As this month’s barometer shows, indies are generally satisfied with their trade associations. Questioned on whether they felt they acted effectively, a combined 70% said they were either “extremely” effective or “quite good”. Furthermore, the majority of respondents felt they got value for money (though when asked how they could improve, 72% felt free membership would be an excellent idea). So how does each one differ?

Association of Convenience Stores

In December, members of the ACS voted in favour of allowing the multiples to join the association. Previously, it did not allow companies to join if their primary activity was not convenience retailing. The relaxation of the rules means companies such as One Stop Franchise, owned by Tesco but operated by indies, can now join up and enjoy three main benefits of membership - being part of an “industry-leading lobbying organisation on behalf of independent retailers; having the opportunity to attend events specifically designed to address key issues like crime, responsible retailing and technology, and which offer great networking opportunities; and having the benefit and assurance of our comprehensive advice.” 

“It means being part of an industry-leading lobbying organisation 
on behalf of 
independent retailers”

Members can also directly influence its political engagement work and utilise a “comprehensive suite of advice that covers all regulatory aspects of convenience retailing.” Many of its guides have ‘Assured’ status, meaning members who sign up to its Primary Authority scheme, which is free, cannot have their in-store procedures questioned by their local authority as long as they follow the guidance - which the ACS says is a “unique offer in our sector.”

ACS members can also use dedicated helplines on issues like planning, licensing and law. For independent retailers that are part of a symbol group, annual membership costs £52. For non-affiliated independents it’s £176. 

National Federation of Retail Newsagents

The NFRN has 10 “operational objectives” based on providing value to members, playing an active role in public affairs to maximise the external profile of the Federation, assisting with business development and providing operational support, including a 27-strong field force that visits members and non-members on a daily basis, providing “help and guidance in increasingly difficult economic times.” 

It says “thousands of miles are covered every week.” It also offers a free member legal helpline for telephone-based legal advice and a dedicated call centre to assist retailers with all queries and new business opportunities (in 2014 the NFRN recovered more than £140,000 of members’ money by resolving issues related to rejected credit, late deliveries and missing vouchers).

Other services include a buying group, a secured debt assistance service, a credit union and insurance via NFRN Mutual. It also runs a website and publishes a free magazine, The Fed, to keep members up to date with all industry and business developments. Full annual membership costs £276. 

Top tips

The ACS is very politically active, making serious contributions to issues like planning laws and the tobacco ban on behalf of its members

The NFRN has a comprehensive and well-developed support system in place for its 16,000 members

For rural retailers, the RSA offers a hands-on approach, believing a highly communicative approach is the best one

The NFSP is also politically motivated but is also very strong on negotiating with the Post Office on members’ behalf

Rural Shops Alliance

The RSA says members’ shops are “not just commercial businesses but a crucial and irreplaceable part of their local community”. It prides itself on its understanding of the rural retail market, which it says “informs everything it does”. It regularly advises and helps individual retailers and says it is far more hands-on than some trade associations and that this approach benefits the RSA by keeping it “fully up to speed with developments in the real retail world”. 

A spokesman says many RSA members have come into retailing as a second career and the RSA believes that spreading good practice is one of the “best ways of ensuring that our sector thrives”. It does this through case studies and offering specific guidance, as well as running training sessions and the provision of one-to-one consultancy. 

The RSA is, compared with some other trade associations in the industry, a relative newcomer but this puts it at an advantage, it says. In particular, it means the RSA can “embrace new ways of thinking and working without having any ‘baggage’ or the need to consider the impact on a cherished heritage in our work.” Annual membership starts from £48.

National Federation of SubPostmasters 

The NFSP is considering its options after suffering a loss of 7,000 members in the past 12 years. It was removed from the list of trade unions in January 2014 on the grounds it did not meet the definition of a trade union. Last May, it admitted it was deciding whether it would remain an independent member association or merge with another body over the next 12 months. Last month, The Grocer revealed the ACS had ruled out a merger but the NFRN said it had held “positive” exploratory talks about forming an alliance. The Communication Workers Union is also in talks with the NFSP. 

Until then, a spokeswoman says the NFSP remains “the only organisation recognised by Post Office Ltd (POL) to represent subpostmasters. We negotiate with POL on pay and contracts, and provide representation to individuals if they encounter contractual issues or difficulties.” The NFSP also maintains “an active presence in parliament and within government, ensuring subpostmasters’ views are heard by decision-makers.” Membership rates depend on Post Office salary, but annual membership starts from £59.

Business Barometer

james lowman

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