Alan finds that some independents are showing the strain so it's time for some analysis

It's a story I hear more often than I would hope: more than a few independent retailers are saying that trade is tougher than ever.

Local stores face higher operational costs and they can only go so far in cutting staff hours, haggling with wholesalers and finding lower cost prices. More and more independents are buying from superstores impossible to prove, but not hard to believe.

Advice is not in short supply if an independent retailer seeks it. It is abundant in the trade media research gurus have the answer to every issue. But what makes good copy often leaves the reader more frustrated than ever.

So what's the answer? Take a look at the burgeoning Tesco Express. The stores are clinical, de-ranged (a new word I have coined to mean lacking in choice) not the cheapest, and not as profitable as they would appear, but who is counting?

Having some insight through a former manager, I believe the secret lies in analysing everything until the pips squeak. Analysis, analysis, analysis is the mantra which drives some Cheshunt folk crackers, but it works.

How many small businesses kick their figures about, see where the trends are, and regularly try different selling mechanisms? A Worthing retailer says he now has just three specific segments of wine pricing to ensure his loyal customers keep coming back. He sees a growing number of drinkers looking for low-priced plonk of strange and obscure provenance. They are often heavy smokers and buy confectionery, celeb magazines and ready meals. He takes great care to maintain volume on best-selling brands and also has a restricted showing of decent £10 labels (but much smaller than a year ago).

He uses this formula in grocery, too, and figures continue to stack up. He arrived at it by analysing sales for the first 10 weeks of 2010.

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