Whatever the supply chain, availability is key if suppliers, wholesalers and retailers are to succeed, says NFRN CEO Paul Baxter.

Sadly, poor availability is something that newspaper and magazine retailers now have had to contend with since the number of news wholesalers fell from 200 to just two.

But just recently, the NFRN has been receiving more and more complaints from members about lack of choice from grocery wholesalers and at cash and carries up and down the country. Independent retailers have told us that ranges are getting smaller while products they are loath to stock are being pushed at them.

Of course, no one wants dead stock or poor sellers clogging up their shelves so it’s not surprising when such products disappear from wholesalers’ offerings.  But range reduction for the sake of rationalisation and efficiency is not good for suppliers, wholesalers and particularly for independent retailers.

So that was my message to attendees at the prestigious IGD Wholesaling 2017 earlier this month.  In my presentation I reminded the audience that small is beautiful as independent retailers can do so much more than the corporate chains.  Independents and their staff engage with their customers to better understand their needs and will always try to offer the products and services expected and demanded.

But what really worries me if that with wholesalers dictating ranges, retailers are becoming homogenous.  Yes, there are still a number of different fascias out there but step inside and all you have are mini me stores – ones that that lack both independence and individuality.

So during my session entitled What does the future hold for the customer? I issued a rallying cry.

These days – and more than ever before – cash strapped consumers are shopping around for the best deals to make those precious pennies stretch that little bit further.

So I called for supplies and cash and carries to think long and hard about what they can do to better support independent retailers.

For suppliers this means more new product development and from wholesalers and cash and carries better availability and keener pricing.

Let’s face it, Amazon can understand what millions of customers want so it’s not impossible. But if the grocery supply chain cannot cope with the differences and individuality that its independent customers want, they will look elsewhere.

Otherwise what we will see is independent retailers becoming less independent and less varied and that isn’t good news for suppliers, wholesalers, retailers or, most importantly, shoppers.

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