Suppliers will be getting detailed and thorough information about independents' stock needs thanks to a visionary new service from William Reed Knowledge Store ­ Future Positive. Now, independents will be able to operate to their maximum potential Future Positive is an exciting project to help safeguard the competitiveness of independent retailers by generating consistent, reliable sales information from the sector ­ and more outlets are being invited to take part. For too long, manufacturers have had access to up to date, comprehensive sales data from the major multiples while having to rely on sketchy and often inaccurate information from independents. As a result, the grocery multiples have enjoyed pack, promotion and supply levels all closely geared to their requirements. Independents, by contrast, are often left to take pot luck with what manufacturers think they need, rather than what would actually work best in their business. But all that is changing, thanks to Future Positive from William Reed Knowledge Store, part of William Reed Group, publisher of The Grocer. When the project is up to full strength, more than 2,000 retailers will send daily sales data to Knowledge Store. This fully representative sample will create an accurate snapshot of what's selling in the UK's independent convenience stores, CTNs, off licences and forecourts. Over time, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers themselves will be able to use this information to make sure the sector is operating to its maximum potential. Caroline Bevan, head of EPoS at Knowledge Store, said: "Future Positive marks a tremendous leap forward in the quantity and quality of sales information available. "When we were developing the programme, we asked manufacturers what sort of information they would like from independents ­ and most crucially, how they would use it to help retailers trade more effectively." Bevan said once manufacturers have access to quality information from independents, they will be more willing to accommodate the sector's needs. "They want to see what is and isn't working in independents so they can make decisions with confidence," she said. "Gearing up production lines to produce a particular pack or format is an expensive business, and manufacturers won't do it on a hunch. "Fortunately, with the type of information available through Future Positive they won't have to." Armed with the right data, manufacturers should more easily be able to address perennial concerns among independents such as smaller case sizes to reduce stockholding, and greater availability of variety packs. The value of Future Positive has already been recognised by the major manufacturers that are supporting the project, including Nestlé, Scottish Courage, Walkers, Imperial Tobacco, Procter & Gamble, Imperial Tobacco and Britvic. Equally, wholesalers and cash and carries that use Future Positive will have a better chance of gearing their own stockholdings to real demand, reducing the sell-outs which cause huge frustration for everyone in the supply chain. But the keys to the success of Future Positive are the retailers themselves, and Bevan wants more stores to be part of the programme. Taking part is free and simple for retailers who already have an EPoS system. Knowledge Store installs a piece of software called Agent on the retailer's system that automatically polls that day's sales data and sends it to the company's central database at the close of business. The data is transmitted via the telephone line on a freephone number, so there are no call costs. It will also not interfere with other polling, such as to a wholesaler, and there is no administration involved for the retailer. Thanks to extensive consultation with more than a dozen major EPoS suppliers, there should be no problems whatever system a retailer uses. Bevan said there are a number of benefits for retailers who take part in Future Positive, and these will increase as the project gathers steam. She said: "The more information retailers have access to, the better. For starters, they might look at a list of the top 10 selling lines in equivalent outlets and realise they are selling only eight of them. The other two could be worth an awful lot of extra sales." In addition, every retailer receives a welcome pack telling them all about Future Positive, along with a membership card. They are also given a number that will soon give them access to the Future Positive web site. This will contain current data, chat rooms, and general useful information. A quarterly newsletter is sent to all members, and retailers will even have the chance to receive data broken down by region, outlet type, size etc, so they can spot sales trends in outlets most like their own. When they join Future Positive, retailers are asked to fill in a questionnaire about their business. This is to allow Knowledge Store to collate its data accurately by store type ­ the information is held confidentially and not released to anyone else. According to Bevan, as well as enjoying the practical benefits, retailers already involved are excited to be playing a part in an initiative that should give independents a stronger voice in the industry. "These couple of thousand retailers are effectively a lobbying group for independents. Through Knowledge Store, they can tell manufacturers and wholesalers what they want and show what sort of results they can achieve when they get it. "That is why it works with ­ and is supported by ­ major trade organisations such as the Association of Convenience Stores." There are also plans for Future Positive to begin monitoring sales of newspapers and magazines. Knowledge Store is working with leading suppliers of specialist newsagent EPoS systems, and has had discussions with a major national newspaper publisher. Of course, the use of an EPoS system is essential if a retailer wants to get involved in Future Positive. Bevan said Knowledge Store understands that many retailers are nervous about making a significant investment, and often feel insufficient information is available about the different systems on the market. As part of its push to encourage take up of EPoS systems, the company is offering retailers impartial, practical advice about which manufacturers are geared up to meet the needs of independent retailers. Bevan said: "We believe it is essential that independents have access to sales data from their own shops if they are to be efficient and competitive in the years ahead." Knowledge Store claims that through Future Positive it is building a bridge between independents and manufacturers that will benefit the whole trade, and help halt the decline in numbers of independent retailers. Bevan said: "We are looking to create success stories in the independent sector and help the businesses to grow. That creates a cycle of success, because the more the sector achieves, the more support it will get from manufacturers." Bevan said that William Reed Knowledge Store has a strong interest in seeing independents succeed. "William Reed has always worked closely with independents, and wants to help them trade smarter. They are the cornerstone of our business as well," she said. Retailers interested in joining Future Positive, or seeking advice about EPoS systems, should call the Future Positive Hotline on 0800 6526534. {{NEWS }}