>>think the community - henry moran, mbl store development team, winner of acs global scholarship award

There is a belief among many retailers that, without any interference from the OFT, the major multiples will continue their inexorable march and the majority of small operators will either be taken over by a multiple, will join a pro-independent symbol group, such as MBL, or, in the face of increased competition, will simply be forced to shut up shop.
Admittedly, the economies of scale being wielded by the major multiples mean the traditional c-store simply cannot compete on price. Tesco constantly tells shoppers how it believes in a low price/high volume ideology. You can’t argue with the success this has had in the one-stop-shop market but is this the message convenience shoppers want to hear? Is price that important?
A survey by HIM found consumers were sophisticated enough to understand a small store’s cost base was proportionately higher than a large store’s. This adjusts their expectation of price and thus they consider a premium of 10-15% acceptable.
Furthermore, HIM conducted exit interviews of shoppers leaving c-stores and found that 60% were unable to accurately recall the price of a single item of shopping that they had purchased. Did these two-thirds select their store based on price? Obviously not.
An ACS Populus research project asked the public for views on independent c-stores being purchased by larger supermarkets. More than 60% of people believed that it resulted in less choice of where to shop, worse service, and actually damaged the fabric of the local community. And there is the key - the local community.
Independents are always searching for that magical point of difference and here is one that no major multiple will be able to match. By targeting the perception that small stores are good for communities and large multiples are detrimental, smaller store operators have a powerful strategy for protecting market share.
Real community involvement is more than just writing a cheque to the Sea Cadets, though. And many retailers who aren’t involved in community initiatives, when asked about this issue, say it ‘sounds good in principle but I haven’t got time and I would not even know where to begin’.
The easiest way to respond to the community challenge is often the simplest: ask your customers. Who will know better where they would like to see help or support than the people in the locality?
This in turn has a two-way effect, as your customers will then feel involved in what your business is doing. Support the community and the community in turn will support you with business.
Retailers who are passionate about this principle work with a local community idiom at the very heart of their stores and they tend to be very successful. Many of MBL’s independent stores get involved in all sorts of ways with their community.
They may lend rooms above their stores to local organisations or allow mail order catalogue goods to be sent to the store so the customer doesn’t have to take a day off. They may sponsor and organise local events or numerous other initiatives but they have one thing in common and that’s the strength of their name in their own community.
Such work can make a store an organic part of a community - not just somewhere to shop but an intrinsic part of the locale.
There is a Budgens independent store in East Bergholt, Suffolk, that sponsors the local football and cricket teams and also the local fair. The owner is a trustee for the outdoor swimming pool and the store is also involved in the unique Heart Watch scheme, a first response unit for heart attack victims, for which they have even provided a defibrillator. When I was last there a regular customer said to me that it actually made him proud to live in East Bergholt because it had such a wonderful shop.
Do we think he will turn his back on it and shop at the nearby multiple?