When Paul Fisher's grandfather Charles bought the butcher's in Gerrards Cross in Buckinghamshire along with the adjoining properties back in 1969, he planned to add a supermarket to the chain of 34 shops his family had built up over several decades.

But the opening of the 4,000sq ft AA Fisher's store coincided with the beginning of the rise of the multiples, and the family empire like hundreds of other high street independents slowly succumbed until only the Gerrards Cross store remained. The Fishers' flagship had become their fortress.

The battles didn't end there, and by the late 1990s the village was immersed in what turned out to be a 13-year war with Tesco after the retail giant announced plans to build a massive store right in its heart.

Quite why Britain's biggest discounter felt the need for a 25,000sq ft store in a village of 9,000 affluent residents, 500 of whom are said to be millionaires, is unclear. The locals certainly didn't want it, with 93% opposing the development in a 1996 poll. Neither did the lack of a suitable site put Tesco off: it announced it would build over the railway cutting which bisects the town.

Residents and the local council fought long and hard against this cuckoo in their nest, but the plentiful protests and placards proved no match for a costly spiral of applications and appeals, which went all the way to Cabinet level before deputy prime minister John Prescott finally gave the project the green light.

Game over? Not quite. In June 2005 the tunnel being built over the railway line collapsed, causing months of chaos to commuters and local businesses.

Tesco grovelled, opened its wallet again to compensate the railway company, the passengers and the business tenants affected, and curried favour with locals even replacing the village's Christmas lights.

The juggernaut rolled on, and after four years and immense expense the news came through: construction could begin again, with an opening date set for November 2010.

Down the road at Fisher's, brothers Bill and Tim had a decision to make to sell, or to stand and fight? Could a dynasty that began with their great, great grandfather William be about to end? There was really only ever one answer to that, and true to form they didn't look far from home to find the way forward.

Bill's son Paul hadn't expected to end up in the family business he'd established himself as a property surveyor but when the call came, aged 27, he brought what his father calls an air of professionalism to Fisher's, as well as his own business instincts and his wife Sam's accountancy and interior design skills.

"I think I look at things from a different angle," Paul tells C-Store. "My approach is a lot less romantic."

Just as well. The years of uncertainty over the future had left the store in limbo, and with the original fascia and checkouts from 40 years ago. Narrow aisles and a once-fashionable one-way flow made the place feel dated, and the chillers and freezers were a motley collection of misfits compiled over the years.

However, rather than embark on a series of minor upgrades, Bill had made sure that money was put aside for a full overhaul of the store when the time was right.

Paul saw plenty to give him hope of a revival. The butchery the family speciality is top-notch and uncle Tim's trader instincts and eye for a deal ensure the store anticipates customer demand.

A strong partnership with Nisa-Today's, their wholesaler since 1986, and an efficient epos system take care of the backroom operations. Outside, there's a 40-space car park, a luxury given to few small stores.

Best of all, he saw committed, cheerful staff and an ageing but affluent customer base who were used to being treated with respect and patience. Here was an advantage that no amount of the multiple's money could take away.

"We have customers who come in, hand over a shopping list, and wait while we make it up for them," Paul reveals. "They're not going to get that kind of service down the road. We like to treat our customers with respect rather than as a cash cow to be flogged."

Point of difference

C-Store met Paul exactly 12 months before his enormous neighbour is due to open, and it's clear that the pre-emptive strike is already well under way. "We've got a year to transform this place and show the regulars we're here for them," he says. "We know where we can compete and where we can't, and Tesco's weaknesses will be our strengths."

That means cutting mainstream grocery lines down to a minimum and focusing on the premium end of the range. "We'll let Tesco stock the cheap toilet rolls and baked beans, but anything they don't have, we'll take on," says Paul. That means plenty of local produce, such as Lacey's milk from a nearby farm, Chiltern Ridge apple juice and soups made by a customer. Elsewhere, it's premium ranges to the fore, such as Lindt chocolate and Gü puddings.

"We'll stock things you won't find anywhere else specialist chocolates and South African, American and Polish products in fact, we'll get anything for anyone," boasts Paul.

Playing to its advantages, the store is built around the butchers section, with its mouth-watering range of sausages made on the premises. "A customer went to Sainsbury's and came back to us, amazed that they couldn't trim her meat for her because they weren't allowed to use knives," says an astonished Paul. "Plenty of people still remember when my grandfather stood behind the counter here, and there's a huge local affection for our attentive service and the quality of our offer."

Building on that, Paul's first investment has been to extend the deli section and introduce a wide aisle for the dairy chillers. This, and the creation of a new entrance area which transforms what was a rather dour supermarket into a welcoming convenience store, is the first phase of the fight back.

Another change already under way is a subtle rebranding. The severe 70s fascia is coming down and up will go the new Fisher's brand logo which builds on the family heritage in fact, it's based on Paul's grandmother's signature.

But it's still early days in the preparations. Still to come, the window vinyls that cover two-thirds of the frontage will disappear so passers-by can see everything that's inside, and the shelves will be rotated through 90 degrees to run parallel with the street.

With lower fixtures in the front row carrying fruit and veg, taller racks behind them, and the deli and kiosk at either end, the plan is to put all the store's jewels on full display.

Widening the aisles will mean less shelf space but better use of what there is and upright chillers will line the outer walls, finally putting out to pasture the gurgling misfits.

"Suddenly everyone's excited," says Paul. "Customers were worried about what would happen to their local store, as some of them have been coming here for 40 years, so they're pleased to see us carving a niche for ourselves."

After the physical changes will come a full-on publicity campaign to remind the village just what a valuable resource they have in their midst. And while Paul is expecting to be targeted by a blitz of silly-price promotions when the deep-pocketed rival opens, he's confident Fisher's, and its loyal customer base, will see that through.