Despite recession and lending restrictions, 2009 was a year of investment

The convenience industry is preparing for the new decade with a new breed of larger, better local store if it can find the money to fund the investment.

This year ends with independent retail chains throwing off the recession to invest in new property as Somerfield, Woolworths and Threshers stores came to market.

The trend towards formats above the 3,000sq ft threshold was reflected in c-store chain Mills Group's purchase of five stores above 5,000sq ft from the Co-operative Group.

Spar introduced its Eurospar concept to mainland Britain with Welsh retailer Conrad Davies doubling his portfolio with two larger stores and Appleby Westward announcing plans to launch 20 Eurospar outlets in the next decade. Spar managing director Jerry Marwood told Convenience Store: "The majority of our business is still in sub-3,000 sq ft c-stores but, when appropriate, larger stores are a good way of improving the return to independent retailers".

New independent groups Haldanes and Asco also launched with mid-market stores, while retail chains EFB, Rhythm and Booze and Venus took advantage of the disposal of Wine Cellar and First Quench assets to snap up stores in prime locations.

Dominic Perks of shopfitter Uno Retail Holdings said he expected "an explosion of refits" in early 2010 as credit becomes available.

"Bank funding and lease financing have been hit this year, but we have seen an increase in the number of more affordable changes such as new shelving, fridges and flooring," he said.

However, Colin Graves, executive chairman of Costcutter, said the bank squeeze may continue next year. "Retailers who can get their hands on finance have been fortunate, and the banks are already talking about another year of pulling the reins in. But some retailers have found money to invest from other sources, from family and so on."

Some 200 of the group's members had refreshed their stores in the past year, typically spending £5,000 to £10,000, he added, with a further 200 mini refits planned for 2010.

Figures from industry body IGD suggest the ongoing trend for a declining number of stores, but with an improved offer and larger sales area, will continue a further indication of the need for investment.