The benefits of responsible and sustainable business practices are wide ranging, improving life for staff, locals and generations to come
Probably all of you reading this article would consider yourself to be a responsible retailer. Ensuring age-restricted goods such as alcohol and tobacco don’t get into the wrong hands is a legal obligation, after all, and failure to do this has serious consequences. But today’s responsible retailers go much further than simply following the law of the land, and their commitment to their communities helps make their stores and the areas surrounding them safer, cleaner, healthier and happier places to live, work and play.
Here we look at store owners who have gone the extra mile, who are ensuring they trade in a way which makes a positive difference to their customers, the environment, or their workforce.
One of the key areas for responsible retailers to address is ensuring age-restricted goods aren’t sold to under-18s, and their efforts have been having an effect, with smoking and drinking prevalence among secondary school pupils falling.
The annual Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England Report recently revealed that less than a quarter (23%) of pupils aged between 11 and 15 said they had tried smoking “at least once” in 2012, down from 25% the year before. The alcohol figures tell a similar tale, with 10% of kids admitting to having drunk alcohol in the past week - down from 25% in 2003. However, while these figures do make for encouraging reading, there is clearly much more work to be done, with police, Trading Standards, schools, hospitals, parents and retailers all required to play a role.
“Our relationship with the authorities has improved immeasurably since they realised that we were serious about our commitment to responsible community retailing”
Binny Amin, Londis and Budgens, Kent
Fortunately, there are a great many retailers out there working to achieve this aim stores such as Londis Blean in Canterbury, Kent, for example, where retailer Binny Amin has just strengthened his already rigorous underage sales policy. Each member of store staff, including Binny himself, now undergoes a monthly ‘refresher’ training session, while they all now have personal refusals books.
“This allows me to keep much closer tabs on how each individual staff member is performing and identify any issues early on. It safeguards them as well as me. As community retailers we have a responsibility to ensure that these types of age-restricted products don’t fall into the wrong hands,” Binny explains.
The responsible sale of alcohol and tobacco goes far beyond restricting its access to under-18s. At Binny’s other store in Whitstable, Kent, Binny has also reduced, yes reduced, the opening hours of his 4,500sq ft Budgens store so that it is no longer open when the pubs close, in a bid to help prevent drink-fuelled antisocial behaviour and alcohol abuse in the town.
He’s also removed all cheap, super-strength beers and ciders from sale, with no impact whatsoever on the store’s takings or footfall.
Binny, like many thousands of other store owners, is a firm believer that convenience stores can be part of the solution to solving the UK’s health and social ills, rather than part of the problem. Working with his local police and trading standards officers as well as schools has been key to helping him achieve this. “Our relationship with the authorities has improved immeasurably since they realised that we were serious about our commitment to responsible community retailing, leading to further benefits. Our local police, for example, were full of helpful advice when it came to re-positioning our CCTV cameras, and I know I can call on them for help, and that they will give it, whenever I need. It’s a great comfort to me, my staff, and customers.”
Working with the police to cut street drinking
The East of England Co-operative was the first retailer to support Suffolk Police’s ‘Reducing the Strength’ campaign to remove all cheap beer, lager and cider with an alcohol volume of 6.5% from sale in Ipswich.
Just over a year since launch, the voluntary campaign is seeing positive results in reducing crime and antisocial behaviour in and around the town.
Police reports of street drinking have dropped and analysis of an area in Ipswich that had suffered from antisocial behaviour linked to street drinking has seen a 73% reduction in reports of street drinking and a 31% reduction in crime.
The initiative, which has now been rolled out to all 53 of the East of England Co-op’s Suffolk stores, has not affected sales, Roger Grosvenor, executive officer retail says.
“The reduction in antisocial behaviour has been a key benefit, but also the relationship between our stores and the local police has improved immeasurably,” he adds. “We have helped to make Ipswich a safer place to live and work, and there is a greater feeling of safety for customers and staff, who also feel that their wellbeing has improved.”
Just as restricting access to certain products forms a cornerstone of responsible retailing, so too is promoting other, healthy products.
Last year’s winners of C-Store’s Responsible Retailing Award, Dennis and Linda Williams, devote hours of their time to not only promoting the importance of a healthy diet and lifestyle, but also actively helping their customers to achieve it. Take their School Breakfast initiative. Disturbed by reports that some local children were arriving for school having had nothing to eat, the Edinburgh Premier retailers decided to host a ‘healthy breakfast’ event at their local primary school.
The pair secured sponsorship from key suppliers, and the event was a phenomenal success, allowing all 390 pupils to taste a wide variety of different and healthy breakfast foods to get them and their parents “re-engaged with the idea of breakfast”.
“We set up tables in the school hall, buffet-style, with fresh fruit, juices, fromage frais, wholegrain cereal, cartons of milk, 50/50 bread, and porridge with lots of different toppings,” explains Linda. “We were especially keen for them to try new things, and porridge with honey was the surprise hit of the morning - so much so that I had mothers coming into the shop the following day asking what had we done to their children, and where was the porridge section,” Linda explains.
“The event created a real talking point in the community. Hopefully, it will have long-term benefits for the children, with even a few of them starting to eat a better breakfast. And we as a local store have made contact with our next generation of customers.”
Linda and Dennis are not alone in recognising the key role that local stores can play in making their communities healthier.
“As a customer-facing organisation we have a role to play in influencing our customer base to make healthier choices,” says Gemma Lacey, head of sustainability at the Southern Co-operative. More than 30% of Southern Co-op store promotions centre around healthy products. The society also runs a ‘Free Fruit Friday’ scheme which allows each school child one piece of free fruit each Friday.
The scheme is going down well with local children, and other convenience store retailers have been inspired to try similar ideas. In a bid to encourage children to adopt a healthier diet and choose fruit over chocolate and sweets, Nisa store owner Rav Garcha is offering pupils five free pieces of fruit and five bottles of Robinsons Fruit Shoot Low Sugar using a voucher scheme at his Nisa Local store in Gains Park, Shrewsbury.
Other initiatives such as ‘healthy tills’ where ‘treat’ items such as chocolate have been replaced with products of a higher nutritional value such as multivitamin juice and fresh fruit are also growing in popularity. Initial figures from a scheme recently launched by discounter Lidl show the Healthy Till is seeing 20% higher footfall than traditional tills.
Looking after staff
Treating and remunerating staff fairly and operating as a conscientious employer is another important element of responsible retailing. The maths is simple: happy healthy staff equal a pleasant in-store environment and content customers.
“When given the right support and encouragement, we have learned that store staff can also make a key difference to how the store is viewed and used by the local community,” says Caroline Bosworth, community liaison and HR manager for the James Graven Group. In addition to free local gym membership, as well as discounts on fuel and groceries, those staff who volunteer on a regular basis within the community are also granted extra holidays.
Getting involved in local initiatives and becoming the focal point of community relationships is another way retailers can demonstrate their commitment, and one retailer doing this in spades is independent Lesley Brown of Frankmarsh Stores in Barnstaple, Devon.
Earlier this year Lesley, who is also the town Mayor, played a central role in the annual ‘Tidy Up Our Town’ week, which saw more than 400 people from local organisations, schools, businesses and community groups pick 1.5 tonnes of recycling and rubbish off the streets.
Lesley is one of handful of local Street Champions responsible community representatives who work with police and local agencies to solve a variety of community issues. She also plays an active role in the Frankmarsh & Gorwell estate Junior Street Champions scheme, helping young volunteers get involved in community events and projects, and improving their social interaction, self-confidence and community awareness in the process.
“Being part of the community is our bread and butter,” explains Lesley. “People feel happy and safe in our store it feels like they are shopping with family and that simple fact will keep them coming in no matter what the economic outlook. The kids who used to shop with us are now bringing in their own kids. It’s fantastic.”
The Southern Co-op, which runs a Community Support Card scheme in many of its stores, is also no stranger to supporting the local community. Last month the group’s new Wadhurst store in East Sussex donated more than £5,500-worth of frozen and chilled food to Hospice in the Weald. It also organised for a large walk-in freezer and refrigerator to be installed temporarily at the hospice to cater for the size of the delivery.
Hospice CEO Rob Woolley said: “The Southern Co-operative has demonstrated here how some creative thinking and an investment direct from them can make a significant difference to the community we serve.”
The Society’s newly re-opened Clanfield store, meanwhile, donated £500 to the local Sustainability Centre. The sum will be put towards a bike-powered smoothie maker, which will be used to teach schoolchildren “in a fun and tangible way about renewable energy, healthy lifestyles and food”.
Giving school children a healthy start to the day
Following on from a successful ‘Free Fruit Friday’ initiative, independent retailer William Henry of Simply Fresh, Cleobury Mortimer, Shropshire, is planning a healthy ‘Breakfast with Simply Fresh’ scheme for local school children.
Pupils will be treated to a colourful spread of fruit, vegetables, healthy cereals and freshly baked, healthy treats.
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and so I thought this was a great place to start with endorsing healthy eating in children and young people,” William explains. “We want to enhance what they are already learning about healthy eating at school, while injecting a little fun into it by actively engaging them. We want the children to know that healthy doesn’t have to mean boring, and they will learn this for themselves when they see and taste the range of delicious and vibrant options we will present them, with a little help from our suppliers.
“With so many health problems being publicised in the national press, people are beginning to place great importance on healthy eating so I think it’s important that we remain dedicated to promoting healthy lifestyles,” he adds.
Your chance to shine:
Inspired by our case studies and have your own examples of responsible retailing to share? Then enter the 2014 Responsible Retailing Award, supported by Imperial Tobacco, part of the annual Convenience Retail Awards.
Next year’s high-profile event takes place on 6 March and entries are being collected now, so don’t delay,
“Imperial Tobacco is extremely proud to continue our support of these prestigious awards,” Imperial UK communications manager Gayatri Barua-Howe says. “The awards recognise the innovation and trade expertise that keeps the convenience sector at the forefront of retailing best practise.
“Convenience store operators are vitally important to Imperial Tobacco and we are hugely committed to providing levels of support commensurate with our category-leading position.
“There are many convenience store retailers out there facing these challenges head-on, who work tirelessly and are passionate about their business and the retail trade in general. Retailers have a huge capacity to improve the lives of their customers and communities and be the catalyst for positive, long- lasting change.
“The Responsible Retailing Award recognises the excellence that currently exists within the retail community and acknowledges the dedication and hard work of retailers who provide invaluable service and play a central role in the communities they serve.”
Enter now: Download the official entry form at www.cr-awards.co.uk and send it by 15 November.