Independent stores in remote locations have a new voice to put their case for a fair deal from suppliers with the appointment of former Mars trading director Trevor West as chairman of the Rural Shops Alliance (RSA).

West, who spent 31 years with the confectionery giant, has ambitious plans to bolster the rural independent retail sector by strengthening ties between stores and suppliers and creating a "real rural alliance".

"I want the RSA to be the number-one port of call for any issues to do with independent rural retailing, such as npd and category management," he said. "A business will thrive if it has great customer service and offers a good range of products at the right price, but that can only be achieved if you've got retailers, wholesalers and suppliers working together.

"Most suppliers have difficulty communicating directly with independent retailers, particularly rural ones, and that's where organisations like the RSA can really help."

West is also determined to increase the profile of the RSA, which represents 7,000 village shops, making it the "destination shop" for retailers in need of support and advice, and suppliers looking for a means of communicating their category and brand.

He added that the organisation would do more than ever before to support independent rural retailers through the economic downturn and ensure that they were in a position to compete when it improved.

"Retailers may not be responsible for the current economic climate, but they are responsible for the way they react to it. Doing nothing is not an option; astute operators will be making sure they are playing to their strengths, and identifying those services and benefits they can offer to their community, and we will help them to do so," he added.

The RSA also aims to highlight any forthcoming legislation which may add to the administrative burden already facing rural retailers.

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