Jackie Symons took on a small shop and post office (Prees Village Stores in Shropshire) six years ago. She writes: "I managed to grow the turnover in the shop by more than 100% and even managed to improve PO turnover despite the loss of several national contracts. So why can't I get any of the symbol groups to accept me?"
The store, at 750sq ft, she admits, is on the smallish side, but she adds: "What gets me is that there are numerous petrol forecourt shops locally that are much smaller than my shop, and yet they get signed up without problem.
"One garage has swapped symbol groups about three times in the past five years and their selling area (excluding oil and motor stuff) is about 250sq ft."
She has spoken to most of the big names Londis, Nisa, Costcutter and Mace but they have told her that they have an unofficial minimum store size of about 1,000sq ft.
"Premier Express originally said 'probably', but then came back and said they needed higher minimum drops and turnovers. The rep actually said that there were a few stores they had accepted that they then had to revisit and tell they no longer qualified. That might just be rep speak, of course."
She concludes: "Don't get me wrong I understand it might not be worth their while below a certain size but it ticks me off that forecourts are somehow exempt from the criteria that they apply to the rest of us."
One of the groups offered to do a local demographic survey, at her cost, to try and establish the potential the latter being the crucial word in this exercise.
Since I know that, from time to time, the symbol groups launch various 'packages' to suit various sizes/locations/styles of trading, I did a ring around on the subject. Jackie is pretty much right.
Michaela Honeywood, head of symbol for Mace, summed up both the theory and practice. "Each case is judged on its merit. But the typical c-store is 1,500-1,800sq ft and the ideal would be 2,000sq ft-plus. It's to do with the shop offer."
Alex Rimmer, communications manager for Nisa-Today's, agrees: "There are few locations capable of trading as a Nisa Local under 1,000sq ft and our heartland and average size is 2,300sq ft. In this space we can accommodate a good c-store range with a strong chilled and grocery offer and this will fulfil the necessary requirements of shoppers."
A Costcutter spokeswoman also agreed that 1,000sq ft would be the usual minimum. "But there could be other factors to consider, such as the number of stores in the area," she added.
Londis says its minimum is 500sq ft, but "preferable would be over 1,000sq ft". The group also points out that with petrol forecourts, you are not really comparing like with like.
Perhaps someone will spot this gap and create a new group to suit what must be a fair chunk of the market. Mighty Midget anyone?