The Covid-19 pandemic has changed everything and while most retailers are doing a lot better than they were prior to the pandemic, the last six months has forced many retailers to take a fresh look at how they run their business – and that includes a fresh look at available business models like fascias, symbol groups and franchises.
So, the last six months haven’t been too bad to you, on a commercial front at least. The world is in tatters on many fronts, but the convenience retailing channel is one of those very rare examples of a sector that has thrived under lockdown. Spare a thought for all those pub, club and restaurant owners out there who have, in many cases, lost everything in the relative blinking of an eye.
But you’ve done alright, thank you very much, and business continues to boom – although perhaps not as loudly as it did a few months ago. But times are still good, sales are still way ahead of where they would normally be and, if you’re lucky, you’ve managed to build up a little war chest, or at least a little something that you could use to invest in your store or simply keep safe for one of the rainy days ahead that are sure to come. It’s been pouring for years in convenience, so a few sun-kissed months have helped restore our faith in the sector.
Coronavirus no doubt forced you to take a fresh look at many aspects of your business and that probably includes your symbol, fascia or franchise partner. Perhaps the one you have isn’t quite suiting your purposes as you hoped it would, perhaps another symbol group seems to be offering a much better package, or perhaps you’re an unaffiliated retailer who likes the sound of accessing all the benefits that being part of something bigger offers.
Well, you’ve come to the right place.
Our regular fascia focus helps you make sense of the various packages on the table and hopefully helps you make a much more informed decision about which group might be best for your particular store’s needs. There are a lot of factors to consider and many of them go way deeper than the straightforward ‘how much is this going to cost me?’ starter for 10.
Yes, how much membership costs and what all the various fees are is critical, but it’s not the only thing you should consider. Far from it. And what’s more, it’s exceptionally difficult to actually work out exactly what it will cost you until you start trading with a symbol group, fascia or franchise. The pricing and over-rider models are ferociously complex and it can be difficult to work out what you’ve paid and what you’ve received even when sitting down with a full set of invoices in front of you, a slide rule and calculator by your side.
One of the most obvious – and practical – ways of judging a potential partner is simply to speak to other retailers you know who have worked with them. They’ll tell you a lot of the stuff that’s not on the official marketing materials and might be able to highlight some less-than-obvious weakness (or strengths) in the model under consideration.
Bear in mind however, that you’re getting a filtered version of the reality by talking to other retailers. Their view has been filtered through their own experiences which have been good or bad and which are certain to colour their view. So once you’ve got yourself a shortlist, you will have to talk to your potential partner direct.
This is not an easy game to play and there’s a lot at stake, so the more research you can do the better.
But there’s little doubt that becoming part of something bigger has the potential to help transform your business. Every group offers very different packages so it’s not like you’re comparing apples with apples. A lot depends on your particular store: its location, the demographics of its shopper base, the competition around you, which products and services you want to focus on and a thousand other factors.
One thing you get with every partner, however, is access to a huge support package, in the widest sense. At its most basic, you get a household name above your door that shoppers know and trust. But you also get a huge promotional package, which might come in handy if the predicted price war between the mults kicks off properly, as well as marketing support, better pricing, better and quicker access to NPD and ranging and merchandising advice.
You get the benefit of any group-wide advertising or promotion, sometimes even television ads (depending upon the group). You get better access to own label products, an integrated Epos system (if you want it), IT support and commercial advice, and you get someone at the end of the phone who understands your business and wants to help.
It’s worth pointing out however that, just like in any relationship, you often get out of it what you put in. A relationship is a two-way thing and trust has to be built up between the partners. For retailers, that means buying (the bulk of) your stock from your partner just as you’re meant to and ensuring in-store compliance is high.
The groups put a lot of effort into producing the regular promotional campaigns, for instance, and if retailers simply aren’t executing them well in-store, the whole thing falls down and the relationship can quickly become frayed and fraught.
So if you commit to a partnership, then commit fully. And if you do that, there’s a good chance your symbol, fascia or franchise partner will reciprocate and give you all the support and help you need in return.
Whoever you choose, particularly if you’re joining a group for the first time, you will see immediate benefits. Fewer trips to the cash and carry for a start, better pricing most of the time and an organised promotional programme to excite shoppers, complete with POS. It can help your store move up a level and grow your footfall, sales and profits.
And if you’re moving groups and you choose wisely, you will also see some significant benefits quickly.
As we begin to emerge from lockdown into whatever ‘new normal’ awaits us, it’s statistically highly likely that being part of something bigger will help you become something bigger yourself.