The concept of work/life balance is still a long way off for independent retailers. When The Grocer conducted a survey into life as an independent retailer earlier this year it found that the vast majority of respondents opened their stores seven days a week.
Long hours were prevalent across the industry and the average number of days off each year was 16, and that includes weekends (The Grocer, March 5, 2005).
As our independent reader panel shows this week, the situation has not improved. And judging by our visit to confectionery specialist Hancocks’ new depot in Watford this month, the picture is no different for more traditional businesses with strong confectionery offerings.
The branch is meant to expand its geographical coverage, which currently concentrates on the Midlands and the north, giving the company more of a foothold in south east England. Three further sites are scheduled to open later this year in Kent, Essex and Berkshire.
All those retailers to whom The Grocer spoke at the depot worked seven days a week. Amrish Patel, who runs a Costcutter in Borehamwood, was typical, working bank holidays and Christmas Day and saying he “very rarely” had a holiday. This was his first trip to Hancocks - his store is just introducing kids’ sweets - and it was no surprise that, given his heavy workload, he was rushing around cherry-picking the best deals from the cash and carry’s promotional leaflet.
Prestige Enterprise’s Anthony Beadle, who runs a kiosk at the entrance of High Barnet railway station, was tempted to the depot by the great deals. A true entrepreneur (he also runs a waste company and recruitment firm), he opens the kiosk every day for 14 hours but has the luxury of taking a month’s holiday a year as well as bank holidays - practically unheard of in this sector.
Beadle is not concerned with the long hours, however, saying it comes with the business. “At least you are your own boss and there are no other pressures,” he said.
Peter Mann, of convenience store Manns Food Stores in Luton, was at Hancocks specifically for soft drinks. He agreed there were rewards for all the hard work independents put in. Like the others, he struggles through when feeling ill and works 12 hours or more each day.
With 12 years in the business (he started when he was 16), his long-term plan is to make enough money to get out. But he added: “I was born into shop life and it is all I know. Luckily my wife is supportive.”
It is just as well, for Mann only managed to get one week off work last year - and that was for a honeymoon in the Bahamas.