The cost of doing business in the small store sector is threatening to overwhelm so many of the consumer and lifestyle trends that should be triggering a boom in the industry.

I say this despite the crumbs of comfort offered by George Osborne in his autumn statement, which took the form of deferred business rates and a delayed fuel duty rise. In other words, there’s still the devil to pay, but he’s going to wait a few months.

At the same time utilities bills and the National Minimum Wage continue to rise, and even non-sexy items such as refuse disposal are becoming increasingly difficult for small retail businesses to afford.

But does Osborne have any other options? If you listen to his autumn statement (I’d recommend that you don’t), the theme could be summed up as ‘things are bad, but it’s not our fault’. In many ways, we are all victims of the global economy, from the pensioner shopping in your store, right up to the leaders of national governments, and we’re all in it together.

So the challenge is to control costs while being able to help your customers by keeping prices as low as possible, and it’s a tricky balancing act that is probably only going to get harder. Which is why the government needs to do even more to support small businesses, instead of just delaying the next shockwave.

Another year over

This is our last issue of 2011, and I hope the year has been good to you.

Twelve months ago, there was thick snow on the ground, which brought its share of challenges, but was generally good news for local stores, and I hope you’ve been able to carry that momentum through the year.

But with the triple whammy of reduced consumer spending, rising costs and increased competition, it’s not been easy for anyone.

But is next year going to be better? The economy isn’t expected to grow much, if at all, and both public and private sector wages are at a virtual standstill. So there’s no new money about and, while there are still many trends in favour of local shopping, business next year will be mainly about fighting over the available pie, not making it larger.

So your shop will need to be as attractive, efficient and well-stocked as possible to take advantage of the opportunities and overcome the competition. And that’s where we come in. At Convenience Store, we promise to keep providing you with the news, views, advice and information you need to help keep your business on top. Merry Christmas, and we’ll see you in the new year.