For our latest Partner Spotlight series we caught up with The Association of Convenience Stores after attending their 2019 ACS Summit last month. Positioned as 'the premier learning event in the sector' the annual event brings together retail expert opinions and speakers from both within and outside the Industry to discuss #TheFutureOfRetail and the offering highstreets will need to provide in order to meet changing consumer demand.
With a firm mission of being 'the voice of local shops' we thought it was about time to ask a few questions and dig a little deeper on what The Association of Convenience Stores is all about...
1. Could you tell us a bit more about the history of the ACS and how your organisation was founded?
ACS in its current form was founded in 1995. Since that time our membership has grown significantly, both on the supplier and retailer side, as well as the number of issues we cover being more diverse in line with the overall growth of the convenience sector.
2. How many members do you have and what are the key benefits for them to be part of the ACS?
To date, we have around 33,500 members across the UK – including everyone from large multiple businesses and co-operatives down to thousands of independent retailers. One of the main benefits that retailers receive as members is our Assured Advice scheme. Assured Advice has been set up in response to businesses having issues with local trading standards officers who have differing interpretations of the law. By signing up to Assured Advice, retailers can be safe in the knowledge that there is a single, approved set of standards that applies wherever they are in England and Wales. Unfortunately, there’s no legislation to support Assured Advice in Scotland yet but we anticipate that it will be coming sooner rather than later.
Source: ACS Local Shop Report 2018
3. Is there a convenience store/concept that really stands out?
The great thing about the convenience sector is that there are so many different types of store that can flourish in a given area. Convenience stores are really good at adapting their offer to meet the needs of local customers, and absorbing some of the products and services that may have fallen by the wayside where other businesses in the area have closed. Plenty of different store types stand out, which is why we run study tours every year to investigate in person!
4. What is your vision for the future of the high street?
We’ve been talking about the future of the high street for a number of years, with numerous reviews and recommendations made by experts about how to revitalise high streets and town centres. One of the key issues that comes up time and time again is the need to make high streets more focused on experiences and services, and this is an area where convenience stores can play an important role. However, it’s worth remembering that convenience stores on high streets only make up about a third of the total convenience sector.
5) Which threats do you feel are most ubiquitous?
The most common concern for retailers in terms of costs to their business is the rising cost of employment. There have been significant increases in the National Minimum Wage over the last few years, in addition to the introduction and subsequent hikes in the National Living Wage. Retailers are keen to pay their staff as much as possible without having a negative impact on their business, but with potentially unpredictable increases a threat every year, finding ways to reduce the overall staffing bill is always front of mind.
Another threat that has seen a lot of news coverage over the last year is the literal threat of abuse and violence in store from customers. We’ve been working with the rest of the sector and the Home Office on a campaign to urge retailers and staff to always report incidents of abuse when they occur so that the police and the Government know the true extent of the problem, but that needs to be followed up with a consistent response from the police to ensure that incidents don’t go unpunished.
6. How does Brexit impact the convenience sector and business outlook?
We’ve been surveying retailers every quarter since the referendum about the potential impact of Brexit on their business and the results have been mixed. Many of the retailers that we’ve surveyed have told us that they just don’t know whether it’s going to be a positive or negative thing for them. Convenience stores tend to be pretty resilient, especially independents that have multiple ways of getting products into stores. The main concern we have is about the impact of a no deal Brexit, which our members tell us will be extremely problematic.
7. Are there any other sectors/industries/countries you are looking to for inspiration?
We’re constantly on the look out for innovation in the convenience sector in other countries, and there’s plenty out there that retailers in the UK can learn from. Whether it’s the well-developed food to go market in Ireland, the very small footprint of stores in Hong Kong, or the focus on serving the needs of older customers that we’ve found in stores in Germany, there’s always plenty for retailers to take back and try in their stores.
8. And which role does technology play for convenience stores?
Technology already plays a huge part in the modern convenience store, helping retailers to manage their costs through more efficient use of resources, using data to improve the offer to customers and ensure that the right product lines are out on the shelves, and enabling the provision of more services and payment options in stores. In the near future, getting to grips with the sheer amount of data that convenience store retailers have available to them is going to be important, as it’s easy to get swamped and not know what to do with the information available to you.
A big THANK YOU to The Association of Convenience Stores from the team at Parcelly for answering our questions. We are proud partners and strive to help shape the future of the convenience sector and local highstreets together...! #parcellove