Earlier this month, I tweeted: “Unbelievable, the IAA judging packs are so impressive. The judges are going to have a hard time not to give everyone a medal. #IAA16

After a long day of assessment, however, the Independent Achievers Academy judges did agree who the top retailers were in every category. And two things really made the difference.

First was the ability of the retailer to tell a great story about their business. What is clear is that most top independent retailers know what they need to be good at to stand out from multiple competition and other local shops. However, merely listing these attributes is no longer good enough.

Brilliant shops tell their stories really well. This inspires their staff to do better, inspires their suppliers to support them, and wins them customers.

A great story develops momentum because people buy into it. This creates loyalty and it generates word of mouth. Michael Hayman and Nick Giles, writing in Mission: How the Best in Business Break Through, argue that your mission matters. It creates belief and you have to campaign about your belief.

“If you want to stand out you need to stand for something. To thirst for change. To campaign for attention and support,” Haymen and Giles write.

Top independents are already using data to spot what people are buying and suggest what they may want to buy in the future

The IAA has developed as a benchmarking tool that any independent retailer can use. It asks a lot of questions, there are 11 areas to focus on with 15 good, better and best measures to respond to. Plus the retail innovation section.

These metrics have been developed with retailers so that apples are compared with apples and pears with pears. No-one likes form filling. But these forms are good for your business health. The scores  retailers give themselves and the scores of the independent assessment produce a number that flags up which shops need more attention to find out what they are doing brilliantly.

This is the point where being able to tell the story well comes into play. If you were only filling out a form to win a prize, you could argue that it’s too much hard work. But that’s not what is at play. The recognition part of the IAA is about trapping the brilliant things that the best retailers are doing and sharing with like-minded retailers.

What the top retailers can do is explain why their scores are high with stories that shoppers, staff and suppliers can understand. This communication is about creating stand out that builds business momentum. If your staff understand how merchandising disciplines result in happier customers coming back for more, your business benefits. If they don’t, keeping the discipline is a chore. And so on through the other disciplines.

The second key thing is the ability to use data to identify sales opportunities and measure outcomes. This is an area where the independent trade is going to have to do a lot of work.

In the future you are not just competing with supermarkets and discounters, but also start-ups. For example, if a consumer fancies making a lemon crab linguine in 25 minutes without having to go to the shops then Gousto is the go-to app for them. Think: how would you get to find out that a shopper wants to make such a dish? Or even suggest it to them?

Evidence from IAA finalists shows that top independents are already using data to spot what people are buying and suggest what they may want to buy in the future.

The IAA gala dinner is on December 1, and you still have a chance to book a place to meet great retailers face-to-face and inspire your team for 2017 and beyond.