If there is one thing Imperial Tobacco has learned from its experiences in Australia, it’s that availability drops in a dark market.

Determined to address this problem in the UK, it has therefore spent the past year developing a range of tools to encourage best practice which prepares them for the transition next year.

The company therefore launched a new ranging and merchandising initiative in September, designed to provide long-term assistance via five tools which advise on range, stock ordering, availability issues and the cost of out of stocks – unique to each individual store.

“There are hundreds of tobacco products, but the majority of sales are generated by a select number of top performing SKUs. We show retailers bestseller lists for their areas to show why they should stock these brands, as well as assisting with merchandising assistance and staff training,” says company rep Ian Hammett.

With tobacco being one of the most regionally-biased convenience categories, ranging and merchandising advice is specific to each postcode district and now offers independent retailers access to the same type of information that the supermarkets have had at their fingertips for years.

“We have 1,600 planograms for different stores and can offer the same service to independents as we do to the big multiples,” says Tim Oates, Imperial Tobacco independent availability executive. “This is with display restrictions in mind – it’s about getting the right brands in place and getting availability right so customers don’t walk away.”

Additional tools such as log books to record customer requests and rota sheets to schedule top-ups ahead of busy periods have also been produced to support retailers.

Behind all its activity is the belief that, while physical barriers will go up on 6 April 2015, mental barriers will be removed if best practice in ranging, merchandising and availability is already a natural and understood part of everyday tobacco management.

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