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Today is April 6, the tobacco gantry is hanging on your wall, the doors are firmly closed, and every tobacco retailer in the country n
ow works in the dark. Linda Sood talks to our reporter Sarah Parsons about her journey into the dark market.
“We installed our overhead gantry for the tobacco display ban in August 2014, but I also keep 10 packs at the back of the till behind a curtain – I feel like a naughty schoolgirl when I open it and customers wonder what we keep hidden there.
When the supermarkets first went dark in 2012 that it dawned on me we would soon have to follow suit. I was worried about how we would cope, would it affect our sales? I just kept thinking, “of course we’re going to lose sales and it’ll be the end.”
During the two and half years, from the supermarket going in the dark to us installing our gantry, we fought as hard as we could against it. We gave out leaflets, I saw my MP but he just said that it was coming and that’s all we could do. It was a frightening time.
It didn’t take huge amounts of planning to get it all organised. For most people the cigarette companies do it, but we decided to go it alone. Our overhead cost us £1,600 – another financial burden. But it was worth it: I don’t have to turn around or worry about shoplifting and I can stock the products I want. I will only stock the cigarettes my customer wants and I will bring them in if I don’t already have them – real customer service.
I’m worried retailers will now play dirty and cheat people of their money by charging whatever they want, because their customers are blind to the prices. It’ll be a shame to the industry if they do. I’m only using price-marked cigarettes and I hope others do the same – it will retain loyalty.
We did go in the dark earlier than a lot so we’ve had the practice and our customers are used to it now. But I can’t believe so many retailers have left it until the last minute. There has been so much awareness and retailers still haven’t reacted.
We all know it’s an extra burden for us to train staff and to make sure we understand the rules, but it’s the law and there were no excuses not to follow suit.
I know one retailer who left it until fairly recently to get it sorted. He ordered a curtain from Booker, but they couldn’t get the colour he wanted and now they can’t deliver it for another couple of weeks. I don’t know what he’s going to do, probably stock them underneath the till.
But now the dark market is finally here for everyone, I can speak with optimism. It’s not intimidating and it’s only a fear of the unknown. We all fought hard, but it’s just another law that’s come in and we’ve got to get used to it.”