Local shops can play a vital role in supporting the communities in which they operate, not least independent convenience stores, which are an important part of the community heartland, says Duncan Bannatyne, entrepreneur and star of BBC2's Dragons' Den.
"Research shows that consumers cite their local independent store as a highly valued resource," says Bannatyne. "It's important that retailers become involved in their local communities and tailor their offerings to its needs. If you can get this right, together with other key services including friendly customer service, you'll reap the rewards."
So what should you do to broaden your community links, increase your involvement and boost turnover? Here are some top tips to point you in the right direction
Be the hub
Become a lifeline for the local community and make your store a destination for finding out community information. Set up a noticeboard where residents and local clubs and organisations can promote their activities, and consider offering services that would make your customers' lives easier, such as home deliveries for the elderly.
Get yourself known to local organisations such as residents' associations and offer your help and support. If the community has set up a petition to keep a vital community service, for example, offer to collect signatures on their behalf.
Go the extra mile
Putting yourself out for your customers will reap huge benefits in goodwill and loyalty. Let customers know that if they can't get to your store due to illness, for example, you'd be willing to take a telephone order and hand deliver their shopping.
Show an interest in your customers. If a regular hasn't been seen for a few days, ask after them - people will thank you for your concern and will see you as a caring community retailer.
Respond to requests
If a customer asks for a particular product or service, do your best to source it and make sure you update them on your progress next time they come into the store. The customers will appreciate your efforts, even if it turns out to be impractical.
Ask for feedback on your product offer and services. Perhaps introduce a feedback box where customers can offer their suggestions on what they'd like to see in your store. This will show you're willing to adapt and respond to their needs and could give you some business inspiration.
Give potential customers more reasons to come to your store by incentivising them with money-off coupons, competitions and events such as product tastings, which will give you a chance to engage with your customers.
A loyalty scheme could also prove fruitful. Some councils run schemes for local traders, or you could set up your own.
BUILD YOUR IMAGE
Whatever you do or plan to do in the way of community activities, shout about it to the local press. Make friends with the local media and keep them informed of all your news - any coverage you receive will go far to raise your credentials as a community retailer.
Put together a fact sheet about your business, services and achievements in supporting the local community to build a positive image of your store as a friendly neighbourhood store. And let local journalists know that you're willing to offer a trader's view on any community issues they might cover.
promote your independence
National Independents' Day has been running since 2004. Organised by the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, it invites independent retailers
who work closely with their communities to get involved in a programme of activities. Interested retailers should call the FWD Helpline on 01323 724952.
Alex MacHutchon, Communications Manager at The Wrigley Company:
"Community involvement is an important role for retailers and suppliers to consider and support. At Wrigley we believe that independent retailers have a fantastic opportunity to make themselves an integral part of the community, and this principle is something we try to follow in our business.
"Independent retailers are absolutely integral to Wrigley - nearly half of our annual sales are through independent retail outlets, and we will continue to support the independent retailer in every way possible.
"This is the last in the series of training modules and we hope that Duncan's words of wisdom over the past few months has been insightful to readers and helped c-store owners to grow their businesses and become more profitable."