The tobacco category is subject to huge regional variation and local really does mean local in this market. Here's a rundown of the top-selling cigarette brands across the country (Nielsen market track, 12 months to December 2009) Scotland Lambert & Butler King Size Northern Ireland Mayfair King Size North/North East Lambert & Butler King Size North West Lambert & Butler King Size Yorkshire Lambert & Butler King Size Wales Lambert & Butler King Size West Midlands Lambert & Butler King Size East Midlands Lambert & Butler King Size East Anglia Mayfair King Size South West Lambert & Butler King Size South East Mayfair King Size Greater London Marlboro Gold King Size
In fact, with the shed-load of new legislation set to hit the category over the coming months and years, you're going to need your rep more than ever to help keep you up to date and fully compliant. These guys really are experts in their fields and in your specific location a huge help when you consider how open the category is to regional changes. The top-selling cigarette brand in the south west of England (Lambert & Butler King Size) is not the same as the top-selling brand in the south east (it's Mayfair King Size there) and it's vital that you are aware of these facts and merchandise your ranges accordingly.
Remembering that your rep's visit is not just a one-way street is also key. Informing them of your front-line experiences can have a real impact on any new product development and future concepts which will ultimately benefit you.
It's also important to remember that the life of a tobacco sales rep is not all flash suits and fast cars; the fact that tobacco is such a valuable commodity can mean that they can sometimes become unfortunate targets for criminals an uncomfortable thought which sits at the back of their minds at all times.
Another consideration for them is that government plans to ban tobacco displays in stores will signal a dramatic change in their roles. With adult smokers no longer able to see your gantry, correctly communicating all new product developments to you will become crucial for them. If they don't sell it properly, neither will you. Now that's a heavy load to bear.
ess Hill, W Sussex "Getting advice from our Imperial rep Howard on what we should be stocking is really important because it's been so difficult to gauge what shoppers want in the recession. Brand loyalty seems to have gone out of the window as people downtrade. Pricemarking has been a great help, though. People look at prices much more so I don't know what will happen if a display ban comes in." Janet Lambert , St Andrews News, Burgess Hill, W Sussex "Tobacco reps have always had a good reputation among retailers and it's definitely true in my experience. I have a good relationship with my Imperial sales rep. He keeps me up-to-date on brand news and category advice. I can also buy products from him if I need to, which is a real bonus. Lambert & Butler is selling well here at the moment so I just had to buy more of that."
Patch : Surrey Calls per day: 11 Phil Lucas may have been a sales rep for JTI for less than two years, but see him in action and it's clear that he's got the job down to a T. While many reps conduct their calls from in front of the counter Phil is instantly welcomed behind a clear sign that he has won the trust of the retailers he looks after. "Before I started working in tobacco I was a rep in the bathroom industry. They are completely different areas, but the same people skills are required and that's something I've always been good at." JTI had just launched a new bevel-edged pack for Benson & Hedges on the day that C-Store accompanied Phil on his rounds so much of the conversations centred around that, as well as the latest legislative updates. "I'm fortunate that I've got a great patch in a really nice part of the world. On a bright sunny day there's nothing else I'd rather be doing," he says. In fact, Phil is so dedicated that when heavy snow hit Surrey in February, rendering lots of roads impassable, he packed a large rucksack and walked to the stores he needed to visit. "Many retailers hadn't been able to get to the cash and carry so were thrilled to see me and top up on much-needed stock," he laughs. That explains the tea and chocolate biscuit that he's offered in virtually every store, then.
Patch : West Sussex Calls per day: 13 Howard has worked as a sales rep for more than 20 years and what he doesn't know about the tobacco industry really isn't worth knowing. Despite being on his current patch in West Sussex for just eight months, Howard's already fluent in the different regional needs of his customers although getting used to the winding local roads may take a little longer. Watching his easy manner it's clear to see that he's already built up some great relationships. "I know it's corny, but for me the retailers really are the best part of the job," he says. "I love chatting to them about the category, but also about the day-to-day running of their stores." C-Store accompanied Howard on his rounds the day after the 15p increase on cigarette duty had been announced in the 2010 Budget. Needless to say, there was quite a bit of moaning and groaning from the retailers, and the wholesalers' "unfair" tactic of increasing their prices on the same day was also a hot topic of conversation. In fact, so intent is Howard on building the strongest possible relationships with his retailers that he is learning how to speak Gujarati to better communicate with some of them. "I'm having great fun doing this. It shows the retailers that I care," he says.