Total eclipse of The S*n: That’s not my headline it belongs to Liverpool. There is currently one helluva campaign going in the Speke area in Liverpool to boycott The Sun newspaper. If you want to see some colourful comments have a look at the public Facebook group called Total eclipse of the S*n which has gained some 13,000 members in just a few weeks including 10 major petrol stations in the area.
The forecourts, along with newsagents and convenience stores are exhibiting signs (We sell newspapers, we don’t sell The S*n) and pubs, clubs, barber shops and taxis are not allowing people into their businesses with copies of the paper. In fact, the taxis, which are pretty important in the area (it’s near Liverpool John Lennon Airport) were refusing to use any service stations which did continue to sell what the district is calling ’the rag’.
Many Liverpudlians have never forgiven The Sun for its coverage of the Hillsborough football disaster 27 years ago when it blamed the fans in banner headlines. When the inquest jury cleared the names of those 96 fans who were killed The Sun neglected to put the result on its front page, hence the campaign.
Three Gulf sites, a couple of BPs, a Euro Garages and a Morrisons site are among those refusing to sell the tabloid.
Morrisons had at first refused to heed the pressure group’s warning that its petrol station would be picketed, with the manager blaming a head office decision to continue to sell the tabloid. This decision was reversed after the picket took place on a busy Saturday.
The activists who set up the pressure group hope it will spread to other parts of the city.
But there is one main problem here and it is the wholesaler Smiths News, which seems to be disregarding requests to stop supplies, so its retailer customers are having to fillet the bundles of papers each morning and go through the fag of sending back their copies of The Sun.
Mubs Mohammed, manager of a Shell Euro Garages site, says: "Our customers don’t want it and our customers come first, so we take supplies and then send them back. I believe head office is negotiating with Smiths to stop supplying it. We get good support from head office."
Mark Anderson, who runs Speke Hall Service Station, stopped sales of The Sun 27 years ago. As he says: "I’m not a Scouse, I’m ’adopted’, but I didn’t want to upset my customers. I have another site up the road that was selling just a couple of copies from the bottom shelf but the campaigners came in and put up a sign, so I’ve cancelled them now."
Clare Collins, whose company Gateacre runs three Gulf sites in South Liverpool, says it took her eight goes before Smiths listened to requests to stop. She believes that’s where the campaign should really direct its ire rather than picketing shops that have found themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. "I have two heads on this," she says, "I’m from Liverpool and I agree with the campaign but I’m also a business woman and they should be petitioning Smiths not picketing the shops."
Exploring all the sales opportunities
When Waristreet Singh rang, he was due to take over his uncle’s business, Winlaton Garage in Blaydon near Newcastle, at the beginning of July in partnership with a pal. He said he could see that improvements were necessary as it had been run as a "traditional independent" and could be better organised. He was looking for recommendations on the supply front. Health & Safety had also visited and told him he needed a risk assessment.
He contacted Suresite which did the assessment and I pointed him at the Brand Watch feature that was currently running in Forecourt Trader’s June issue. It was all about the forecourt packages various symbol groups have been developing, so it was right up his street. I also recommended talking to as many symbol groups as possible. You can learn a lot from reps who will discuss what possibilities there might be where a coffee machine might go, the best layout and range and all the other ’solutions’ the marketeers like to promote these days.
It is obviously a small shop as a once-weekly visit to the Bestway cash and carry was all that was needed to stock it.
When I checked back with Waristreet to find out how he had made out, he said he liked the look of Nisa but that all of them were too expensive at the moment so it was going to be little steps.
I then suggested that Bestway Group would be a good starting point for him as its Best-One fascia has different forecourt packages depending on the sort of site it is and the business is already using the cash and carry for supplies. All he needed to do to start the process was to have a word with the branch manager. He may certainly find that, if business improves from a fresh approach, a once-weekly visit won’t be enough and that it would be easier to have the stuff delivered, in which case there are other options.
Palmer and Harvey is the largest delivered wholesaler in the UK, with a range of over 12,000 products and knows its way around a forecourt or two.
I also suggested that Waristreet contact the PRA about the possibility of membership. It isn’t free but they have a lot of expertise and could advise him on many aspects of the fuel industry (there is a member’s helpline), plus they can get him deals on cards and banking rates. And for anyone else who isn’t a member, have a look at their website (http://www.ukpra.co.uk).