Joining a symbol group: when, not if…

Wilson Rea, Keystore

The harsh reality of modern convenience retailing in a continually consolidating industry is that going it alone as an unaffiliated independent looks increasingly like an impossible task. Rocketing costs and an unprecedented level of competition mean that the case for joining a symbol group or franchise has never been stronger – but the good news is that the choice has never been wider. 

For many independent local retailers in Scotland these days, the choice is less whether to join a fascia group or franchise and more about which one to join. Toughing it out as an unaffiliated independent is increasingly looking like an unsustainable option as market consolidation continues to rattle along at pace, giving more and more retailers access to much larger buying power and all the benefits that come with being part of a larger organisation.

One of the few proven ways of combating that threat is by becoming part of something bigger yourself and the easiest way of doing that is by considering a symbol, fascia or franchise option. It’s an attractive proposition, allowing retailers to retain the bulk of their independence yet giving them the many benefits of being part of a nationwide collective of like-minded retailers with access to big buying power and the many invaluable support mechanisms that membership of a symbol group brings.

The continually rising minimum wage, huge increases in rates and ballooning compliance costs across the board mean that for many the time may now be right to consider a fresh start by teaming-up with one of the many options available. In this feature, we will consider those options and offer you all the information you need to make an informed choice about which partner to choose.

Many have already followed that particular path. Symbol groups grew their share of the convenience-store market from 22% in 2002 to almost 40% in 2012. According to IGD data, this could rise to 50% by 2020.

Average annual investment per store type
  • Independents –  £7,632
  • Symbol Groups – £10,716

Whether you are considering joining one of these groups for the first time, or are considering moving from one to another, this guide will provide you with the key data you need to make a fully informed decision as to which fascia is right for you.

The great news is that the range of choices available has never been greater. Each partner has its own particular strengths, but they all offer buying power, a household name above the door and a comprehensive support network covering everything a retailer needs to remain competitive in today’s retail environment.

Choosing a symbol group can seem an intimidating task. It is a big commitment, especially if you are already tied into a contract or faced with joining fees – whether this is in the form of an admin charge, buying shares or paying for signage or delivery. But there is no doubt it can pay huge dividends.

How to decide which symbol group is right for you will ultimately depend on your shoppers and what they want you to offer them.

It might come down to the kind of store standards you are prepared to meet and the ways of working. If, for example, you are simply looking for a way of running promotions effectively then you might want to consider joining a cash & carry-based symbol group where you would normally go into depot and pick up the goods yourself.

Top reasons for joining a symbol group
  • Are there any initial costs
  • Wide range of products
  • Promotional activity
  • Regular communication
  • Marketing in trade press
  • Recognised brand above the door
  • IT and HR support
  • Dedicated trade website
  • Buying Power

The pros for retailers considering joining or switching symbol groups are numerous, not least because of the support a fascia can offer a retailer in every aspect of running your convenience store, from exclusive discounts and buying power to staff training, running a social media page and availability of new technologies.

Being part of a symbol group gives you the backing and the knowledge, from promotions to posters and displays, along with the merchandising system and product knowledge to help make your business a success.

Groups will send several reps and provide supplier contacts. They can offer an in-depth analysis of what you should stock, where you should stock it and how much you should be making.

The support and advice that is given regarding store development should soothe shop owners who are nervous of change, and groups may introduce their own recommended shopfitter to assist with project planning and store layout. Many also have their own consultants who can do detailed reports on potential or increased turnover.

These can be simple or very detailed, taking into account the demographic area around the shop and local competition.

Sometimes there will be a fee, but it may be worth the cost as often it gives additional industry-specific information that will support any application. This information, when backed by the weight of a symbol brand, can add an influential supporting voice to any finance application.

Retailers should ask themselves whether remaining unaffiliated is detrimental to their potential as a business. Whatever level you decide to go in at, it is best to do your research before determining which symbol group is right for you.

Things to consider when choosing a symbol group
  • Are there any initial costs?
  • What ongoing fees are there?
  • Are there delivery charges?
  • Is there a minimum spend?
  • Is there a minimum percentage of buying through them?
  • Is there a minimum length contract?
  • Will I have to purchase any new equipment, such as EPoS?
  • Do they allocate stock and are certain lines sent out automatically each month?
  • How frequent are the deliveries?
  • How quick are the lead times for deliveries?
  • What are their wholesale prices like compared to your existing suppliers?
  • How extensive is the product range?
  • Do they provide development support and in what form?
  • Do they provide a chilled & frozen range?
  • Do they offer advertising support – either nationally or locally?
  • What kind of consumer offers do they run?
  • How will they help me to stand out against the competition in the area?
  • Is there an own label offer?
  • Do they have a loyalty scheme?
  • Will they invest in my store and in what way?

Sign for the Premier teamPremier store

With the UK’s leading food and drink wholesaler behind them, Premier retailers enjoy unrivalled buying power and a wide range benefits that help them deliver great profits.

Premier is the UK’s number one symbol group with over 3,300 stores nationwide. The group is committed to delivering more profits for retailers and a better shopping experience for consumers. Premier has delivered double digit growth for fourteen consecutive years.

Premier continues to advertise on TV. Premier is advertised every day which will be seen over 100 million times. The TV advert features Premier’s famous Mega Deal promotions along with retailers to emphasise the local aspect of Premier Store. As well as this, retailers also benefit from a full promotional programme covering all categories of fresh, frozen, grocery and impulse to ensure great value for shoppers to drive footfall into stores. This market leading promotional package, along with own-label and price-mark-packs, really drives the value message to help Premier retailers grow their business.

Premier works hard to ensure that retailers have the best choice of products to suit their individual store. This includes both Euro Shopper, Booker’s entry level exclusive own-brand and Happy Shopper, the mid-tier option. This is complimented by working closely with branded suppliers to ensure the best choice of price-marked packs so shoppers can clearly see the great value available.

Backed by Booker, the UK’s leading food & drink wholesaler, Premier retailers can take advantage of delivery at cash & carry prices, as well as having the ease and convenience of shopping at any Booker branch. ‘Spend & Save,’ where retailers can save up to 4% on their non-tobacco purchases, is also popular with Premier members as this delivers real savings and adds to their bottom line. Premier does not operate any membership or joining fees and installs the fascia and imagery free of charge. A wide range of additional services such as recycling, energy savings, free Epos and drop shipment are also available that have been specifically created to add value and keep operating costs low for Premier members.

The group continues to go from strength to strength and its relentless focus in increasing choice, lowering prices and improving service has helped Premier members deliver fantastic convenience stores.


Look to the future with LondisLondis Store

Innovation sits at the heart of the Londis offer, which includes award-winning fresh and own-brand ranges, free promotional leaflets and cutting-edge online ordering. Its best in class forecourt package is supported by a dedicated forecourt team.

Londis is one of the UK’s leading symbol groups with over 1,900 members across the UK and is part of the Booker Group, the UK’s leading food and drink wholesaler. This unrivalled buying power means that our retailers benefit from the best package in the sector.

Forecourts represent almost half of the Londis estate and are growing twice as fast as our convenience retailers. We have a specifically designed Forecourt package which combines the strength of our chilled offer with a bespoke Forecourt promotion package and our dedicated Forecourt Development Team have a wealth of experience in Forecourt retailing focused on making sure our package is fit for the future and well set to help our retailers maximise any opportunity.

At Londis we are always looking to the future and making sure our retailers are keeping up to date with market trends, areas like Craft Beer, Free From, Protein and Premium Spirits are seeing significant growth retailers need to tap into these as well as other footfall driving categories such as Food To Go and Chilled. We are helping our retailers by listing key lines in these new areas and providing market insight, advice as well as point to sale to ensure that we not only help our retailers understand the size of the opportunity but also enable them to bring the ranges to their customers, attention.

Our recent Wine Festival and Beer & Cider Festival have been a great success, driving new customers and increased footfall into our customers stores. We know the value of events such as these and are always looking at innovative ways to deliver increased sales opportunities for our retailer.

The benefits of the Londis offer include:
  • Free Membership
  • Competitive cost of goods
  • Loyalty discounts of up to 4% on all purchases (Excludes Tobacco)
  • Award-winning Fresh range with over 1,250 lines.
  • Award-winning own brand ranges Euro Shopper, Happy Shopper and Farm Fresh
  • A best in class online web ordering system (Londis Webshop)
  • Market leading promotions every 4 weeks
  • Free Promotion Leaflets and FREE store point of sale support
  • Support from our dedicated Store Development and Retail Development teams
  • Tri Temperature fleet delivering all your ambient, fresh and frozen needs on one delivery
  • A best in class forecourt package with a dedicated forecourt team
  • Free Membership of the ACS

Driving profitable growth togetherKeystore

“We’ll support you ever more” is Keystore’s message to retailers, with cutting-edge technology solutions, a huge range of branded products, great promotions and a support network that lets you focus on running your business.

As one of the most prolific and recognisable convenience store brands in Scotland, KeyStore prides itself on building strong and long relationships with its customers

Brand owner JW Filshill, the Glasgow-based retail-led family wholesaler, now offers three KeyStore options: KeyStore, KeyStore More and KeyStore Express. Retail sales director Craig Brown explains: “It’s very important to us that we help you become as profitable as you can be.

“We work with our customers to help them run profitable, successful and sustainable stores and as a family business ourselves we understand the challenges convenience retailers face every day.

“The convenience marketplace is changing so we have adapted our offer to suit the needs of our customers and they way they want to run and position their businesses.”

All KeyStore retailers receive what Brown believes to be the best sales support in the sector in Scotland, encompassing cutting-edge technology solutions, the biggest range of branded products, the best promotions and access to all product categories through it supplier partnerships.

“We work in partnership with our retail customers to make running their businesses as easy and as cost-effectively as possible,” Brown continues. “For example, we have what I believe is the most up-to-date online ordering system in the marketplace, supported by our new app which frees up even more time.”

Add to the overall KeyStore package unprecedented support from all head office departments and retailers can concentrate on doing what they do best – engaging with shoppers and providing the best possible customer service in their local community.

“The KeyStore marketing strapline is ‘We’ll Support You Ever More’,” Brown points out. “And that’s exactly what we are doing through a range of merchandising and technology innovations, all designed to maximise your efficiency and productivity.

“In addition to helping you with marketing through our superb promotions and POS package, we can also help you set up social media channels to keep you in touch with your community and your customers.”

Retailers who decide to join the KeyStore family can look forward to increased sales and profits. But they also benefit from that close working relationship with the KeyStore team, as Glasgow-based retailer Freddie Lalli explains.

“The great thing is that KeyStore listen,” he says. “We got involved in the type of POS we wanted, and we worked closely with them to create a great look for all my shops.

“We regularly beat some of the big supermarket chains in terms of product pricing but one of the most important things for me is that my customers are really loyal tomy shops and the KeyStore brand.”

In Lanark, Wilson Rea recently switched to KeyStore More after more than a decade with another brand.

“Not only has my turnover gone up by over 7%, but my profits have also gone up significantly,” he says. “I see customers coming in more regularly but also putting more in their baskets. It has amazed me how well the brand has outperformed even what I hoped it would do.”


Forge a firm future with Nisa’s support Nisa store interior

With a roster of multi-award-winning stores such as Ardeer Services, Greens of Markinch, Pinkie Farm Convenience Store and Giacopazzi’s Milnathort, to name a few, Nisa is the proven partner of choice for many market-leading, independently minded retailers in Scotland.

We have worked tirelessly over the last 40 years to ensure we provide all the tools needed to compete against the ever-increasing competition in the convenience retail sector. Importantly, we don’t have any company owned stores, so don’t compete with our retail members and don’t have restrictive loyalty levels that impact on margin and the ability to trade independently.

Independent retailers have the option to operate under a choice of symbol fascias; Nisa Local, Nisa Extra and dual branded whereby a member can maintain their local identity whilst also benefiting from the strength of the Nisa brand. Alternatively, retailers can opt to trade under their own independent fascia.

Nisa offers flexibility to retailers with their Store of the Future Evolution format which is a move towards a more modular development format, accommodating the individual demographic and shopping missions of every store, Nisa Abbey View in Dunfermline being one of the recent such developments.

A complete retail support package is offered to our members, which comprises a strong retail focussed team, an enhanced category management system, a staff training facility and a comprehensive marketing package incorporating bespoke leaflets, personalised Nisa FM radio, point of sale material and national advertising. Excellent social media support is also provided with members receiving assistance in running their own sites. And the corporate Nisa Retail Twitter account celebrates member successes as well as offering industry news, trading advice and Nisa business updates.

Nisa’s flexible model provides its retailers with an unbeatable breadth of range comprising over 13,000 SKUs. This is supported by Nisa’s award-winning own label range, Heritage. This provides retailers with more than 800 great quality products at affordable prices and includes numerous award-winning lines such as the Heritage wine range launched in 2017. This is all delivered by Nisa’s industry leading supply chain which retailers can trust with an impressive 99.9% of deliveries made on the day and 95% successfully made on time.

Nisa understands its members and their marketplace, enabling them to modify their offer to match the ‘local’ demographic and to create bespoke planograms and layouts within their individual sites.

Through Nisa membership retailers can take advantage of the Retail Academy which provides a complete training solution to develop staff and help provide the best possible customer service.

Retailers are offered a full support structure comprising of a strong field team covering Retail Development Managers and Regional Retail Managers, in addition to Fresh Food Development Managers and Store Development Managers who help further develop stores.

And Nisa knows community involvement is key, and as such its retailers can support local good causes through Nisa’s Making a Difference Locally (MADL) charity, which has donated more than £7.5m to UK and Ireland communities since its launch 10 years ago.

In November 2017, Nisa members voted to sell their shares to the Co-op. The deal was approved by the Competition and Markets Authority in April and brings the potential of an exciting year ahead.

The Co-op deal offers the opportunity to add buying power and a broader product range to Nisa’s offer, while respecting its culture of independence, and Nisa is looking forward to building a strong partnership in the years ahead with the Co-op.


Retailers can join the Nisa group through the member website and can rely on superb support from the skilled in-house staff involved in the joining process.

Complete the form online or contact our development team on 0800 542 7490.

One Stop

Take advantage of One Stop’s scale and expertiseOne Stop store

One Stop’s mission is simple. To create and support thriving businesses at the heart of their communities.

Trading as a successful convenience business for over 20 years. We currently operate over 900 stores throughout England, Scotland and Wales. 20% of these are franchises, where we work in partnership with existing convenience retailers to help them reach their full potential.

Expertise you can count on

Our retail experience is the major aspect that makes us stand out from traditional symbol groups, which are predominantly wholesale-driven. We base our Franchise model on the groups proposition we run successfully in our company estate, giving franchisee’s a proven model to base their business on.

Our years of experience means we’ve refined how we run our stores, and franchisees benefit straight away from our simple and efficient ways of working and our technology that makes this possible. If you speak to our franchisees they will tell you that our systems and processes save them valuable time, so that they’re able to focus on serving their customers, growing their profitable business, developing their teams and most importantly, spending more time with their family.

Our model is built around 4 major principles:

1. Better sales, bigger profits

  • We deliver a competitive margin of between 18-24% dependent on a store’s mix.
  • Market leading meal deals – 3 for £3 lunchtime deal and 2 for £4 evening deal.
  • Continued price comparison to ensure our prices set stay competitive.
  • Brand new Own Label range featuring over 330 lines – better quality, bigger pack sizes, all at lower prices.

2. Investing in a fresh new look for your store

  • We invest up to £50,000 – dependant on terms & conditions of contract – in a store’s look and feel through a refit package which includes a 2 lane Epos and back office system, store design, fascia and fixtures and fittings – all project managed.

3. A simpler way of retailing

  • Our easy-to-use systems and proven ways of working take the hard work out of the day-to-day running of a store. So our franchisees have more time to focus on their customers and team.
  • Extensive range reset programme in which every category is reviewed once a year, with Chilled and Fresh having two due to its more seasonal nature. This ensures that our franchisees are getting the best return from the space they have, by stocking the right range at the right time, to meet their customers ever-changing needs.

4. A partnership built for success

  • Our Franchisees start off on the right foot with an experienced former store manager in-store, training the franchisee and their team for a whole week.
  • A dedicated Business Development Manager visits every 4 weeks, helping franchisees to grow their sales and margins, not sell boxes.
  • We’re fully committed to working with our franchisees to help their stores succeed. Which is why our BDMs and Support Team are on hand 7 days a weeks, providing continued support whenever it’s needed.

Continued Growth

As a franchisee you have the entire One Stop business behind you, working hard to improve every aspect of your store, and as we evolve our look & feel, offer, systems and support, you will continue to benefit directly. As we’re co-invested it’s our priority to ensure your sales and profit continue to grow year-on-year, and we do this through our proven model and unprecedented support.


You’ll sign up to a five-year agreement and commit to store standards and core range compliance. In return, you’ll see your business transformed! So, do you match our criteria?

  • Ideally an established retail operator in England, Wales or the central belt in Scotland
  • Existing C-store, CTN+ or Post Office wanting to migrate to convenience
  • Or have a property that lends itself to convenience (we will work with cold starts / developments)
  • Weekly turnover of at least £10,000 (excluding services)
  • Sales area of between 1,000 sq. ft. and 3,000 sq. ft. If less you must have the ability to expand
  • Have a current alcohol license or willing to obtain one
  • Prepared to operate the minimum trading hours of 7am to 9pm (Mon-Sun)

Membership fees: maximum £92 per week; option to pay for all upfront


Simply the best-one!

Join the growing number of Scotland’s retailers who have discovered the benefits of Bestway Wholesale’s symbol offer.

With significant growth predicted in the sector, Convenience is the place to be. And best-one is the place to be in convenience.

Growing at 19.7%, Bestway Wholesale’s symbol offer now has over 169 stores across Scotland with another seventeen stores having fascias erected over the next two months.

This impressive growth is underpinned by the group’s commitment to work with retailers to develop their businesses through working with them to maximise the local opportunity.

Benefits of joining best-one:

Field support

best-one prides itself on its continued support it delivers to members. Each member has a dedicated representative that draws up a joint business plan with members and regularly reviews this on their monthly call. This business plan is based on actual sales data and benchmarked against the store’s potential as defined by its shopper demographic. New members receive a 6-week period of ‘Hypercare’ where they are visited weekly to ensure that the transition to best-one is as smooth as possible and that standards and sales are optimised.

Promotional architecture

Members receive five unbeatable WOW Deals and 15 Must Feature promotions every month with case allocations to ensure members have availability throughout the promotional period and individualised store leaflets to drive footfall and loyalty. Shoppers now expect to see promotions that match the multiple retailers and best-one delivers on this with promotions both in impulse and grocery

Store development

With a variety of formats available based on shopper profiles and their missions, best-one works with members to deliver the best possible solution for their communities. From simple food to go solutions to full serve-over meal counters and premium coffee stations, best-one can help remodel, refit and revitalise your store. Central Pick operation gives member longer shelf life on over 1,500 chilled and fresh products with up to three deliveries per week.

As a reward for meeting shopper needs, best-one members also have the opportunity to earn up to 5% rebate on their purchases though My Rewards rebate scheme. Importantly, many members have used their future earnings from My Rewards to fund refits or expansion rather than tying up capital and cash flow.

Category development

Over the past year. best-one has introduced refined planograms across key convenience categories to help members reduce the number of lines on-shelf and focus on the bestsellers across branded and best-one own label ranges. Members now have access to a wide range of planograms, shopper insight factsheets and must stock lines both online and in print.

Facts box

Although membership is free with no ongoing costs, best-one retailers need to:

  • invest to meet the Best-one in-store brand standards
  • Have a minimum £18,000 wholesale spend (cash/credit) per month
  • Participate in the WOW and Must Feature monthly promotions (5 to 6 WOW / 15 Must Feature). Other promotions are available but not mandatory.
  • Accept promotional stock allocations and promotional point of sale material
  • Have a minimum of two deliveries of chilled/frozen foods per week

For more information, contact the Customer Contact Centre on 01738 644 444 or email