Tom Fender presented a session at Trade Days aimed at getting businesses to think a little differently about what they do and who they are selling to.

Tom spent 20 years running a company that tracked the needs, wants and behaviours of convenience store shoppers around the UK and internationally. He has worked with all the major UK grocery retail chains and all of the top 50 FMCG suppliers to advise them how to increase sales and profits by delivering against their customers’ needs.

He started his presentation by painting a picture of the Arkwright store in the TV series, ‘Open all hours’. He asked the audience to consider how retail outlets had changed over the years, with petrol stations now selling groceries and pubs developing into places where children are welcomed, coffee is served and it’s about a lot more than simply alcohol these days.

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As the local greasy spoon has developed into the coffee shop, Tom suggested that it was important for retailers to keep an eye on what’s happening around them and especially to become a shopper in their own business. “Many retail principles are the same no matter what you are selling” Tom explained. “Retail is evolving in whatever sector you are in but what is clear is that the businesses that concentrate on service can differentiate themselves and usually end up doing well.”

Tom said that throughout the recession, the businesses that performed better than others were the ones that had a high service ethic. “Look at businesses such as Waitrose and M&S,” he said, “Not the cheapest, but they did well through that period because they were looking after their customers.”

The simple things are still important according to Tom. “Making your customer feel welcome is always important.” He encouraged people to ask their customers what they liked about the business and what they didn’t, even though that might produce some negative comments. He used a quotation by Bill Gates – Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.

He also tackled the myths around selling to customers and, in particular, up-selling products. “There is a perception that no-one likes to be sold to or to be sold additional products. In fact, only 15{2b56f69eed902e060b0ece4e951518e78184250fd95605277e040c84763239be} of shoppers don’t like it. 30-35{2b56f69eed902e060b0ece4e951518e78184250fd95605277e040c84763239be} of people actually like being sold to and having other products introduced to them and the rest are not really bothered either way. There’s a danger that you only sell to people what they ask for and not what they actually need.”

Tom also spoke about maintaining a customer relationship. “It’s amazing just how many businesses don’t keep in touch with their customers. This industry might not be as aggressive as some when it comes to selling, but it wouldn’t hurt to take the brakes off a little when it comes to being in touch with customers. They will soon tell you if you are overloading them with information.”

He suggested looking at what’s working in retail and seeing whether it is something that might work in your own business. “Take click and collect” he suggested, “how could you introduce that into your own business?”

He also advocated using the ‘local’ approach. “If you are dealing with suppliers that are local and you are stocking products made locally, then make sure that your customers are aware of that in the same way a small butchers might. People like to buy local items and support local companies. I would also be highlighting any local charities that you support too.”

His message was that whatever you do, you have to shout pretty loudly. “You have to go overboard make sure customers are aware of what you are doing.”

On the subject of products in the showroom, Tom believes that many companies have items on the shelves that are moving too slowly. “Take a close look at what you are selling but also what you are not selling. Move the slow lines on to make space for products that will sell better and faster. Don’t try to supply everything. Customers always want the biggest range possible, but it’s better for a business to stock what sells.”

Tom says that many businesses are paranoid about price. “A lot of businesses believe that they have to be cheaper, but in 5 million interviews with shoppers, the price was just sixth on the list in terms of what would influence them to buy. Value for money was high on the list, but that’s not the same as price. If you are always the cheapest, then you need to ask yourself whether you are giving too much away.”He used the example of Pizza Express. “Everyone goes into the business with money-off vouchers,” he said, “they just can’t wean us off them.”

“It’s better to keep your price levels and add more value” he added.

Tom also gave an example of how a business could develop by suggesting, as some pharmacies have done, that the local Post Office could be a great addition to a mobility outlet. With a lot of Post Office’s closing and being re-located right now he said that it might well be worth exploring the possibilities in your local area. It would certainly produce a guaranteed footfall which is something that many mobility stores struggle to achieve.

“Assume nothing and challenge everything,” Tom said. “Ask yourselves when was the last time you did something for the first time.” He ended with a plea for businesses to take a few more risks – “You may be pleasantly surprised” he suggested.

You can reach Tom on 07802 336 333 or by email at

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