>>independents must invest and progress - Deepak Patel, independent retailer, Clacton-on-Sea

The recent survey carried out by The Grocer (‘Heroes in Hard Times’, March 5, p29) was an interesting reflection of how independent retailers feel in the current market.

I have been in retailing since I could walk, when I helped in my father’s pharmacies. I entered convenience retailing 15 years ago and, having run three independent stores in different locations, I understand what it means to operate town centre, village, and housing estate shops.
I sold two of the stores last year to concentrate on my busiest store in Clacton-on-Sea and to tackle competing with the multiples more strongly. I have now converted my store to a Budgens, which has helped me face today’s challenges.

Of all the years I have been in retailing, the last five have been the most challenging due to all the activity by Tesco, Sainsbury and Morrisons. Tesco is the Chelsea of the market, followed by Sainsbury’s Arsenal.
We convenience retailers seem to be in the second division. This needs to be changed. Independent retailers hold the largest share in grocery, but this is slowly getting smaller due to the big boys. We are slowly going down the ladder instead of up.

Independents need to invest in their businesses. They need to invest in staffing so they can have a family life. They need to invest in stores to show a corporate image with a friendly face so they can beat off the multiples. And they need to invest in staff training so they can have a holiday.
Independents can also pester the local MP to try and get the government to recognise them in many ways.

I have experienced all the problems other independent retailers have faced and have learnt you have to try to overcome them.
We retailers need support, so only use companies that will work with you. Musgrave Budgens-Londis has the corporate image and knows how to run stores as it has run its own. Not many wholesalers out there have run their own stores and know what life is like on the shop floor.
Previously I ran a store under Booker’s Premier fascia and did not feel I had the full back up due to its lack of experience as a retailer. Budgens understands the market conditions and continually works with retailers to help them progress.

I was encouraged by this statement from the Musgrave Budgens-Londis team. It contains important words for independents:
“Open Relationships, Progressive Retailers. This is how we will survive. In five years’ time we would want both Budgens and Londis to be national and to have a complete chilled food infrastructure. We want MBL to be known as the number one supporter of independent retailers through building open relationships with progressive retailers. We select retailers by having a rigorous assessment process to ensure that all appropriate criteria are fulfilled. It is not just about finances ... it really is about matching the store with someone who will maximise its potential now and in the future. Long-term relationships are key.”

So Budgens wants progressive independent retailers - and they do exist out there. But The Grocer’s survey raised the issue of the next generation - of children not following their parents’ footsteps into the sector.
We all want our children to do better than us. But if we can show them we do not always have to work long hours and that the bottom-line figures will always be there, I cannot see why they will not follow us.
I have two children who I hope will not have to work long hours and who will have a stable company to work for. I would like them to do better than me, but if I can build a growing company, I don’t see why the family might veer away from this.

We would like to see our company in The Grocer’s Top 50 independent retailers list in the next 10 years so hope this will encourage my children to join me as they get older. As I have said, it is all to do with investing and progressing.