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 Norwich.
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.
Jonathan Hare & Jonathan Williamson
Wines of Interest 46 Burlington Road