As the new year unfolds against a backdrop of rising VAT and general belt-tightening, there are still many positives for the convenience retail sector to focus on.

The cloud on the horizon

As the new year unfolds against a backdrop of rising VAT and general belt-tightening, there are still many positives for the convenience retail sector to focus on.

At Convenience Store, we are always in conversation with independent store owners, and it seems that the sector has generally enjoyed good sales in recent months, and retailers remain optimistic about the future. Whatever the economic peaks and troughs, food retail has always been a safe haven, and as long as the population keeps growing, so should the market for food. And the sector’s continuing investment in stores and excellent customer service are also of real significance.

There remains one cloud on the horizon, though, and that’s the continued unchecked growth of the multiples.

An increasingly common thread in our conversations is the opening of a major multiple in the neighbourhood. Independent retailers expect to be hit hard when this happens, but happily this is not always the case.

However, the big question is, at what point does this relentless growth need to stop? Or have we already reached that point and gone past it?

The sale of Mills to Tesco’s One Stop division is symptomatic of the new reality. Nigel Mills is entitled to sell the family firm to whomever he likes and for whatever motive. But the main reason independent chains sell up to the multiples is because their own possibilities for growth are limited. And the major factor limiting this growth is the increasing prevalence of multiple stores in every street.

We need a ‘big picture’ view from the government here, and we need some firm action to limit this unchecked expansion before all future potential is erased from an otherwise healthy and vibrant industry.

Delivering quality

Innovation is one of the key things that keeps the independent trade healthy, so Booker’s home shopping trial Premier Delivered is both intriguing and welcome.

Supermarket-branded home delivery vehicles are an increasingly common sight, so it’s a market the independent sector needs to get involved in. For one thing, home shopping provides a great opportunity for local retailers to increase their average basket spend. And the intriguing extra element of Booker’s initiative is that it allows consumers to order not just from the retailer’s range, but from the wholesaler’s. 

If this can be implemented successfully, this is a potential win for independents, as it gives them a means to satisfy every customer’s tastes without having to carry huge numbers of lines themselves.

All in all, it looks like it could be a big step forward for the independent trade in the battle for the basket.