Leading independent retailers took to the stage at the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) annual summit last month to tell fellow c-store owners how to reclaim and dominate the retail playing field.

Topping their list of winning strategies were the need for retailers to find and exploit their unique selling point, and the value of staff engagement.

Shailesh Patel, owner of Jans of Cockfosters, North London, said that it had never been more important for retailers to differentiate themselves from the competition. "Retailers should establish what their community's needs are, and then tailor their offers to meet them," he said.

Shailesh's store is close to an art college, and he has adapted his offer to sell a wide range of art and graphic design supplies. "Tesco cannot compete with my offer; it doesn't even come close," he added.

Botterills Convenience Stores managing director Lizette Craig said retailers should also focus on improving staff facilities in order to boost morale, loyalty and productivity. "Providing staff with pleasant facilities in which to have a break is as important as investing in an attractive shop floor for customers," she said.

Botterills runs a range of incentive schemes, competitions and awards for staff. It is also trialling a policy of employing only people over the age of 18.

Mills Group managing director Nigel Mills said his tip for successful retailing was to declutter stores.

"Many retailers make the mistake of stocking their stores up to the rafters. This approach can work against them as c-store shoppers generally want to find items quickly. When it comes to stocking your store, less really is more," he added.