With winter fast approaching, expect cold and flu remedies to be flying off the shelves of your local chemist.... but not your local c-store. The plethora of Did Not Stocks throughout this week’s product survey suggests that health is not a high- priority category for independents.

Indeed our shopper was able to purchase just five of the 25 products, which ranged from Beechams Active Cold Relief to a strawberry and banana smoothie. Robbie Waite, owner of Kennelwood News in Kirkby, Liverpool, explained the rationale behind his decision not to stock an extensive portfolio of health products.

“It’s not that we are unhealthy. There is a chemist next door so people automatically go there for those types of products,” said Waite, whose store stocked none of the five products on the list. Most of the stores stocked some cold and flu remedies behind the counter but not the desired brands. Spar and Sainsbury’s fared best in the survey, each providing two of the five items on the list. None of the stores stocked the Sanatogen Vitamins nor the Slim-Fast Banana Drink and only Sainsbury’s satisfied shoppers’ cravings for Nicorette patches.

“It can only be driven by demand,” said Robert Clark, senior retail partner at Retail Knowledge Bank. “Local retailers have limited space plus they recognise that most customers would visit a neighbourhood chemist for these types of products. There’s also an element of not wanting to tread on each others toes. But it does seem a bit strange that they wouldn’t stock basic cold and flu products.”

Lemsip was the best selling cold and flu brand in 2007, according to Nielsen, with sales of £45.2m. The £110.7m category is dominated by Lemsip, Beechams and Nurses which between them accounted for over 80% of sales in 2007.
Kennelwood News
Address: 79 Kennelwood Avenue, Kirkby, Liverpool
Time & date: 1 October 2008 at 11.45am
An independent store carrying the Londis name, the shop was easy to navigate thanks to brightly coloured signage at the top of the walls clearly stating the different product areas. Customer service was excellent and the store’s staff were happy to offer alternative options where products were not stocked. However, neither the bananas nor the filter coffee were available and supply of fresh fruit and vegetables was generally limited.

Address: 24-36 Walton Vale, Liverpool
Time & date: 1 October 2008 at 12.45pm
Most products were sold in multipack format. Baskets had been stacked arbitrarily throughout the store, making some aisles difficult to navigate. There was just one employee manning the checkout, resulting in a wait of about four minutes. Members of staff were friendly and helpful, however the store was let down by its lack of services.

Address: 57 Dale Street, Liverpool
Time & date: 1 October 2008 at 3.15pm
Bold signposting made it easy to locate products at this small city centre Spar. The store was clean and tidy and logically organised. While the cashier was polite, there were no alternatives offered for the out-of-stock products. The Spar was the only store we visited to score maximum points on the service criteria, offering as it did a cash machine, photocopying, top-up, lottery and a Bake & Bite.

Local Address: 42 Castle Street, Liverpool
Time & date: 1 October 2008 at 2.00pm

The store was experiencing the lunchtime rush when our shopper visited. Apart from the volume of shoppers, the aisles were relatively easy to navigate despite being narrow. There was a queue stretching back into the aisles but the wait at the checkout was minimised by efficient cashiers. An ATM had run out of cash but both top-up and lottery were available.

Murphy’s News
Address: 151 St John’s Road, Waterloo, Liverpool
Time & date: 1 October 2008 at 10.30am

Independent store Murphy’s looked slightly worn and tired with worn PoS. It boasts just two aisles – one dedicated to food, with the other stocking newspapers and magazines. All but two of the products on this shopping list were purchased but the store did not stock fruit and vegetables. Murphy’s did, however, score well on the community criteria.
Interview: Robbie Waite, owner/manager, Kennelwood News

Tell us a bit about your shop.
It used to be a newsagent then turned into an independent as part of Londis. I’ve been here since it has been a shop, more than 11 years now.

How do you feel about the Mystery Shop?
I’m really excited and pleased to be a leading independent store. We strive to help our customers and the local community.

How in touch with your community are you?
Very. We are always doing sponsoring and collections; we helped a local boy raise money to go to Thailand to take part in a kickboxing tournament, where he came away with a bronze medal. There was another 13-year-old boy who was fighting this Saturday for the European title, which we sponsored.

How often do you receive deliveries?
We get deliveries once a week from Londis and they are very good – we never have any problems. They work hard to help us compete in the marketplace.

Who are your local competitors?
Quarry Green, less than half a mile away, is our nearest independent rival. The huge Tesco that they are thinking of putting up in Kirkby will also be a killer for lots of small businesses like me if it does go ahead.

How has the mix of products and services changed at your store in the past 12 months?
We got the cash machine installed last year and it has brought a bit more custom to the store.

What is the worst thing that has happened to your business in the past 12 months?
The law on putting cigarettes underneath the counter will affect our business significantly. It will probably happen as there have been petitions circling and it is being backed by local MPs.

How are you gearing up for Christmas?
We’ve already started stocking Christmas products. Mostly it’s about chocolate gift boxes and confectionery but we do a certain amount of non-food such as tinsel, wrapping paper and other seasonal decorations.

Have you noticed a change in customers’ shopping habits in the past few months?
Absolutely. We’re seeing a lot more demand for economy brands and less impulse buying. People are coming in to the store with a list of items they need to buy and are sticking to that. Average basket spend has fallen in the past few weeks.

How do you feel about the future?
Do you think your business will be bigger or smaller next year? I am hoping it will be bigger, of course, but who knows how bad this credit crunch is going to get?