‘Project Ireland’, spearheaded by Muntazir Dipoti, owner of Todmorden News Centre in West Yorkshire, aims to recognise calls from ROI members, who are seeking more support on how to recover from the pandemic, upcoming legislation and the national cost-of-living crisis.
As part of the initiative, senior representatives from the NFRN took a trip to ROI from 21 to 23 March to visit store owners, and have an AGM.
This included national president Narinder Randhawa, newly appointed chief operating officer Stuart Hale, national vice president Jason Birks, national deputy vice president Shahid Razzaq, head of political engagement Adrian Roper, executive of political engagement Sophy Walker, and store owners from England, Scotland and Ireland.
The AGM, which took place at Hodson Bay Hotel in Athlone, was attended by representatives from the newstrade, including Topps, Irish Daily Mail and Reach, as well as reverse-vending machine Sielaff’s technology and business development manager, Stephen Stothard, who answered questions on the upcoming deposit return scheme (DRS).
ROI district president Martin Mulligan, owner of Mulligans Londis in Athlone, County Westmeath, told Better Retailing: “‘Project Ireland’ was successful with the NFRN. It gave them a fresh look at ROI stores and made them aware of some of the concerns we have.”
What stores can learn from Ireland
Birks was one of the store owners on the trip, who visited a number of stores across the region. “The stores we visited were on a different level, and there’s a lot of other retailers who can learn from how they do things,” he said.
“Nearly all of them used electronic shelf-edge labels, which isn’t as widespread in England.
“The community stores offered many different services dependent on their size. It was impressive to see even the smaller shops had a great food-to-go offering.
“It was insightful to see, and definitely showed us what retailers in other districts could be doing to maximise sales.”
Birks stressed the visit provided understanding into how “Irish retailers do things differently”.
Dipoti added: “The store visits were successful, and we were able to see how positive-thinking ROI retailers are.”
He revealed the federation is considering organising a workshop with ROI retailers to help other members from different districts learn from them.
Stothard gave a presentation to stores explaining how Sielaff can work with them in the lead up to the scheme being implemented in Northern Ireland.
During this, he hinted the DRS is likely to be similar to the one expected to be rolled out in Scotland next August.
In addition, Stothard confirmed he is working with the NFRN in organising a trial of the scheme in the region.
“The trial will be a great opportunity for retailers to see how the scheme will work in a convenience store setting,” he said. “It is new to Ireland, so a lot of retailers do not know what to expect.”
When asked how receptive store owners were, Stothard revealed: “The Irish members were very positive. I tried to offer clarity over how the scheme could run in Ireland, but it is still in the works in Scotland with the handling fee yet to be announced.
“With nothing to compare the DRS to – it is still a new concept – I was pleased to see how willing retailers were to hear more.”
Mulligan added: “It was good to hear more details regarding how the scheme could work in Ireland. We have seen what has happened in Scotland, so I know a lot of members wanted to hear more details.”
During the AGM, Steve Conner and Jonathan Marsh from trading card manufacturer Topps, Alan Kelly from publisher Reach, and a spokesperson from Irish Daily Mail were present.
Mulligan claimed publishers and wholesalers had previously refused to engage with ROI retailers, adding they “needed help with service charges and newspaper distribution”.
In response, those in attendance pledged to do more to help stores with the issues they outlined.
Walker confirmed the federation is working to create a campaign to tackle issues with the lack of expiry dates on newspapers in ROI, as well as organise a meeting with wholesaler Newspread to discuss distribution concerns.
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