Independent retailers can sell anything, it seems, except themselves. With National Independents' Week (June 2-8) approaching, small shops have a huge opportunity to demonstrate their central role in the communities they serve, but the chance will be wasted if no one hears about what you're doing.
This is where the local media come in, and it's the reason why the My Shop is Your Shop campaign, which organises NIW, gathered a group of retailers from all over the UK at Gallaher's training facility in Crewe for a crash course in media relations.
Led by PR consultant Alan Twigg, the group came up with some key messages to pass on to the press, and some words and phrases that will ensure you get the most from your investment in the week's events.
The group established that the best way to stress the unique proposition that c-stores offer was by using words such as local, service, trust, loyalty, friendly, neighbours and community.
It's equally important not to get dragged into a comparison with the supermarkets. "The media is bored with the David v Goliath argument," Twigg told the retailers. "You should avoid turning the interview into a rant against the multiples.
"The one story that always works well in local media is 'Local man or woman does good' and that's the angle you should take. Tell them what you do for the neighbourhood - home delivery, looking after the elderly, community notice boards, selling tickets for local shows, supporting the school and the church - all the little things you do that the multiples can't, but don't let the journalist lead you into a whinge about prices or buying power."
The crib sheet
The three questions you're most likely to be asked by journalists -
and some sample answers on which to base your replies
So what's National Independents Week all about?
It's a national celebration of local shops. A lot of people rely on local retailers like us - the elderly, those on low incomes and people who don't own a car, for example. But we're finding that people choose to shop with us because they know they'll get good service and a choice of products that's tailor-made to suit the area. On top of that, they're supporting a local business staffed by neighbours which isn't just part of the community, it's the heart of the community. So that's what this is all about - a big party for small shops.
Aren't convenience stores more expensive than supermarkets?
It's not always just about price. Research suggests that customers look for other things, like value, diversity, provenance, convenience and an enjoyable shopping experience, too. Those are our strengths. But shop with us and you'll find our prices are more competitive than you've been led to believe.
Do convenience stores contribute to anti-social behaviour?
I think we can help to prevent it. A good community store is the hub of the neighbourhood and as such we have a responsibility to set an example. We have strict procedures to ensure that we never sell alcohol to under-18s, and we work closely with the local council and the police to combat crime and anti-social behaviour. Besides, we know most of the youngsters around here personally and they know we won't stand for any nonsense. It's issues like adults buying alcohol for children, and irresponsible below-cost selling by national chains, which we as a community ought to be tackling.