We have read with interest the Society's concerns about the relatively low
number of independent traders in Ipswich and their plight in the current
economic conditions. We wondered if it might be useful to outline some of
the challenges that businesses like ours face day to day. Some of these are
shared with other. non-related independents; some are specific to our trade.
We need to persuade more people through the door, as many independents do.
It's not just because we can't run to bigger or flashier or more central
premises; we suffer from a widely held misconception that, as a small
specialist we must be more expensive and less approachable than the
nationals. It is particularly galling when this erroneous view is expressed
by someone who has never visited the shop before. Many independents are
frustrated by this.
The UK wine trade has one of the highest alcohol duty rates in Europe imposed
upon it and it is increasing; it has risen 46% in the last four years and,
since it forms part of the cost price of every bottle, has VAT added to the
shelf price - a tax on a tax - which has had the effect of squeezing the
quality out of less expensive wines as the tax occupies a bigger proportion
of the shelf price. We also have the health lobby to contend with. There is
no escaping the fact that irresponsible selling and consumption of alcoholic
drinks fuels trouble and considerable national expense.
We fully accept that it is an issue that must be addressed. Perhaps a
minimum price per unit of alcohol might be a step in the right direction but
currently our Government does not seem brave enough to fully embrace this.
The intrusion of the multinational grocers into all our lives has become a
habit of convenience for millions who are drawn in by the constant drip-drip
of mass brand advertising and the illusion of supermarket price wars. Lured
by unfeasible half-price offers and constant claims of cut prices and
'roll-backs', the draw has become the size of the discount, not the bottom
line or even the quality of the goods. All independents miss out to these
siren voices. For some, the tactics of the national grocers are also
questionable; it's not just our beleaguered dairy farmers who have seen the
shelf price creep up while the producers' price has fallen.
The glimmer of hope is from those who understand the difference between'
cheap' and 'good value', who are more selective about how and where they
spend their money. More consumers now realise that the only way to discount
wine deeply is to overprice it in the first place. Have you noticed how well
the supermarkets' profits
hold up despite all their' discounting'?
If Ipswich wishes to avoid just another cloned retail offering consisting of
the usual High Street suspects and out-of- town multiples, it needs a
significant retail point of difference. Independent shops are vital to the
attraction of a town providing variety, character, service, range, passion
and product knowledge. Add plentiful (and inexpensive) parking along with
good public transport, as well as clear routes in and out of town for the
shopper who has to drive here and maybe we can recover some of our trade from
The multiples are a fact of life; no amount of whinging from us will change
that Surely though, we independents are worth encouraging; we might be a bit
eccentric with our various enthusiasms, we might be a bit bristly with our
opinions, but we are the spice in your shopping experience, the ingredient
that makes you smile, that makes a difference, that reminds you what shopping
should be like, and without your valued custom we wouldn't exist.
Hare & Jonathan Williamson
Wines of Interest 46 Burlington Road