The growth of the supermarket chains has been a prime concern of independent retailers for many years now and at a time when consumer spending is being squeezed ever tighter, the last thing you need is a multiple competitor opening over the road. Yet this is a very real prospect for hundreds, if not thousands, of you. Tesco alone opened 41 new supermarkets and more than 200 new convenience stores in the last financial year, and the company is aiming to open a similar amount of sales space in the current one.

Can it be stopped? Possibly not, but it can certainly be slowed. Standing up to the mega retailers might seem daunting, but if you are facing the prospect of a new supermarket or multiple-owned c-store opening in your area then I hope you find our toolkit on p12 a useful place to start.

What won't work is simply saying that a new supermarket will take your business away. Planning committees have to make decisions based on planning law, particularly when they are under pressure of a costly challenge from the multiples' powerful legal teams. So you have to act smarter to protect your business, and instead tell the council about how new developments will affect traffic flows, draw money out of the community, upset the balance of the local economy and disrupt the lives of local residents.

The march of the supermarkets is difficult to stop, but don't be resigned to defeat. Use your local knowledge and community spirit to contest development in your area, and get your customers to back you.

Because if you act swiftly and make a lot of noise, you'll find that the local planners will be forced to deal with a hot potato instead of a rubber stamp next time the supermarkets come calling.

Community shield
Enlisting the support of the local community will, of course, be a lot easier if you give something to them in return. But I am pleased to say that this is not usually a problem where successful independent retailers are concerned. As our feature on p24 confirms, being actively engaged in local projects is not just a nice thing to do, it pays off on the bottom line, too.

What is particularly pleasing is that there are dozens, possibly hundreds, more retailers that we could have featured in this article, as the independent trade as a whole has understood and endorsed the value of neighbourhood stores being a force for good in the community. And that is a great weapon for the little guy in his battle against the major supermarket chains.