What kind of year has it been for you? It will, of course, depend on where you are, or how you measure success, but for most people in the industry I have spoken to recently, it has been surprisingly good.

Sales growth of 5% for the past year is a common achievement in the independent sector, and 10% not unprecedented. Not necessarily a great year, admittedly, but probably better than expected, and certainly better than anyone could have predicted 12 months ago when financial institutions were collapsing and the national media were frothing at the mouth.

There is no doubt that the financial meltdown has brought misery to many, but it hasn't hit local retailing too hard. With money and particularly credit tighter, shoppers have cut down on eating out, and budgeted by shopping little and often, and using cash. All of this helped local c-stores keep turnover healthy.

But the surprisingly good year only really happened because the trade was in a position to capitalise on it. Investment in ranges and ever-improving store standards have helped our industry not just attract but also retain regular customers, and this is the result of years of hard work, not just the blip of a bursting financial bubble. A lot of credit for this must go to wholesalers and symbol groups, who have taken a much more innovative and long-term approach to supporting retailers in recent years.

We've seen greater investment in people, too. The average member of staff at a local store is better trained, better rewarded and more focused than was the case 10 years ago. And behind them is a new crop of store owners, often with already well-honed business and technology skills to bring fresh impetus to the industry. Some plans have been thwarted by banks, but others have taken the plunge into large investments.

And I even think that some progress has been made with the government and other officials. The vote in favour of banning the display of tobacco was a setback, which shows that there is a long way to go yet before most MPs who claim to support their local shops will actually act to do so, but I think the debate was a real eye-opener and there will at least be a pause for thought before the next burden is imposed.

So what next? There's still much to do, with costs of energy, rates and other overheads high up on the list of challenges and no obvious signs of a massive rise in consumer spending on the horizon. But as we sit on the cusp of 2010, things could certainly be worse.

This is our last issue of the year, so merry Christmas to you all, and a particularly happy new year.

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