In a new column, data analyst SalesOut argues that the independent sector is doing well

Despite predictions that the credit crunch and severe economic downturn would adversely impact sales for small stores, like-for-like sales through the independent sector have been in positive growth in the past 12 months, says SalesOut, which analyses sales movements from wholesaler to independent retailer.

Commercial director Steve Collins says: "Apart from a small sales decline in May 2008, growth has remained buoyant throughout the past 12 months with even the lowest point at November 2008 still showing sales growth of +1.6%. Overall, the independent sector remains strong and is achieving a moving annual total growth of +4.8%, with peaks of +7.8% and +8% in January and February respectively.

"This consistent growth is being driven by a consumer trend towards shopping locally, which is typical in a recession," he continues. "Consumers typically react by replacing their weekly trip to the supermarket with more frequent, smaller trips to an independent store, or by topping up at local stores in between trips to the supermarket, saving money through buying less and reducing fresh food wastage."

But despite signs of resilience, independent stores cannot afford to be lax, argues Collins. "The multiples continue to pose a significant threat, with heavy discounting on branded products and national campaigns to promote their own product lines and recession-focused deals. Independent stores must continue to focus on increasing store standards and their first-hand knowledge of their local market to identify opportunities and ensure that they are stocking the right products in a professionally merchandised environment, supported by great customer service."

To ensure that the sector has access to reliable sales information, SalesOut will be providing regular updates to C-Store from a sample of more than 5,000 independent stores, including 3,000 symbol outlets.

With access to this real sales data, independent stores will be able to benchmark their range and sales against the industry as a whole.