There are 21,950 independent food and drink retailers in the UK who own their own business but do not belong to a symbol group or any other kind of collective. Are they in danger of becoming 'the forgotten ones'?

What makes a retailer join a symbol group and what persuades another to go it alone? This is one of the many sweet mysteries of life in the wholesale/independent sector. But once a symbol member, always a symbol member seems to be the way. This leads to symbols poaching from one another. Nisa-Today's recently persuaded a swathe of symbol believers to switch to its proven formula.

Retailers tell me they do not belong to a symbol group because of membership costs or because they want to express their own business philosophy. Fair enough - but then they miss out on symbols' advice on improving profitability, better product selection, health and safety, hygiene and so on.

Every retailer I meet tells me that when suppliers' reps call on them they are hoping to receive objective advice on running a better business - they don't want goodies, freebies or any other charm signals from the brand owner.

But as these calls become fewer in number, what then?

The answer lies in good old-fashioned chat with your local cash and carry manager, or the depot's travelling salesmen. They know retailers who seek guidance in increasing their sales will not be satisfied with wholesalers' propaganda and/or own-label lines that the consumer doesn't want.

Depot managers are patient and can explain subtle but critical aspects of shop life, such as cost control, profit on return, net margins, 'eye level is buy level' and so on.

Talking the talk like this is pushing the thrusting but unaffiliated independent up the agenda.

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