fans. Steve says: “It has taken a lot of effort to keep this shop going for so many years but we’re a local family from the area and we have grown up with our customers and know exactly what they’re after. “June 1 will be a chance for us to celebrate our achievement of trading for so many years and for our customers to join in too. “We’ll be inviting a couple of County players to come down to the shop and support us. That really gives true meaning to the phrase ‘local and proud of it’.”