The Fed is working on increasing its support for convenience store owners beyond its ‘heritage’ in newspapers and magazines, according to chief operating office Graham Stafford.
Speaking to Better Retailing, the former Nokia and Sony director outlined his focuses since taking up the role at the Fed last July, including working closely with the ACS, changing how the Fed recruits new members and preparing the ground for potential structural changes following the trade organisation’s upcoming annual conference.
While stating there was “no silver bullet” to returning Fed membership to growth, he said “incremental improvements” were starting to have an effect.
He said further success would involve better matching the changing needs of independent retailers as the Fed’s newsagency heartland declines.
Stafford explained: “Our members are much more than the traditional CTN categories. They are operating as full convenience retailers.
“That direction of travel isn’t going to change. So, we need to ensure that we are very strong in our core news and magazines area through NewsPro, challenging the publishers on margins and things like that. At the same time, we need to realise there’s a bigger picture out there that as an organisation we need to be addressing.”
He outlined the cost-of-doing-business crisis, deposit return schemes, and the regulatory and environmental concerns around disposable vapes as some of the challenges the Fed is addressing to help its members.
On the latter, the COO added: “We want to be driving the recycling of vapes. We want to be ensuring compliance with Challenge 25 to protect stores and the category.”
Part of this change has involved working with rival trade groups, such as the ACS and the Federation of Small Businesses, to more effectively lobby government, including the Fed putting its name and weight behind other group’s messaging, rather than always sending out its own separate releases.
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He said: “That’s much stronger for the convenience sector and the independent retail sector, full stop. It is beginning to show traction in areas such as Axe the Card Tax, and things like that.
“Certainly, I get the impression the sector is being listened to more than perhaps it has been in the past. Previously, there were four or five messages. Now we’re speaking with one voice.”
The changes come as senior Fed members mull what could be one of the largest structural changes in the organisation’s history, due to be debated and decided at the Fed’s June annual conference in Harrogate.
While making clear it is for members alone to make a decision, Stafford said the team had been working behind the scenes in preparation for changes. He added: “I’ve been getting us ready for the potential scenarios that I see developing.
“On the membership side, there’s a recognition that the processes that may have been appropriate 10-to-20 years ago, when the organisation was larger, are no longer as agile, and they need to be, partially because of the change in the size of the membership.
“When that restructure, however that looks, goes through, I think that will have a profound effect on the entire organisation, and enable the organisation to be much more agile and responsive.”
Except from his first job as a paperboy less than six miles from his desk at the Fed’s Durham head office, the role as the Fed’s most senior staff member represents Stafford’s first within convenience retailing.
Asked for his major takeaway from his time in the position since July, he told Better Retailing: “From speaking to members, what was brought into stark relief was their resilience during the pandemic, their tireless work for local communities and how the entire sector has reinvented itself to match the incredible pace of change we’re seeing.”
The COO also highlighted the passion the Fed team has for supporting members. He said: “I’ve worked in places where people come in, do their job and leave, they take their money. Without exception, that doesn’t apply here.”