As an independent retailer of 25 years, I can’t remember a time when the sector has seen so much change.
Our tobacco gantry has been transformed into a sea of olive packs over the past few months. Ten-packs have disappeared and rolling tobacco is now served in pack sizes that require serious financial commitment from our customers.
The soft drinks market is busy developing tasty sugar-free alternatives that are finding a place on our shelves alongside the old sugar-fuelled favourites.
Our staff are constantly reminded that time is money. To stand around and have a chat is no longer an option as the store is running at a faster pace and generating a lower return due to increased staff costs, higher carriage charges and more local competition.
I wouldn’t have chosen any of the above to improve my business, build sales or make my life as an independent retailer easier, but the enforced changes have made me look at my business with a different attitude.
I don’t expect customers to understand the changes in the tobacco sector. The Government has brought the changes in knowing it would inconvenience people, but it will also encourage otherwise law-abiding citizens to buy smaller packs from illegal sources.
Customers still deserve a choice, and we have worked tirelessly on availability, increased our e-cigarette offering, and tried and tested several methods of speeding up sales and service so staff are able to navigate the cabinet easily.
I’ve been surprised and encouraged by our customers’ eagerness to try low-sugar drinks. While it’s true our energy drinks are still our bestsellers by far, many are opting for low-sugar varieties. Sales are still strong, which is excellent news as the soft drinks sector offers good margins and we’re doing our bit to keep the nation healthy.
Staff costs will always be our biggest overhead. I wish we could manage with fewer of them, but the truth is they are our business. If our staff understand and appreciate how important they are to the business, most of them will deliver an excellent day’s work for a generous hourly rate. And for the ones who like to take the easy option, there’s always the tobacco gantry to restock.