ON the face of it, it looks as if just about every retailer could benefit from symbol/fascia membership. You and your fellow symbol members and, if applicable, your connected wholesaler achieve greatly increased buying power. You should also be much more able to offer your own customers attractive deals, which should in turn make you more competitive and attract consumers who will, hopefully, buy more than just those goods in the promotional package.
And there are many more attractive benefits.
So why are the largest number of British c-stores still non-affiliated?
Well some may just not be suitable – because they’re too small to offer much more than a very basic service, for example. Some owners may not be inclined to invest in the store or accept the disciplines required in terms of promotional compliance.
But others, long-standing family firms for instance, can take the view that they’re better off under their own name and branding. And some operators want to maintain absolute flexibility to shop around on a daily basis for the best deals.
But, as the IGD’s figures show, the trend is heavily towards symbol stores. They’re growing in number, they are growing in terms of annual sales and they are developing new concepts, wider ranges, including own-brand and value lines and expanded fresh produce selections, and more.
So how does the retailer choose between the different groups?
Fascia organisations and deals vary. Some fascia groups are run by major wholesalers who will often also operate a cash and carry service and deal with catering and hospitality businesses. Some groups are connected to buyers groups servicing a network of local wholesalers. Others take a different style, operating a delivered wholesale service only – linked, in many cases, to a large network of stores all operating under well-established brands.
The different deals on offer from the different groups will be likely to cover similar aspects of a symbol store relationship. But they often differ in the detail and retailers, who will in effect be entering into a contract, should ask some important questions.
• Are there other stores in the area who operate under the symbol concerned? If so is the brand run as a type of franchise and will that be a block to you joining the group? Or another way of looking at it is: “If I join do I know if anyone else will be able to open up under the same brand just along the road?”
• Is it a respected symbol organisation and effectively a trusted brand? Many organisations have been established for a considerable time. Do you think that means the brand has earned consumer recognition and trust? That can be very important and there are relatively easy ways to test it. You can ask friends and family if they think the brand inspires trust, whether it comes across as fresh and attractive or a bit dull? Do they expect it to be good value?What experience do they have of symbol stores and how do they view the different fascia brands?
• Are there joining fees and/or membership fees? Some organisations stress that they charge no fees of any sort and that may be a very good deal. But it might also depend on your own level of experience. If a package comes with fees but also offers a higher level of support and guidance and you feel that’s something you will need then you will have to weigh things up carefully.
• Will you have to agree a level of investment in your store? Will the symbol group provide any financial help towards such investment? Will there be any charges for fascia and other signage? Store standards are rising all the time and energy costs and other issues mean that retailers have to consider the fabric and operation of their stores carefully. If you are required to do more than a cosmetic job to your building make sure you know who pays for what and what that may mean in the future. Also, a refit can be great, but it can be complicated. So find out if you’ll be able to get effective help with design and refitting work and be sure you then know who will be in charge of any refit project.
• Will you be required to agree a minimum spend and/or to carry out a minimum proportion of your wholesale buying to the wholesale wing of the group? Some deals include obligations although they may also be part of a package that includes incentives and retrospective discounts.
• How competitive is the organisation? Is its underlying range priced competitively? Do its deals stack up?
• Does the group operate as a members’ organisation? If so what rights, benefits and/or responsibilities are involved in membership?
• How is the wholesaling part of the operation handled? Is it carried out entirely by delivery or is there the opportunity to use a cash and carry service too? How many deliveries are carried out each week? How good is the fresh and chilled food operation? Does the symbol group’s ordering system allow for direct deliveries from local suppliers?
• Does the group require the retailer to carry must-stock items? Does it provide marketing and merchandising advice?
• Many symbol organisations offer regular promotional programmes, backed by specially prepared leaflets, flyers and point of sale material. Are such schemes available? Is the promotional programme competitive and does it reflect consumer preferences in Scotland and in the retailer’s local area?
• A number of fascia groups now advertise on TV and through other media, including social media and other online channels. Does the fascia organisation the retailer is considering do this? If so, has the activity proven to be effective?
It may seem like a lot to consider but the symbol relationship can be very important indeed to a retailer’s own business, it’s worth putting time and effort in to getting it right.
On the next two pages we look at some recent work carried out by some leading fascia organisations and then the groups themselves get the chance to put their own message across.