What you need in retailing when Murphy's law strikes is a contingency plan. Many small retail operations would regard such a plan as a luxury rather than a necessity, and just respond to each crisis on a need to act' basis. Examples of this include retailers who only designated a key-holder after their store had been swarmed' and they were robbed blind by a distraction gang who got hold of the keys to the premises above. I know of retailers who didn't keep a refusals book until after they had been done by Trading Standards officers for unwittingly selling to the under-age customers. I know of others who failed to draw up a written statement of an employee's main particulars of employment until they sacked the staff member who then took them to an employment tribunal. Others have overfilled their freezers and failed to do temperature checks or rotate their stock properly until the freezers failed or environmental health officers came calling. And still others who forgot the awkward three-year renewal of their off licence and who may or may not get a reminder from their local authority (absence of a reminder is no excuse). Expensive mistakes ­ some could have been fatal to business ­ and all avoidable by using a little more red tape and putting a policy in place to deal with such circumstances. Red tape is a huge fag, but something you have to get to grips with. On the helpline I run on The Grocer's sister paper Convenience Store magazine, I regularly get calls from retailers seeking help rather than information. In other words, they are reacting to events rather than being proactive in advance of them. Sometimes they are totally ignorant of the rules they have broken. This is no reflection on their intelligence because there are countless laws they could fall foul of and, to put this into perspective, when I pursue an inquiry on my caller's behalf by ringing the relevant authority, the authority often does not know the answer without doing some research. Believe me, I've rung the police, the local authorities and all sorts of experts' and I've had conflicting answers from them all. So, where does this leave us? Unaffiliated independents could be up the proverbial creek without a paddle. Having a few maverick tendencies, they often don't want to belong to a group or adhere to disciplines not of their own making. And, anyway, the groups might not want them. I would recommend any retailer to join the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS). It's a big, tough organisation these days. Its strictly independent arm, ACS Direct, will keep you informed about current and impending legislation that will directly impact on your business, get you better terms on banking, insurance, energy and so forth, and through its business development forums, get you out of your ivory tower and into a strength-in-numbers situation. Ring 01252 515001 to find out more. {{GROCER CLUB }}