Having done a few laps around the block of life and received a degree from the University of Tough Shit, I have a natural scepticism towards being told that there is a magic formula for success at anything in general, and at retailing in particular. One of my first arguments is about retailing and the science of merchandising - how to lay out your shelves in such a way as to maximise sales - the sort of science made manifest through the Federation of Wholesale Distributors' Blueprints. I'm not about to praise or rubbish their theories, as I've never used them : being at the niche end of the market, we've had to make our own decisions about how we lay out the shop. Who knows, we could be throwing away sales by not having a decent advocaat display, but hey, it works for us.
The other day, I was musing about what the summer's hot trends are going to be. I'm tipping perry (FYI: it's pear cider), prosecco and blush Pinot Grigio ( it's Pinot Grigio! And it's pink!) as our hot categories for the summer months. As the weather heats up, the Magners boom that swept the nation last year will reverberate ever more forcefully, knocking into other similar categories. All ciders, perries and even some rosé wines (hello Stormhoek) will be served over ice. In fact the trend may well career out of control, with first-growth Bordeaux, tobacco and even cashback all potentially being dealt with in this way.
A few issues ago, (OLN Feb 9) the Top Tip from Mark Johnson of Celebrations in Stockport was the Swedish pear cider Kopparberg, previously only available in cans from Ikea, but now available in various flavours and in glass bottles from a good wholesaler near you. When I saw this in print I had one of those "oh no, don't tell everyone" moments - we've been knocking this stuff out for about a year, with great success. There w ere a sticky few months last year when it seemed that a large supermarket had bought up all the stocks in the country, and in a rare moment of driving value rather than volume, it appeared on their shelves priced about 10 per cent more than we had been selling it. When it reappeared in the wholesalers, it was a little more expensive, but we still stock it, charge a bit more , and can't keep enough on the shelves. It may well be this year's Magners, which I'm sure isn't what Magners want to hear, given their rush for extra capacity over the last six months. Next year, overproduction may mean a Magners lake, and no doubt the first Magners health spa will open, offering various cydro therapy treatments, including a full body massage over ice, and colonic irrigation with traditional cider. Ahhh, the refreshing prickle of carbonation.
But back to the pears. Inspired by the burgeoning success of the category, I rejigged our cider and perry section, expanding it by 50 per cent, adding double facings, and bringing it up to eye level. As if by magic, and using industry-approved terminology, there has been a genuine uplift in sales, without cannibalising from other categories. In fact, we can't keep enough of the bloody stuff in the shop .I'm thinking of asking MTV to Pimp My Ride from a rusty Rover 214 to a chrome-rimmed, nitro-burning, tyre-smoking, low-riding perrymobile, so the staff and I can cruise round Headingley dispensing perry and rosé from gas-powered super-soakers. Just the kind of dignified, unobtrusive summer promotion that an independent trader should indulge in.