The law can be a complex beast and even the most experienced retailer cannot be expected to know every aspect of it. This lack of knowledge can be potentially dangerous or costly. Getting on the wrong side of the law with customers or staff can have serious ramifications, while a lack of knowledge and understanding around contracts can lead to retailers getting into deals or sticking with agreements that aren’t serving them in the best way possible.
Having someone with an in-depth knowledge of the law at the end of a phone can make a huge difference to retailers’ bottom line and sense of security.
“When I’m doing contracts with suppliers, Costcutter or whoever, I run that contract through my solicitors,” says Kash Nijjar, from Costcutter Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland. “They will pick up on things that you would miss because that is their speciality. If you see something that’s confusing or if there’s something you don’t know, ask them. Some people won’t ask because of ego, but if I don’t know, I find out.”
Solicitors, of course, come with a price tag, and not every retailer is willing or able to pay for that. However, there is information and support to be found, particularly from trade bodies such as The Fed and the ACS. Dave Hiscutt, from Londis Westham Road in Weymouth, Dorset, leans heavily on these two institutions to ensure he is properly prepared for any legal issues that might come his way.
“It’s about understanding what your responsibilities are and what you have to be doing,” he says. “Educating yourself and keeping up to date with legislation as it changes have to be a part of what you’re doing as a retailer. The trade bodies will be able to help you. We take a lot of advice from the ACS rather than having a solicitor on hand.”
Dealing with customers
For Jeet Bansi, of Londis Meon Vale in Stratford-upon-Avon, keeping afloat legally is about knowing who to reach out to in the event of an issue. “We had a situation a few months ago where a customer said a product they had purchased in our store had given them food poisoning,” he says.
“We turned to our insurance broker, who put us in touch with an insurance company who told us what information we would need to submit to cover ourselves.”
This advice helped Bansi resolve the issue. He says: “The net result was the customers couldn’t prove they purchased the item here or that the item they had consumed had caused the food poisoning.”
Bansi has also used a contact who runs an HR business for informal advice about employment law. “We don’t have a dedicated solicitor,” he says. “It would be good to have one, but it’s a good thing we’ve never had to use one.”
Dealing with legislation
Anish Panchmatia, from One Stop Wylde Green in Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, has a solicitor, but rarely calls on them.
There are serious legal considerations that he has to be aware of, however, but he relies on his own judgment to do the morally correct thing, whether it’s regarding the incoming HFSS legislation, the introduction of Natasha’s Law in 2021 or keeping on top of attempted underage purchasing.
“In these cases, morals and legals tend to run in tandem, so as long as what you’re doing is morally correct, it tends to be legally correct,” he says. “Experience and morality keep me on top of things. The council and Camelot have sent in underage people twice this year to test our IDing practices and and we’ve passed them both. When it comes to Natasha’s Law, Country Choice help us out and we’ve been able to go to them for more information.”
Dealing with staff
The biggest legal minefield in the eyes of Dave Hiscutt, from Londis Westham Road in Weymouth, Dorset, is in HR. He makes sure he is as skilled up and informed as possible when it comes to dealing with his staff members, and recommends that anyone with a business needs to know about employment liabilities, health and safety, and more as an absolute minimum.
“There’s lots of information out there and lots of good places to look before you get a solicitor, whose bills can be quite hefty,” he says. “People can cause the biggest problems sometimes and these problems can be dynamic and independent to each case. There’s not always a binary answer, so you need to know how to approach each situation. We’re researching that more than anything else. The legislative things such as HFSS are binary and are what they are. It’s the more complex situations where you need to know more.”
Dealing with contracts
Kash Nijjar, from Costcutter Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland, has never had any legal problems when it comes to staff or anything else because he has done things by the book, but he talks to his solicitor on a regular basis and always gets them to look over any supplier contracts that he enters into.
Last year, for example, a supplier wasn’t providing his store with the amount of stock that had been agreed. Nijjar found them to be in breach of contract and was able to walk away from the five-year contract without any ramifications.
“I told them that it didn’t say anywhere in our contract that they could restrict the amount of stock coming into my store,” he says. “But I ran it past my solicitor first to make sure I knew exactly where I stood. If I hadn’t done that and I got it wrong, that doesn’t look good at all.”
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