Recognising the best of 2015. Vote now.

Running a store successfully in any location is a challenge and, in era of increased competition and soaring customer expectations, retailers increasingly look to their suppliers, wholesalers and peers for guidance and support to help them grow.

This year for the first time we are giving you, the RN readership, the opportunity to recognise some of the best of this work in our Retailer Choice Awards. Eight RN contributors have used their industry knowledge to create shortlists for eight awards.

It’s now up to you to pick your winners. The nominees with the greatest number of votes will be recognised in two weeks’ time in our 18 December issue.

1. Supplier initiative of the year

From online platforms to in-store testings, suppliers continue to invest in support for independent retailers to boost sales of entire categories. Which programme, above all the others, deserves this award?

Increasingly, retailers are seeing providing a great HND service as a way to protect newstrade profits and, this year, News UK has put itself at the heart of this trend with its Deliver My Sun campaign. With a website that drives customers interested in HND to their local newsagent and advertising on the newspaper’s front page and on television, this is a major campaign to grow retailers’ newstrade sales. The company says that each new customer is worth £165 per year and that retention levels for HND are 90%. A major initiative like this provides a much-needed good news story for a category in decline.

With 17 million people visiting a branch each week, it’s no surprise that adding Post Office services into a store can raise its sales by 15%. As part of the Post Office’s modernisation programme it has been paying existing branches £10,000 to convert to a new Post Office Local format with that rising to £45,000 for a main branch. This year its launch of the Run a Post Office website has helped make it easier for independent retailers interested in joining the group to do so. The site gives advice on the application process, information on the fees that retailers receive plus details and case studies from post offices in your area.

In April this year Cereal Partners UK launched its trade focused website offering case studies of retailers who have grown their sales, planograms, brand news and much more. The site was developed in consultation with 40 retailers to ensure the advice and information is as relevant as possible. One of the stand-out features on the site is the option to ‘Book a Relay’ where the Cereal Partners team will come to a retailer’s store and re-lay their cereals fixture. Over 100 stores have taken up the offer since it launched. Finally, the brand-by-brand profiles on the site give bitesize chunks of category information.

There’s no doubt that 2016 is going to be another challenging year for tobacco retailers with not only plain packaging legislation coming into force but also the sprawling (and as yet unconfirmed) implications of the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive transforming the formats and range they can stock. Partnering for Success is Imperial Tobacco’s response to what it says is a “highly regulatory environment”, comprising of printed and online START (Support, Training, Availability, Range and Trust) guides which will keep retailers up to date through the next 12 months and beyond.

This was the year Taylors of Harrogate took advantage of its investment in the Brew View site, and became a category leader for the support it offers. Its advice is based on comparing total market data, convenience sales data and the EPoS numbers from retailers’ stores. In addition, the company will then reorganise retailers’ fixtures and monitor their sales to ensure the changes have had the desired effect. An online profit calculator also offers a nifty way for retailers to check their margins, while the “Who Is My Shopper” section provides easy-to-read facts and figures on shoppers in convenience stores.

And the winner is…

2. Newstrade star performer

From colouring books to Star Wars titles there’s been a wealth of innovation in the newstrade this year? Which one has stood out with readers?

Although not the “official” magazine for Frozen characters, Egmont Publishing’s Disney Frozen quickly achieved leadership in the primary girls sector of the buoyant children’s magazine market, reporting average monthly sales of over 90,000 copies for its first ABC audit. The title, which features stories based on Frozen characters, along with puzzles, stickers, colouring pages and competitions, has increased its cover price this month to £4.99. Such has been the title’s success that, despite this price increase, Egmont has decided to make it a three-weekly, rather than four-weekly, magazine from January 2016.

Relax with Art was a major diversification for puzzle magazine specialist Bromleigh House, but the title has been highly successful in helping to turn the adult colouring book craze into a significant earner for retailers. Launched as a £2.99 monthly less than a year ago, Relax with Art now has a suite of brand extensions, with a calendar, a diary and a yearbook on sale during the run-up to Christmas and New Year. Last month, award-winning newsagent Kate Clark of Sean’s News, Upton-upon-Severn, told RN that the title had become so popular that she is selling up to 40 copies per month.

Publisher De Agostini has developed the partworks category well beyond its original knowledge-building concept, with activity titles – such as the current Build the Millennium Falcon – and collectables. Magiki Puppies, a short-run £2.50 series of 12 featuring small puppy dog models that changed colour or glowed in the dark when handled, proved popular with children and adults alike. Not only has the brand been successful in its own right – Magiki Puppies has helped boost sales of other titles too. Earlier this year, Magiki Puppies’ cover mount helped primary girls title Sparkle World achieve a 70% sell through.

Never a big spender on newstrade promotions, Private Eye nevertheless bucked the trend of falling magazine sales with a 5.7% year-on-year increase, taking its newsstand sales to over 90,000 copies a fortnight during the first half of 2015. Scandals sell papers, and when there’s plenty of them about, as there is now, Private Eye is usually on the case, digging up extra details and reporting on every rumour. Besides, its humorous covers lighten up the shelves and have long provided committed and creative retailers with a reason to decorate their store windows when a cover has been particularly strong.

The i, which has recently celebrated it fifth birthday, is a daily paper for people who want more comment with the news that the Metro offers, and less than the main quality dailies provide. At 40p – double the launch price – and average daily newsstand sales off 191,000 (down from 209,000 last year) the I is not a big money spinner for retailers, but in a market that’s in long-term decline, every newspaper sale is worth- while. – a point its sales force is currently making in a drive to promote sales through independent retailers. Praise also came recently from the NFRN’s Brian Murphy telling RN it’s “found a hole and it works”.

And the winner is…

3. Symbol group innovation of the year

We say it every year, but the symbol group market is now more competitive than ever before. What has been the innovation that has helped one group raise its game in 2015?

Offering excellent value for money against a sea of discount stores and aggressive supermarket price-cutting is becoming increasingly more difficult for symbol and franchise stores. But One Stop was able to flex its buying power to give its retailers an eye-catching ‘four for £5’ frozen meal deal, which included a main dish, side dish, dessert and a 1.25l drink. This was coupled with ongoing eve- ning and lunch meal deals to offer even greater value to shoppers. One Stop retailers told RN the promotion has helped them grow customer loyalty and boost repeat purchases as a result.

With growing interest in its Bargain Booze franchise model, Conviviality Retail attempted to win over new candidates with a bold promise – join the group and take advantage of complete, 24-hour store refit to either a Bargain Booze or Bargain Booze Select Convenience Store. The campaign has helped generate more than 300 retailer leads to date for the company, with the first set of new recruits having their stores converted early in November. Off the back of this success, Conviviality has since launched a second recruitment drive to gain more retailer members over the Christmas period.

Looking to attract new shoppers to its business, Budgens decided to introduce a new supermarket concept to its store in Broadstone, Dorset. The ‘lab’ store focused on offering a wider range of fresh produce, artisan bread and bakery lines and a wealth of locally-sourced goods to shoppers, leading to sales growing 25% a month after launch. The positive results prompted Budgens to launch smaller convenience concept stores in Byfleet, Surrey and Crouch End, London. Positive results at these stores has now convinced the group to roll out the scheme nationally in the near future.

With Booker’s Mega Deals averaging £3.5m in retail sales during each promotion in 2014, according to head of Premier Martin Swadling, the company sought to grow this further with a year-long TV campaign. The move saw Mega Deals promoted on ITV and satellite channels throughout the course of this year with ads featuring genuine Premier retailers and their stores to highlight their importance to local communities. Coupled with the campaign’s coverage in the national press, Premier retailers told RN that the investment has led to greater footfall in their stores.

The launch of Apple Pay was seen as a revolution in the way customers can pay for various goods with just the touch of digital device. Wholesaler Bestway was one of the first to recognise the benefits this technology could bring to retailers, leading the company to introduce Apple Pay in its Abbey Road depot. The company said the move has led to shorter queuing times and greater flexibility for store owners, meaning they are spending less time in depot and more time in their businesses. The service is also unique for having no ceiling on how much customers can spend, unlike other Apple Pay systems.

And the winner is…

4. Marketing campaign of the year

From in-store PoS to multimedia advertising, which campaign has done the best job in convincing shoppers to buy a product in retailers’ stores this year?

In March, JTI took out a full page advertisement in RN to tell readers about the experiences of Scottish retailer Sunny Kumar who was preparing early for the tobacco display ban. The firm used the advert to present Sunny’s top tips for maintaining sales in a dark market while putting forward its gantry offer and reasons for early preparation. At a time when first- hand experiences were rare, this was an invaluable insight. The company also ran a ‘Text to win £250 worth of B&H Dual’ offer to readers and employed interesting and colourful designs to promote its new limited edition packaging for its Camel brand.

In its drive to be the best-selling energy drinks provider exclusively targeting the independent sector, Boost Drinks reaffirmed its mission this year with some extensive and effective advertising investment. As with other competitive categories, the company demonstrated its commitment to strong audience engagement by running a competition for retailers to create a Boost Drinks display, take a picture, and be in with the chance of winning one of 20 prizes of £1,000 cash. One winner, Bay Bashir of Belle Vue Convenience in Middlesbrough, appeared with his prize certificate in RN’s 16 October issue.

In a drive to increase and secure more regular sales through HND, publisher News UK set its sights on helping independent retailers to establish new orders with its Deliver My Sun campaign, advertised in a series of covers and full page adverts in RN. The offer of 12 weeks free delivery of The Sun clearly appealed to our readers. By mid- November 6,000 of them had set up new seven-day HND orders with 28,200 orders made. News UK’s Greg Deacon told RN that the response to the scheme, which has been extended, showed there was a future in home delivery and with it a sustainable revenue stream for stores.

The confectionery giant invested heavily in the independent sector with its commitment clearly demonstrated in the volume of spend with RN. The supplier shouted loud and proud through RN’s pages about its unique ‘text to win flights’ competition while providing great advice for retailers to encourage more sales. Some of the firm’s other campaigns included a 25p pricemark promotion of favourites such as Fudge, Chomp and Dairy Milk Freddo, and its Play with Oreo advertising, which helped provide great category advice for dis- playing the ‘World’s No.1 Biscuit’.

Supporting charities is a great way for an independent retailer to boost their reputation and edge that little closer towards the heart of their community. Wrigley showed that suppliers could do the same this year with its campaign to make a donation with every pack of Starburst sold to the Teenage Cancer Trust. As part of a huge marketing campaign involving digital and TV, the company invested in RN’s exclusively independent reach. It also promoted its ‘win an Xbox’ deal every day with Skittles, and engaged retailers with a ‘Merchandising with the Masters’ project.

And the winner is…

5. Point of difference award

Retailers use products to stand out from the competition and ensure customers keep shopping with them. Whether it’s working with local producers, stocking a special dietary range of sourcing cut-price discount products, Chris chooses five retailers whose innovative use of products has featured in RN this year.

David and Margaret Ingham’s Spar store wowed the judges on RN’s Come Shop With Me tour for many reasons, but the standout at- traction was their in-store butchery concession. The retailers invited local firm Becks Butchers to open a counter in-store when a rent hikes forced the company to close its own shop in 2013. David and Margaret have also built an extensive range of fresh food, spices and pulses and local cakes. Together with the butchers concession, these create a real point of difference from the many competitors nearby, drawing shoppers around the store and increasing their basket spend.

Margaret McNicholl was quick to spot the opportunity foodservice offers convenience retailers and has created a range that stands out from the crowd. She provides three-course takeaway Sunday lunches for £10 – made in-store – plus a wide range of store-made ready meals, from chicken curries to sausage dinners. Her latest step this autumn was to widen her reach and cater to health-conscious consumers with the launch of Fitness Fuel – a range of nutritious, high protein meals created for gym goers. Customers can order these meals online and have them delivered direct to their doors.

With over 100 local ales and draught scrumpy cider on tap, it’s little surprise that alcohol makes up 70% of Luke Mansell’s sales. The store also orders cider by the barrel, bottles it in-store for customers and offers year-round two-for-£10 deals on 20 selected wines to encourage repeat custom. Luke built his alcohol range as part of a plan to make his store noticeably different from the collection of Spar stores nearby and a newly- expanded Co-op. Turnover has trebled in the past 10 years as a result. Recently, Luke has also added a coffee machine, freshly-baked bread and filled rolls to his store’s offer.

With a Tesco and a Co-op on their doorstep, Rajwinder and Bhupinder Kaur decided to strengthen their business by giving it a personal touch. One of their most popular products is their range of homemade soups – the store sells around 30 soup-and-a-roll combinations a day, for £1.40 each. Homemade curries then generate similarly good sales and high margins later in the day as customers drop in to search for something for dinner. Meanwhile, on special occasions such as Valentine’s Day and Easter, Rajwinder and Bhupinder are inundated with requests to make up hampers for customers.

Adam Hogwood is one of thousands of retailers who have introduced a broad range of fresh fruit and vegetables in their stores, but Adam has taken this one step further by sourcing products such as cauliflowers, onions and strawberries directly from local farmers. This, he says, allows him to price stock well below nearby supermarkets and sell products that are much fresher and larger too. Adam uses his fresh range, displayed at the front of the store, as a hook to draw customers in, then positions sauces and herbs nearby to encourage customers to walk further in and buy a whole meal.

And the winner is…

6. Growth category of the year

From niche categories such as craft beer that have cemented their position in the market core areas that have seen strong growth over the past twelve months, which expanding market deserves recognition?

As a growing number of adults discovered the therapeutic benefits of colouring in, publishers and retailers quickly looked to capitalise on this growing trend. Hachette was the first to introduce colouring in for adults to independent stores, which was shortly followed by GMC Publications’ launch of the first regular frequency magazine in April. In less than four months, in the first half of the year, a range of publishers launched 23 colouring in titles, earning more than £1.5m in total sales revenue. This category has seen several launches this year including Zen Colouring, Relax with Art and The Simple Things.

An increasing number of retailers are investing in fresh and chilled to attract new customers. Multiples and independents, have been increasing the amount of space in their stores dedicated to the category to cash in on a growing demand for fresh and chilled products with the category making up to 40% of sales for some stores. As demand for high-quality produce in local stores continues to increase, experts commenting on the future of the category have even gone as far as saying they believe the sector could represent as much as 80% of some convenience stores’ turnover by 2020.

The brightly-coloured Slush drinks first popular in the 1990s have made a comeback, but this time with more flavours and variations, as well as new innovations such as a range of frozen slush products. And with many retailers benefiting from margins of up to 90%, slush machines have become a permanent fixture in many stores. Despite their seasonal connotations, the category has been boosting turnover for some retailers all year round. Therefore, for any retailer operating near to a school, nursery or community centre, slush machines have provided a valuable new revenue stream this year.

Earlier this year, Spar managing director Debbie Robinson told RN an increased emphasis on food service, rather than food to go is emerging with the group working with franchise partners including Greggs, Subway and Starbucks. But it’s not just Spar retailers who have been investing in the category, with an increasing number adding forms of foodservice to their store to offer their customers variety and future proof their business. From Subway franchises to delis serving home-cooked curries, more and more retailers are making the move to foodservice to boost their margins and attract shoppers.

With more shoppers buying online, the demand for flexible delivery and returns services has continued to increase. Smiths News’ click and collect service Pass My Parcel expanded its network from 700 to 3,300 during a five month period, resulting in volume growth of 35% week-on-week. While Collect+, which operates in more than 5,800 stores, grew its client base by 17% during the 2014-15 financial year. For many retailers the service brings in customers who may not have visited their store before, providing a valuable opportunity to showcase other products and services they offer.

And the winner is…

7. Product launch of the year

A big one. With so much supplier activity filling the pages of Retail Newsagent each week, which new product has arrived on the market and made a big impression with our readers?

This year major tobacco manufacturers acquired e-cigarette brands (Imperial Tobacco with Blu, Philip Morris’ with Nicocigs), but it was JTI’s E-Lites range that stood out. The launch of E-Lites Curv tapped into the largest part of this market – rechargeables. Using its extensive industry knowledge, JTI developed Curv with a unique oval shape to target at the premium market, giving retailers the opportunity to profit from higher margins. The brand benefited from a multimedia marketing campaign, including TV, newspaper and billboard advertising.

With premium snacks now a core part of most stores’ ranges, United Biscuits developed its biggest product launch of the year – Jacob’s Cracker Crisps – which it describes as an “everyday premium” snack. Available in Sea Salt & Balsamic Vinegar, Thai Sweet Chilli and Sour Cream and Chive flavours, it was part of United Biscuits’ £14m investment in savoury biscuits this year. The company has said it sees huge potential for growth in this segment and supported Cracker Crisps with a £6m marketing campaign including TV advertising and in-store sampling.

After three years of development, Mars announced the launch of its “biggest piece of innovation” to date with Galaxy Duet. Split into two different flavoured rows, the bar follows a trend for mixing tastes already seen in products such as Tic Tac Mixers and Walkers Mix-Ups. The firm has made a wide range of Galaxy Duet-branded PoS material to help independents take full advantage of this opportunity. Thirty-five weeks of TV advertising made Galaxy the most advertised chocolate brand in the UK, further helping independents grow sales.

Ferrero’s limited edition Minions Kinder Eggs brought together the fastest-growing children’s confectionery brand and the 10th highest-grossing film of all time. Ferrero helped retailers take advantage of this, by offering a range of Minions- branded PoS materials. Rolling out from August, the launch was supported by a TV campaign that formed part of the £3.6m spent on the brand. Kinder Surprise continues to offer independents a popular product, which was the UK’s strongest-performing food brand last year, grow- ing sales by £19.7m.

With the growing popularity of cider (and particularly craft-style drinks) among young adults, Heineken extended its premium cider into the off-trade this August with Strongbow Cloudy Apple. The sparkling cloudy cider is aimed at a younger audience and offers what it claims is “the perfect choice” for consumers looking for a premium and traditional style of cider. The cider – which is priced in line with Strongbow Dark Fruit – was made available in three varieties to appeal to consumers for different occasions.

And the winner is…

8. Supplier of the year award

Suppliers work hard to make retailers’ stores more profitable, easy to manage and attractive to customers. That means having the right products, utilising market trends and giving stores all the tools they need to boost sales. Which supplier’s efforts have impressed our readers most this year?

It’s been a busy year for the PepsiCo products teams, with Walkers Mixups, various price- mark changes and the ‘Bring It Back’ flavour campaign just three examples of innovation from the past 12 months. The company has been on TV, meanwhile, with its Champions League activity, Quaker, Doritos Roulette and Gary Lineker’s latest Walkers campaign. PepsiCo has invested in the independent sector through its ‘win a £1,000 store makeover’ competition and Counts For More category management initiative, which offers retailers incentives and tailored advice.

The publisher of The Sun and Times says all of this year’s activity is focused on driving profitable sales for retailers. Through Deliver My Sun and Deliver My Times, News UK has mapped 90% of the population to 6,500 HND stores, while its £2m ‘12 weeks of free deliveries’ campaign has included a first national TV campaign. The team of 40 field sales reps, meanwhile, have been busy creating ‘perfect’ news stores, which include trialing cross-category display units in 150 stores where news shares shelf space with confectionery and water to drive sales throughout the day.

It’s been a challenging year for the tobacco industry readying itself for big change. JTI has helped retailers maximise profitability with its ARTIST scheme ahead of the anticipated impact of the EU Tobacco Products Directive and plain packaging, while challenging the latter in the high court. Meanwhile, it has been raising the profile of illicit trade problems with a regional press campaign and ripping out gantries from those caught dealing in it. Product innovation has come from several limited edition pack formats and E-Lites Curv, highlighting its ambitions even in challenging times.

Booker put c-stores on the national news agenda with its £40m acquisition of Musgrave GB in May and adding Londis and Budgens to its symbol stable takes its stores numbers to almost 5,000. A constant feature of its results announcements is profit growth, and the company added a further 10%between April and September, despite sales falling 3.7%. Retailers, meanwhile, point to pushing Family Shopper £1 lines into Premier stores and the group’s help in rationalising ranges as key profit drivers in their stores. The great news will continue into 2016 as the expertise in fresh acquired with Musgrave influences Booker’s whole estate.

Simply Fresh makes the list for pushing the bound- aries of what is possible in a local shop and the consistently excellent standards of its 80-store estate. When I met owner Kash Khera five years ago he jokingly called the group “Budgens on a budget”. But in a reversal of roles, the agency that recently rebranded Bud- gen’s pilot stores told me they were sent to Simply Fresh Bethnal Green to provide inspiration for their designs. Expect to see growth in the south east and several more of the smaller format stores unveiled last month pop- ping up in London in the near future.

And the winner is…