The National Convenience Show (NCS) offered something for everyone, be it meeting suppliers and manufacturers, networking with fellow retailers, or catching the latest tips from the in-house experts at Live@TheCounter.
We’ve reviewed the highlights, including the best ideas, product launches and the ACS Summit.

But first, all the topical bases were covered at Live@TheCounter, including the tobacco display ban, fighting your corner against the multiples, taking advantage of the Olympics, and the future of retail. Here’s a roundup:

Out of the darkness into the light: the future of tobacco

Representatives from Imperial Tobacco, JTI, Booker and HIM came together to share their vision of the tobacco industry’s future in a thought-provoking panel session.
Imperial’s head of convenience Mike Laney assured retailers that the category was not in irreversible decline, and urged the industry to work together on tackling the illicit trade, which would be given a further boost by the recent duty rise and the tobacco display ban.
HIM client director Katie Hemmings went on to stun retailers with findings from a recent study which showed that 80% of adult tobacco shoppers had no idea that small stores would have an additional three years in which to sell tobacco from open gantries once large stores go dark on April 6. Martin Swadling, head of Booker’s Premier symbol group, said that the three-year lag could provide small retailers “with the single biggest opportunity since the launch of the National Lottery”.

Head to head with Imperial Tobacco

Imperial’s Laney assured retailers that there would be no slow-down in new product development once large stores comply with the display ban, adding that product innovation would be central to offsetting the challenges of the budget which saw cigarette prices rise by 37p.
Speaking in advance of the government’s consultation on plain tobacco packaging, Laney also urged retailers to contact their MPs and explain the impact that plain packs would have on their businesses. “The Department of Health hasn’t spoken to tobacco companies since 2006. We can’t engage with it, but you can, and we will support you in that,” he said.

Growing beer & cider value with Heineken

Heineken’s Nichola Cookland and Nichola Grant explained how convenience retailers can make the most of the beer and wine category, which is up 4.9% in impulse. The two Heineken experts said retailers should aim to “make it easy, satisfy the occasion and transform the experience”. Crucially, don’t replicate the supermarkets - instead, stock small packs which can be consumed immediately. The audience was advised to stock top-sellers, which deliver about one-third of sales, and not to overload the fixture. Finally, sign-post the products properly, as shoppers are looking for the brands they know. “About 30% of lost sales are due to customers not finding what they want,” said Cookland.

Independent advantages: a Fight Your Corner special

Independent retailers can survive the onslaught of the multiples, according to Budgens’ sales director Dan Quest, although they need to identify their strengths to do so. In an interview with C-Store editor David Rees, Quest said focusing on customer service is critical should a multiple open up nearby. “Do the employees of multiples have the same passion and fight? No. People know you better and recognise your community involvement.”
Customers want value, but they will accept c-stores have slightly higher costs. However, availability is vital. “If customers can’t find what they want the second time, they won’t come back,” Quest added. It is also important to have a strong brand supporting you, which a symbol group can provide. But groups need to do their bit to support retailers - such as Budgens’ Tesco Price Match initiative.
Ultimately, Dan said, make sure you engage with the community. “The impact is four times less for a shop with community links when a Tesco Express or other multiple store opens down the road,” he said.

Taming the beast - five ways to use social media to help you

Social media guru Richard Sedley of Foviance helped bring retailers into the 21st Century with this session. Covering social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, Sedley championed the virtues of using online methods to build a relationship. He challenged retailers to pick one social media tool to use in their business. “Rather than attempting to use all social media tools at your disposal and diluting your message, it’s best to focus on one and do it well,” he advised. “Find out which suits your business best and start interacting!”

The future of retail

Retailers were challenged to face up to the future, following the results of the HIM Forward to the Future survey. According to the survey, 60% of retailers felt their store wasn’t moving with the times, leaving a lot of store owners needing to make changes to their business to keep up.
Customer service rated highly as an area that retailers felt they can compete with the multiples (94%), while local community involvement ran a close second (85%), with speed of service following at 84%. From a consumer point of view, customer service also scored highly as ways in which convenience stores compete with the big stores.
Customers also wanted to see more branded products in their local store rather than own label. Bill payment services and food on the go were also in demand, as well as ready-to-eat evening meals.

2012 - the summer of opportunity

With the Diamond Jubilee, the Euro 2012 football and the Olympics all coming up, panellists urged retailers to use the events to engage with their communities. Dean Holborn of Redhill in Surrey spoke of his plans to have a Jubilee party, while Coventry retailer Pinda Cheema claimed he had been planning six months in advance to make the most of the opportunities.
“If you don’t know how to celebrate in-store, then ask your customers what they would like,” advised Martin Swadling, head of Premier at Booker.
Both Dean and Pinda claimed that working closely with suppliers proves beneficial. “There are wins for all of us if the retailer works in harmony with the supplier and wholesaler,” said Dean.
“As long as you show discipline, professionalism and a willingness to let suppliers work with you, then they can help you progress your business,” added Pinda.

Visionary Ideas


Visitors to NCS were once again given the chance to vote for the best new idea on show.
Earning the accolade of Best New Idea was the I-Viewer, from the I-View Optic company. The shelf-mounted magnifying glass is designed to help shoppers with visual impairments to read product labels quickly and easily. The system includes a patented housing fixture which means viewers can be attached to shelving without taking up valuable space.
The product has been eight years in the making and has been developed with user groups in partnership with organisations such as the RNIB. The viewers have also been tested in a c-store environment at Dee Sedani’s Londis store in Derbyshire, and are now ready for a nationwide rollout.
In second place was Dizolve, a concentrated detergent sheet from Canada, being exclusively distributed here by Rogers & Scott. The 24-wash packs occupy less than 20% of the shelf space of an equivalent packet of powder.
In third place was On The Menu, a range of frozen ready meals (six mains, one dessert) aimed at senior citizens. Every aspect of the product’s formulation has been designed with older people in mind, including the choice of dishes, the fat and salt content, large-print labelling and easy-to-open packaging

ACS Summit

Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) chairman Jonathan James urged retailers at this year’s ACS Summit to “get their heads down”. He said that “the sector has faced tough times before” and if people work together they will get through it. He urged retailers to use every tool at their disposal, including social media, to engage with consumers.
The dilemma of sustainability versus survival was addressed in the afternoon breakout session at the Summit. The session urged a “thoughtful approach to the sustainability issue” that wouldn’t bankrupt businesses. Retailers were challenged to reduce the supply chain as much as possible and look to local produce. They were also advised to use technology to improve sustainability, with chiller doors a hot topic.

Community engagement

Panellists at the Community Engagement breakout session illustrated how working closely with locals and authorities can strengthen retailers’ businesses.
Budgens retailer Vince Maloney explained how his store in Ascot, Berkshire, has a schedule of community events planned for the year, with funds raised invested back into the community.
Andrew Olly, who runs a store in Ely, Cambridgeshire, told how he had gained 12,000 signatures for a petition against town parking charges by engaging with the local community, city councillors and fellow traders.

People and service

Service was voted the main challenge facing retailers at the People and Service breakout session.
The Co-op’s Dave Mockford said that retailers needed to be pro-active in order to guarantee a productive workforce. “You need to tell people if you’re not getting the results you want and you need to do something different.”
Paul Cheema of Malcolm’s Store in Coventry explained how he got the best out of a staff member by taking them on as an apprentice and developing their skills. “Now he’s totally transformed,” Paul said.
Money to fund apprenticeship programmes like Paul’s was available to the independent sector, Skillsmart Retail’s Gemma Behan told retailers. “We’re in a position to help you navigate this,” she told the audience.