I can usually rely on Steve Edwards for pithy comment on the state of the convenience sector. He now runs a c-store, but bills himself as “the ex-cop from Cleethorpes”. He writes: “The concerted attack on the small business community and in particular the c-store sector is unprecedented and a serious threat to the survival of our community.
“Strong words, but I really believe that is now the case and wonder what the motivation can be.
“Our business has been in our family for 40 or so years and we have seen many changes and have done our best to meet those challenges, but as a small business I now believe we are close to the end of the road and, as retirement beckons, our business will disappear and so an important part of the community also goes.”
To demonstrate how much they are involved in the community he relates that a customer recently collapsed in the street and was injured; staff cleaned him up and Steve later checked on his well being, but got no reply so sent the police round to ensure he was okay.
“The combined attack of the living wage, increase in business rates (in my case from £13k, up to £21k, then back down to £20,250 in a week), the cigarette revolution that has thrown lots of businesses into confusion, have all come at the same time and all in the name of progress.
“So how have we dealt with this? We have cut staff, cut staff hours, cut opening hours, decreased double-manning on a night-time, work more hours for no pay as owners.”
His new strategy is to reduce the size of the existing shop as he has a ‘double shop’; this will get him under the business rate relief, and he can now rent out the other shop, which also will be under the business rate relief.
“So now no rates at all and now rent from the other shop as well. If this reduces our turnover then more staff will go, further hours will be reduced. Is this progress? I did not want to do this, but I am significantly better off as an employer so thank you for pushing me into this: one staff member lost her job, all staff lost hours, community losing rates income, business downsizing, no real new investment.”
And, of course, he sees that the big companies which are forcing the little guys into the corner are getting all the perks. “And I must confess to starting to believe that maybe this is done by design, that there is a strategy behind this to dispose of the troublesome small businesses and concentrate on the large ones?”
Steve says he has no political agenda as he is a staunch Conservative.
He concludes with a message to the powers that be: “Your message is strength and stability so give us the strength and stability that you are denying us at this time.”