As National Independents' Week kicks off across the country and the nation's media focuses its attention on the future of the small shop, the message is: you're more important than ever.
A poll of Convenience Store readers has confirmed that 98% of store owners see their shop as an important part of the community it serves, with more than half saying that the local store now plays a more vital role in the shaping of its local community than ever before. The retailers see themselves as providing a service on a local level which the national multiples cannot hope to match.
The findings echo the words of former CBI boss Sir Digby Jones, who last month described local stores as "the glue which binds communities together". Praising them for their contribution to social inclusion and wealth creation, he said: "Without you in our communities, there wouldn't be much left."
The survey, commissioned by Convenience Store and the My Shop Is Your Shop (MSYS) campaign, which promotes National Independents' Week (June 4-10), also found that 91% of independent retailers felt their neighbourhood had a strong sense of community and that residents would like to take a more active role in local activities. They acknowledged that the more their business is involved with the local community, the greater the motivation for its members to use the shop.
Retailers believed that the local store or post office was the main point of contact for the community, and the place in which neighbours interact with each other most. It was seen as more important than the church, community centre or doctors' surgery, with the local supermarket dismissed almost entirely.
Alan Toft, chairman of MSYS, says of the findings: "The depth of feeling for the community and the way that independents see themselves at ease with their customers just cannot be replicated by the multiples. You just can't see a superstore manager having his finger on the pulse of the local community in quite the same way as an independent who lives over the shop, whose kids go to the same school as customers' kids and who personally shares the ups and downs of the neighbourhood."
The survey rated a good independent local shop as one of the four pillars of a successful community, along with neighbours' support for each other, good housing and good schools. However, a lack of amenities for young people topped the poll as the biggest threat to community, along with street crime and poor local services. The expansion of the larger supermarket chains and the closure of post offices were also mentioned as factors.
An overwhelming 76% of retailers said that not enough was being done by local authorities, police and residents' groups to help promote community values.
The survey also invited C-Store readers to suggest areas in which their wholesaler could improve its service. Lower prices and a better range of products topped the wish list, but more advice on marketing and increased visits from wholesalers' reps were also rated highly.
NIW launches with a gift to customers
The build up to National Independents' Week hits its stride today (June 1) with independent retailers offering their customers a gift of £4.25 in discounts.
The promotion gives store owners the chance to reward customers who support their local shops with money-off coupons on 12 well-known brands, distributed in the Daily Mirror and the Daily Record. Almost 6.5 million people will receive the coupons as a four-page insert in the newspapers, which will also run news stories throughout the week on independent retailers who are stars in their local community.
Alan Toft, chairman of the My Shop Is Your Shop (MSYS) campaign, which sponsors NIW, says: "It's equal to retailers handing customers £4.25 in cash when they hand over the Mirror or the Record."
He adds: "It's not a poster in a shop window, or a price marked on pos - it's a tangible money-saving incentive to the shopper saying 'Celebrate our National Independents' Week with us - and here's £4.25 for you to
What the Convenience Store/MSYS research found:
Do you believe your shop is in an area with a strong sense of community?
Is community as important as it has ever been?
More important 53%
As important 34%
Less important 13%
How important is your shop to your community?
Very important 63%
Fairly important 13%
Do you believe companies like Tesco are able to play a grass roots active role in your community?
Do you believe there is a pride among your customers about where they live?
What are the contributors to a successful community?
(1 = extremely important, 10 = totally unimportant)
Strong neighbours culture where people look
out for one another 4.18
Good quality housing for all 4.73
Good schools including pre- and after-school clubs 4.73
Good independent local shops 5.09
Clean and safe streets 5.25
Effective policing 5.64
Range of accessible facilities for the young 5.90
Community facilities for the elderly 5.92
Good accessible medical facilities 6.63
Green and open space environment 6.89
If you believe your community is under threat, where is that threat coming from?
Not enough activities for the young 30%
Street crime 22%
Poor local services 19%
Social deprivation 13%
Lack of personal service 7%
Do you believe enough is being done by local authorities, police and community groups to promote your community spirit and values?
Do you think that your involvement in your community is helping you maintain a good business?
Where do people nurture personal relationships in your community?
Local store 31%
Post office 22%
Church or place of worship 22%
Community centre 13%
Doctors' surgery 9%
Multiple supermarket 3%
Do you believe the My Shop Is Your Shop campaign has in any way helped you to connect with your community?
Do you believe the MSYS campaign has inspired you to re-think your general business philosophy regarding your community in any way?
Survey: 492 respondents