Retailers deserve moment in sun

THE burden imposed on the on-trade by the tidal wave of alcohol legislation introduced in recent years has been well-documented on the pages of SLTN.

What we have devoted less column inches too, however, is the impact such changes have had on a smaller part of our readership – the independent off-trade. Community convenience stores haven’t always enjoyed the best of reputations as far as alcohol sales are concerned. It’s still common to hear people link problems associated with youth drinking to corner stores, the suggestion being that shops like these are still a source of alcohol for persons under 18.
As is often the case with stereotypes, however, this is a crude generality that’s only loosely rooted in fact. Sure, there can be no denying that, until Holyrood took a much tougher line on the issue, a good number of stores should have been much tighter on age-restricted sales than they were, but these were very much in the minority.
Today, thanks to changes brought by the 2005 Licensing Act and the 2010 Alcohol Act (which takes effect on October 1), no retailer can afford to be anything other than rigorous in their approach to the law, which of course is the way it should be.
What is perhaps less well known, though, is just how committed many in the independent convenience trade are to upholding not just the word, but the spirit of licensing laws.
I received some insight into this in the year I spent as editor of Scottish Grocer, sister publication to SLTN, a few years ago.
That knowledge was bolstered last week when I spent two days visiting convenience stores around Scotland as part of the judging team for this year’s Scottish Grocer Awards.
In the esteemed company of Ken MacKenzie, the former chief officer of the Scottish Co-op, and Diageo’s Mark Baird, we were tasked to find the stores and companies which best discharged their duties as responsible retailers of alcohol. And what we found was truly inspiring.
At company level, we spoke to large convenience store operators, organisations which have invested untold amounts in training to shape staff attitudes to drinks retailing and what it means to be a genuine community retailer.
At the other end of the scale, we interviewed stand-alone retailers who have immersed themselves in local community life, and who are often forced to act bravely in socially and economically challenged areas to provide a genuine service to the people on their doorstep. Some showed genuine entrepreneurial spirit: one retailer revealed he is able to ensure his store is not a target for anti-social behaviour by increasing the price of a certain tonic wine if any incidents do occur.
For retailers like these, social responsibility is more than a box-ticking exercise, and the role they are playing in changing attitudes to alcohol in communities around Scotland deserves to be commended.