the breathtaking rise in the cost of gas and electricity over the past 18 months has hit the majority of independent retailers for six. Take Chris Pollard of Barlby Village Stores near Selby, Yorkshire, who this week told Convenience Store that he's having to cut staff hours and spend more time on the shop floor himself to meet a crippling £2,700-a-month electricity bill.

To attract and keep customers, stores need to look good and offer the right mix of products - and that means lighting, chillers, freezers, possibly hot beverage machines and bake-off ovens too, as well as electronic tills and merchandising display screens, all working away in a small space for several hours every day.

While some energy savings can be made in these areas, too harsh a reduction could mean you are not merchandising your products as effectively as you should, and sales and footfall will suffer as a result.

That's why we have been encouraging our readers to seize the opportunity to make a simple saving which won't affect sales. By changing your power supplier you will be able to negotiate the best possible tariff for your business and, crucially, you'll avoid being 'rolled over' onto a higher rate by your existing supplier when your initial contract ends.

Our aim is that by May 1 - which we're calling Cancellation Day - we will have convinced every C-Store reader to give their supplier notice that they will not renew their contract when it ends. And our hope is that by doing that, you will all be free to find a cheaper deal at the appropriate time, saving yourself hundreds or even thousands of pounds a year in the process.

In a recent issue (Convenience Store, January 23) we explained how to give notice of termination. The next stage is to find the best new supplier for you, and to aid you in your search here are the nine key questions to ask before signing up to a new agreement.
Key questions to ask about a new energy contract
1. What is the charge per unit? Are there any fixed or standing charges?

2. Can the price I pay for energy change during the life of the contract? Are charges fixed or variable? If they are fixed, how long for?

3. What happens at the end of my contract? What do I need to do if I don't want to renew my contract?

4. What is the length of this contract? Will you remind me of the contract end date? What do I have to do if I want to end the contract early?

5. How and when do I contact you if I want to switch energy supplier?

6. Who can I contact to find out more information about my contract? What information will they need from me?

7. Under what circumstances can my energy supply be cut off?

8. What options do I have on payment terms?

9. Am I committed to a minimum or maximum volume of energy?

Source: Consumer Focus