My colleagues Caroline Cronin, Kate Daw and their team organised a fantastic Local Shop Summit in Birmingham last week and for me the high point was three videos showcasing three great local shops.
On the day, the three owners Roli Ranger, Bintesh Amin and Paul Cheema may have felt a little unsure about sharing their achievements at an event billed: How to be Brilliant.
While best-selling author Michael Heppell had advised the 250 plus retailers present that being good was no longer good enough and to become brilliant you needed to study people who were successful, some retailers were unhappy with our choice of brilliant shops.
Not that the shops were poor. Just that they were convenience stores and in particular symbol group members. And again, not that the retailers had anything against c-stores or symbol group members. Just that they assumed Roli, Bintesh and Paul had an edge because of the badge over their door and the extra support suppliers gave them.
Later, one independent retailer thanked me for the event and told me it would have been better if one of the three videos had been of an unaffiliated independent shop. I think he has made a good point. My team asked Roli, Bintesh and Paul to get involved not because they are in symbol groups but because they are constantly working with suppliers – and us – on trying new things. Their shops are constantly changing to meet the needs of their local shoppers.
The key point is that their shops are successful because of who they are: brilliant retailers. They are probably in symbol groups because they understand Mr Heppell’s point about working in mastermind groups, finding great business people and working with them.
Mind your language, Mr Heppell’s aunt used to tell him. You become what you say you are. If you project negative, you get negative. A good question would have been to ask how much of their success was down to signing up to a symbol group and how much was down to their own efforts.
I suspect that in the early days, symbol group membership taught them retail disciplines and gave them access to good ideas and best practice. But long ago, Roli, Bintesh and Paul moved beyond this. You can see it in their shops. You can see it in the faces of their staff. You can see it in the faces of their shoppers.
There is an assumption that suppliers give to some and not to others. Perhaps there is an element of truth in this. Poor suppliers often give a better deal to loud customers in the hope that if they keep them quiet they don’t have to change how they operate. But in the convenience market, if you operate like this you will be found out. You will be found out because Tesco, Sainsbury or Waitrose will open up near you so that your shoppers can walk to their stores.
The purpose of the Local Shop Summit is to help independent retailers get better. The secret of getting better is your individual leadership. You will never negotiate a better deal than Tesco, but if you have the right vision you can win the loyalty of your shoppers. Choose to be brilliant!