To join or not to join – that’s the first question. And if you do decide that symbol group membership is for you, the second question is which group to pick. For RN’s special report this week, we asked 12 retailers how symbol has benefited them. Here’s what they had to say…

Noel Conreen

Noel Conreen, Best-one Ace of Hearts Garage, Widnes, Cheshire

We were unaffiliated before joining Best-one and have benefited hugely from their expertise. We were a traditional garage, but have diversified as times changed. They send several reps in and provide supplier contacts. They offer an in-depth analysis of what we should stock, where and have a computer model of the shop showing what we should be selling and how much we should be making, which has been enormously helpful. We use USKILL, which is an online training platform that staff can access. We wouldn’t have had this if we were on our own, and it’s really strengthened our customer service.

Bobby Singh (R)

Bobby Singh, Newhouse Mini Market, Kilbirnie, Scotland

We’re very happy with Lifestyle Express. We’ve only been with them a year, but the amount of promotions we now have access to is fantastic.  We get a rep in every third week and they’re very good at keeping us informed. The promotions do well – we have a special area for them and people are attracted by the value and the fact that often they’re recognisable brands. Own brands are popular as well – it gives a suggestion of both quality and value that people are very happy with. Pricemarked products are very important as well.

Andy HillAndy Hill, Hills News Londis, Middleton St George, Durham

We’ve been through Network Transformation and the Post Office helped us draw up a plan for what we wanted and how much it would cost. The refit was my idea, but I went them and was assigned a project manager who assigned with the design, the choice of the fittings and co-ordinated the whole operation. He did the job very well, and we were in constant contact. We moved the kiosk from the side of the shop to the back, which was quite an operation, but we felt well looked after every step of the way.

David Charman 2David Charman, Spar Parkfoot Garages, Kent

Spar is excellent at organising networking . They have an annual conference and a guild system and also organise study tours. The best person to have in your store is another retailer – they’ll see things you don’t and can make great suggestions for improving the business. We recently took on some local suppliers. Several retailers who visited began using them too, and started doing a promotion selling three craft beers for £6. This has been a huge success, increasing my beer sales 500-600%. Spar were happy to facilitate this. We have Spar’s own label products, but they’re actually premium items. We’re in an upscale area, so we need quality and higher prices.

Julian HullJulian Hull, Nisa Local, Southminster, Essex

We have big retailer meetings twice a year and symbol shows and summits. These are great opportunities to meet other retailers, managers and suppliers – it’s impossible to come away without learning a huge amount about what’s going on in the industry. You see a lot of products and get a lot of ideas – we recently introduced hot dog stands , for example. If we buy from Nisa’s range of products, say 90% of our purchases over three buys, we get a discount, and ultimately some cash kickbacks. They also help us get discounts on freezers and chillers as well, which is very helpful.

Dee SedaniDee Sedani, Londis Etwal, Derbyshire

Londis were very helpful when we set up our store, assisting with shelving, EPoS, chillers, the works. They’re great for supply – it all gets conveniently consolidated for us so we don’t have to liaise with a lot of suppliers. But we get category specialists coming in as well, such as Coke and Cadbury. Cash and carries may be cheaper, but time is saved in the delivery system. We can choose what time they come in, and can have as many or as few deliveries as we like. The time saved and the convenience is definitely worth the slightly higher costs.


Donna Morgan, Brownlie’s, Biggar, Scotland

We moved to Best-one and it’s made a huge difference. They were very amenable to local promotions and tailoring things to a Scottish market – there’s not much point having a promotion centred around English football in Scotland, for example. We’re Best-one ambassadors and have meetings where retailers can get advice and ideas. We get to trial products, too. Walkers are trying new mixes of products with us and JTI have been looking at our EPoS data to rearrange the gantry to favour products which should be doing better. Membership gives you more access to information, and information is key.

Paul & Pinda CheemaPaul Cheema, Malcolm’s Store, Coventry

In today’s trading environment, you really have to be part of a symbol group to progress. With Costcutter, we get own label products, on-time deliveries, marketing and promotions, and an overall corporate identity that can help draw people into your store. You get a fascia, floor mats, staff uniforms, which elevate the professionalism of your whole operation. They can also help with the provision of equipment like chillers and freezers. The most important effect of membership is that I can spend more time in the shop, analysing the business, actually running it and being a better manager, rather than spending days on the road to various cash and carries.

Hitesh ChandaranaHitesh Chandarana, Nisa Local, Wigan

Nisa has a symbol group development fund. It gives you a pot to dip into for developing your store, for example refrigeration or signage. It’s a good and sensible investment because it forces you to be disciplined in planning for the future. We used it recently to help towards a major refurbishment, and found our equipment via Nisa-approved shopfitters. Own label products have become increasingly important over the past few years. People have been much more willing to switch brands, and own labels are far more acceptable now – people see them as good value, but still offering quality.

Shailesh PatelShailesh Patel, WHSmith Local, Purley, South London

We were a Smiths-style retailer, so it made sense for us to join WHSmith Local and I wouldn’t go back. They hold your hand through all the regulations, improve your supply and give you a professional-looking fascia. With regard to tobacco law, they’ve been a huge help with the changes to the law, such as going dark. They tell us what we should be doing, when, and are excellent at keeping us informed. It takes away a layer of work and you can focus on running a good shop. They also offer courses to staff on EPoS, customer service, all kind of things. It helps make a very smooth operation.

Harjinder DhaseeHarjinder Dhasee, Nisa Local, Mickelton, Gloucestershire

I joined Nisa six years ago and the support and guidance we get has definitely made life easier. They help us with employment law, promotions, layout, everything. We get a monthly visit from a business development manager and several other specialist reps visit every two to three months. It’s great to be able to pay such attention to the store, especially because I’m not losing any time to going to a cash and carry. I installed a deli counter recently with Nisa’s input – they sent somebody down who was full of advice on health and safety, design and placing – it made what could have been very tough into a remarkably pain-free process.

Vip MeasuriaVip Measuria, The Prior Way, Derby

As a Premier member, I value the group’s forum as a place to share ideas and question members of the Premier team about law changes or new regulations. It’s also important to me that I have a symbol group to work with when I’m trying to access finance. It’s invaluable to have access to approved providers. The fact that a big company like Booker has vetted a provider means they’re usually very good. And I like the fact that I’m kept updated with weekly emails. They contain more than just the latest promotions, but also advice linked to the issues raised by forum members.