The tough trading environment is producing a new generation of elite independent retailers, who will be better equipped to survive future challenges, according to Costcutter managing director Nick Ivel.

The economic climate is forcing many retailers to be more disciplined when ordering stock - helping them to cut back on waste and save money, he said.

"Retailers don't have the spare cash that they had before, meaning they can't go and buy large amounts of stock in advance. This is forcing them to think much harder about their buying."

Ivel added that these more savvy retailers were now reaping the rewards. "It's been a steep learning curve, but it's paying off for them now," he said.

"Forward-thinking retailers who run their stores properly and stock the right range at the right price are performing very well," he commented.

"Just look at Costcutter, we've just had the best ever January, February and March in the history of the company."

Sales across the Costcutter estate were up by 9.17% year-on-year for the three months to March, and the company has recruited 57 stores this year.

Costcutter says it plans to improve the support it provides to retailers in 2009, with an array of new services on its MyCostcutter website.

More than 800 members have already signed up to the new online portal, and with the internet becoming an increasingly important business tool, Costcutter hopes to start running a 100% paperless system in the next couple of years.

The group has just launched a new MyInvoicing section on the site, which allows retailers to view their invoices, direct debits and store details by means of a personalised portal.