BRANDING AND PRODUCT AVAILABILITY ARE TOP PRIORITIES FOR INDEPENDENT MERCHANTS

Building a strong local brand identity and ensuring the availability and supply of products are central to success for independent merchants, according to a new survey.

Effective e-commerce and social media marketing are also identified by business owners as key factors for 2019.

The National Buying Group (NBG) conducted research to highlight the major challenges facing merchants over the next three years. It comes as NBG launched a new initiative to future-proof businesses at its annual conference in Liverpool. The Merchants of Change community will allow partners to share advice, exchange best practice and learn about the latest industry challenges.

The research acts as a barometer for the sector and found the top priority for merchants is having a strong local brand identity with 94% of partners agreeing or strongly agreeing this is vital to retaining and attracting customers. The second major concern is the availability of products and a consistent supply – 85% say this would remain a long-term challenge.

The other concerns in the “top six” are the importance of social media as a marketing tool (83%); having a strong e-commerce offering (81%) coupled with e-trading solutions to boost efficiency in ordering, invoicing and stock management (79%); and staff recruitment and retention, in particular attracting high quality, younger employees (74%).

Publication of the research results coincides with the launch of NBG’s Merchants of Change group, which is designed to help partners pool knowledge, develop their skill-sets and face challenges with confidence.

The group is open to any partners who would like to be involved in the changing face of the organisation. It will be run by partners, facilitated at a distance by NBG.

NBG’s managing director Nick Oates, said: “We wanted to demonstrate that we’re a progressive buying group by encouraging our partners to think about the bigger picture and give them a chance to build a common message around making their brands stronger, embracing change and looking to the future of their business.

“Merchants adopt change at differing paces and sometimes struggle to overcome traditional views and practices. We wanted to do something to support change in the industry while making our partners feel confident in sharing their opinions and giving them a space to help shape the next generation of merchants. We’re very much looking forward to seeing how Merchants of Change will develop in the coming months.”

An initial session took place at the conference with 25 partners attending and expressing an interest in joining Merchants of Change. The first meetings will focus on key issues highlighted in the survey and future agendas and priorities will be set by the group.

Merchants of Change will be rolled out across NBG with partners encouraged to join whether they meet in person, on conference calls, or using online messaging tools.

Read more in BMJ