Booker and the National Federation of SubPostmasters (NFSP) have been challenged on their relationships with struggling digital screen supplier Rhino Media Group (RMG).
Last week, a source confirmed to Better Retailing that RMG had halted agreed payments to hundreds of stores, leaving each up to £10,000 in debt.
Under agreements with RMG, retailers paid hundreds of pounds per month to lease hire firms to pay for the screens, but received equal amounts back from RMG in advertising payments.
Some Premier retailers claimed to Better Retailing they had signed a deal with Rhino Media Group after being told the company was a Booker-approved supplier, though other affected Premier store owners said they were unaware of any connection.
A source at Booker confirmed RMG was a “suggested” supplier, but said they were “not affiliated” with the wholesaler.
A meeting took place between affected Premier store owners and RMG director Roger Van Deelen last Friday at Booker’s Portsmouth depot. Deelan allegedly told attendees that he had hired a barrister in an attempt to get the store owners out of their contracts with the lease hire firms.
A source at the meeting told Better Retailing: “He said the lease hire firms had failed in their due diligence by agreeing loans of £10,000 for screens that were only worth £500.”
At the meeting, Premier store owner ‘Kam’ was chosen to represent retailers. He told Better Retailing: “We hold Premier and Booker partly responsible.
“They brought this into Premier stores and RMG introduced themselves as working with Booker.”
An anonymous source within Booker agreed, stating: “Retailers assumed it was low risk because they trust Booker.
Read more: Booker and NFRN sign deal
“Had it been just someone walking in off the street, they would have been more cynical.”
However, an official Booker spokesperson said: “We will undertake an investigation, as RMG is not recommended by Booker.”
It said its retailers have the freedom to choose their own supplier and said it was “not involved” in the decisions.
The NFSP had suggested RMG to its members. The Communication Workers Union said it “leaves vulnerable postmasters in hock to a leasing company”.
However, NFSP head of policy Peter Hall told RN: “The NFSP performs extensive credit and background checks on all its commercial partners before entering into any agreement; our checks found no issues with RMG at that time.”
Hall claimed that just three NFSP mem-bers had entered lease hire agreements through the deal, and two had confirmed they were “seeing a return on their investment”.
He added that a “termination notice” ended its agreement with RMG and it “will offer support and guidance to all NFSP members who have signed up with RMG”.
Read more: Booker to improve marketing and margins