Scales of justice

If there is one topic that has dominated the convenience store sector for five, maybe 10 years, it's the incursion of the multiple grocers into neighbourhood retailing.

A process that began with Tesco's joint venture with Esso and acquisitions of Adminstore and One-Stop has now become a permanent feature of the retail landscape, with practically all multiple grocery chains now running local stores as well as large supermarkets.

Two of the last operators to get involved, Waitrose and Morrisons, will be giving significant impetus to their c-store ambitions this year. As I've said before, this is not entirely bad news, because it does give a focus and a credibility to the convenience channel as far as suppliers are concerned. But, of course, there is a massive downside as any increased competition will make a competitive trading environment even tougher.

Most independents I speak to remain convinced that they have the standards, the quality of service and the local community engagement to continue to trade successfully, but the major multiples still have the edge on pricing. That's why it's doubly annoying that the only concrete recommendation by the competition authorities to have made it as far as the Houses of Parliament, the new Groceries Code Adjudicator, is being resisted by big stores on the grounds of it causing higher prices. But a stronger regulation of relations between multiple supermarkets and small suppliers (particularly farmers) would help to create a climate of fairer, sustainable prices across the board. And that should mean that the deciding factor between retail success and failure will be skill, not scale.

Supplementary benefits

Apologies for all the loose material falling out of your issue of Convenience Store this week, but I think there's a lot there that could be useful to your business.

Firstly, our Fascia Focus guide will provide you with plenty of food for thought if you are considering enhancing your store with a new image and offer.

And secondly, don't miss the opportunity to put your key members of staff forward for our annual Sales Assistant of the Year competition. To make things easier for you, we have supplied an entry guide for every reader on the external address carriage sheet. Simply ask your candidate to answer the six questions on a separate sheet of paper and include a few words from yourself as to why they mean so much to you and your business, and send it back to us.

We are continually amazed and delighted by the quality of candidates we see every year, and this awards programme is a great opportunity to give them some recognition. And, as previous winners will testify, it's great publicity for the shop, too.