The majority of retailers are bullish about the new year, despite the VAT rise and economic uncertainty, according to a Convenience Store poll.
"This year we're going to have to work hard to educate customers that we are as competitively priced as the multiples. 2011 will be fine, but only because we will work hard to make it that way." Sheamus McFadden McFadden's Supershop, Strabane,Northern Ireland

"The economy will continue to be a challenge in 2011, but there will still be opportunities for retailers to do what's right for customers, such as providing first-class service, the right promotions, and first-class availability." 
Steve Denham Cherilyn Village Stores, West Chiltington, West Sussex 

"I think it'll be a good year, but tough. The recent weather helped as it introduced us to new customers who seem to have stayed with us." Simon Biddle Biddle's Convenience Store, Redditch, Worcestershire
While most c-store owners are anticipating a steady rather than spectacular 2011, only about 10% expressed significant concern about their prospects.

Many retailers believe customers will take the 2.5% VAT increase in their stride, although there are concerns over the impact on tobacco products. But the key to enjoying a successful 2011 will be a focus on customer service rather than price, store owners told C-Store.

Arjan Mehr, a Londis retailer in Bracknell, Berkshire, was particularly optimistic, especially having retained many of the customers he attracted during December's snowfall. "They are pleasantly surprised we can compete with the mults," he said.

He added that customers' priorities had changed. "We need to move away from our obsession with price. The new generation the professionals with families are not concentrating just on price in stores nowadays, they also want service. It's a different pysche."

Bill Brown, an independent retailer in Barnstaple, Devon, was more apprehensive about the year ahead, especially in light of a new two-storey Tesco opening nearby next month. "Our aspiration is to do as well as last year. The only way we're going to get around it is upping customer service," he said.

His main concern over the VAT rise was its impact on fuel. "There may be no VAT on all food, but there is on the fuel needed to get it here."

Vincent Bohannon of Post Office Stores in Handcross, West Sussex, agreed that competing with the mults on service rather than price was the way forward. "In the 'real' recession in the early 1990s I put the prices up and never got into trouble."

Subash Patel, a Spar retailer in Richmond, Surrey, was also awaiting the opening of a nearby Tesco. "Our customers say they will support us, and good promotions will work. We will give a good fight."