By not attending conferences and shows, you close the door to some useful experiences, says Kishor Patel

Thousands of us went along to the National Convenience Show, ACS Summit and IFE this month but many more thousands didn't.

I'm intrigued to understand the reasons retailers, wholesalers, symbols and even some suppliers chose not to attend such a crucial event for the industry.

Is it that they feel they're too busy; that they can't afford to take a day or two out of the business? Is it, perhaps, that they feel perfectly happy with the range of products they currently stock, the layout of their store, and that they are comfortable with their sales and profit? Or is it that they can't see the point of listening to other retailers, suppliers and industry figures banging on about challenges and ideas relating to the convenience trade?

Whatever the reason, they're missing a trick. In fact, they're missing a lot of tricks. One of the most important magnets of any exhibition is the opportunity to network to listen to other people's views, discuss new ideas, compare notes, develop relationships, consider adapting current practices and question one's own knowledge and understanding. It's a chance to stand back from the coalface and look at things from a different perspective.

But, paradoxically, it's also an opportunity to confirm that many of the things you are doing are absolutely spot-on and that some of the problems you are facing are being experienced by a whole lot of other retailers out there as Basil Fawlty said when told that there was always someone worse off than himself, "Is there? well, I'd like to meet him I could do with a good laugh" (only joking!).

Let me give you some examples of my experiences this month. The Association Of Convenience Stores held their annual summit at the NCS this year and I was pleased to be one of a number of delegates who sat on their 'ask the experts' panel having one-to-one discussions with other retailers, listening to scenarios they were facing and passing on the benefit of my experience. I was also part of the 'Partners For Growth' Q&A panel.

In addition, I was invited to two recent similar events to be on the panel at the IFE, discussing the future of convenience retailing, and to listen to the governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, talking about among other things his chairmanship of the Chance to Shine charity.

In all cases, the conferences provided a host of opportunities to listen to the views of other people in our business whether it was discussing the tobacco display ban, ways to motivate staff, real-life examples of community retailing at work, planning issues, an update of industry statistics... I found the experiences relevant, down-to-earth and interesting.

Another bonus is that you pick up simple phrases that stay with you for the rest of your life. I remember listening to Sir Terry Leahy talking about his ten commandments, one of which was 'know the truth, get real'. Hardly a week goes by without that one flashing into my memory.

But perhaps more significant at these industry events is the chance to network with dozens of different people from the industry. I know some people feel slightly uncomfortable when it comes to networking but it's an integral part of any exhibition or conference visit. I try and use my time at these events to the best effect.

And it's not just exhibitions I attend as many functions as I can to widen my circle of contacts banking seminars, ACS seminars, Partners For Growth meetings, Skillsmart UK, local council events anything where I feel I can add to my knowledge bank and be able to help and advise others.

As usual, it's all down to the preparation and practice. Before every event, I prepare of list of people I'd like to chat to. You'd be amazed how one contact leads to another, and another, and another.

Kishor's tips for networking
1) Rehearse a brief autobiography if you're planning to introduce yourself to new contacts
2) Listen with interest and ask open-ended questions
3) Remember it has to genuinely be a two-way process
4) Speak to everyone, include people who are looking lost

Business Barometer
Are you more or less optimistic about this year than last?
The same: 40%
Less: 32%
More: 28%

What is your biggest financial worry outside your control?
VAT: 45%
Duty: 22%
Interest rate hikes: 18%
Business rates: 12%
NI increase: 3%

How helpful will government plans to cut red tape for SMEs be?
Huge help: 10%
Slight help: 31%
No help at all: 30%
No idea: 29%

What difference will the Localism Bill have on local communities?
No impact: 38%
Slight benefit: 36%
A great help against the multiples: 26%

How well has Cameron communicated his vision of the Big Society?
Not well - still a bit hazy: 65%
Quite well: 25%
Very well: 10%

New in my store

Name: Thomas Morton.
Name of store: Nisa Local in Tattenhall, Chester.

Main supplier: Nisa-Today's. 

How often do you get new products in?
Usually every three weeks.

What new products have you started stocking recently? Walkers' Comic Relief flavours, Maggi So Juicy and Debbie & Andrew's Sicilian sausages. We've also started selling homemade cupcakes from a local supplier on our deli counter.

How did you find out about them? We get a focus magazine from Nisa that tells us what's coming up and I also read the food trade press. I found the cupcakes supplier on the internet after reading in women's magazines about how popular they were.

Is one product selling particularly well and why? The cupcakes are selling really well we're shifting loads of them. Walkers flavours always sell well and Maggi So Juicy bags are also selling well thanks to the TV campaign, which has successfully driven awareness of them.

What products are selling badly? Nothing really - they all seem to be performing well.

Have you delisted any products recently? We haven't delisted anything for a while. As a rule we give products a month and if the sales aren't there then we delist them.

What products have you got your eye on? There's quite a lot of stuff coming through in the next few weeks but what we're looking forward to stocking is Bulmers Crisp Blend cider, Kit Kat Pop Choc and Wall's new X-Pop lolly range.

Property of the week

What: Convenience store & Post Office
Where: Litcham, Norfolk

Occupying a prominent position in a bustling and extensive Norfolk village, Litcham Post Office & Store is on the market with an asking price of £745,000. With Post Office remuneration of £43,000, annual store sales in excess of £450,000 and gross profit of more than £100,000, the business, which operates under the Mace banner, offers a floor space of about 900 sq ft.

This Grade II listed two-storey property offers substantial residential accommodation with five bedrooms, extensive garden and patio space and parking for six vehicles (four garaged).

For information about acquiring the freehold, please contact Melvyn Eke of Christie + Co on 01473 256588.