When we published our Top 50 list of independent retailers in February, we also highlighted four specialists we thought would be Ones to Watch this year. Here we catch up with two of them: Weeton's, the farm shop in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, and The Whisky Shop, which then had 12 stores in Scotland and Northern England.
Weeton's burst on to the scene last year, winning awards and plaudits. Things haven't slowed down. "Our in-store baking has been the real success of the past two months," says MD Andrew Loftus. "It quickly wins repeat customers for something the supermarkets just can't touch."
He also thinks he has helped to influence the food retail climate somewhat. "Our local supermarkets go out of their way to emphasise their commitment to local sourcing. I like to take some of the credit for that."
An initial turnover estimate of £1.25m is still on the cards and there are plans to expand. "The wholesale operation is our main focus We have developed more than 100 products that will take our brand to new customers, who live a bit further afield. Early take-up has been very encouraging. A 20% increase in like-for-like sales over the next six months is not too wide of the mark," he says.
Ian Bankier, MD of GlenKeir Whiskies, which trades as The Whisky Shop, is slightly less ambitious, but is no less dynamic. Eight new 'shops within shops' have been opened in the past six months in Edinburgh Woollen Mill stores around Scotland, increasing the number of outlets to 20. There are plans to push the number up to 30, with particular interest in opportunities in England.
Still though, Bankier is frustrated that prices aren't high enough. "Suppliers are still carrying too much cost and large ones are still sacrificing value for volume. "We could try shouting at them, but they need to have their listening ears on, which thus far they have not," he says.nIndependents are unanimously shunning loyalty cards because they are too much hassle, according to the latest poll of The Grocer Top 50 retailers.
All the respondents said that they did not offer such cards and added that they never had. That's despite the fact that the vast majority - 82% - said that they either possessed the technology to make the best use of them or would soon have it.
One retailer said: "We have never gone down the loyalty card route. Customer perception is that they aren't particularly beneficial. People prefer to have savings in their pocket and the cost associated with running these schemes can be horrendous."
Another said: "It's not just about the cost. It's the resources to manage and ensure they aren't abused."
Yet another added: "We just trade on price. Loyalty cards just add to the cost burden on independents."
The feedback follows recent reports of support for local loyalty card programmes growing across the UK. A total of 31 independents have signed up to a project in Haslemere, Surrey, to stop shoppers deserting them in favour of out-of-town supermarkets ('Retailers unite to win local loyalties', The Grocer, 10 June, p12).
However, despite not opting for a loyalty card, most supported the idea of one. As one retailer said: "I think they would be a good idea in principle as a way of encouraging people to shop locally."
In fact, 45.5% said they were losing sales to out-of-town supermarkets, showing the importance of encouraging customer loyalty. That said, 54.5% said that they felt shoppers were not deserting them in favour of a major out-of-town store.
Opinion was divided on whether it would be a good idea to participate in a scheme embracing other independent retailers. A total of 54.5% thought that if they launched a loyalty card, it should be specific to their own stores. "At the end of the day, other retailers are still competitors, even if they are fellow independents," said one retailer.
However, others took a different view and one said: "If you're going to launch something, why not open it up, especially if it keeps people from visiting the supermarkets?"