Nigel Dowdney
Earlham Shopper & Stalham Shopper, Swainsthorpe, Norfolk

Nigel is a campaigner for retailers' rights and board member of the Association of Convenience Stores. He and wife Sharon own two stores.

Dean Holborn
Holborns, Redhill, Surrey

Always open to new ideas, Dean increased sales at his store by introducing a coffee machine and seated area. He also turned around the local post office.

Ramesh Shingadia
Londis, Southwater, West Sussex

Ramesh won the 2009 Londis Retailer of the Year award. He often defends retailers' rights on issues such as proxy sales, shoplifting and tax increases.

Lionel Cashin
The News Shop, Market Weighton

With 26 years at Mars under his belt, Lionel has excellent knowledge of the food sector. He and wife Yvonne have run their local store since 2004, and haven't looked back.

How much do political issues affect the day-to-day running of your business?

Nigel: A huge amount. I'm involved with the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) and their campaign committee, but political issues also affect the store. At the moment, the government is bringing in legislation for the slightest thing there could be huge fines and prison sentences for accidentally flashing a pack of cigarettes at someone under 18. It's all about over-legislating to do something they think is a politically motivated good thing.

Dean: It matters a fair bit. I belong to the ACS and they do a really good job of highlighting industry issues at government level.

Ramesh: There's no doubt about it. I think every government comes with its own agenda and it has a huge impact on us. For example, there are issues directly affecting us, such as the cigarette display ban, and then there is also the way that the government is handling the recession, which affects customer spending.

Lionel: Enormously. The number of laws we have to take account of is incredibly time-consuming.

Does it matter who is in charge?

Nigel: That's a difficult one. The Tories are saying that they will look again at the tobacco ban and re-instate the need test in planning law, and they seem to be more pro-small businesses than Labour. But whether politicisation will genuinely change from party to party I doubt it.

Dean: Definitely at the moment there's a reasonable chance that the cigarette ban may get repealed if the Conservatives come into power.

Ramesh: In all honesty, I don't think it makes a difference to a huge extent.

Lionel: This government has been in for so long it's difficult to know what will happen, but any change will mean taking money out of the economy, which isn't good for anyone.

What item on a manifesto would act as an immediate turn-off?

Nigel: Further red tape and more draconian penalties on small businesses when they get things wrong.

Dean: If a party is in support of the tobacco display ban then that would put me right off.

Ramesh: If there's no real support for small businesses then I'll be quite turned off.

Lionel: A further relaxing of the planning laws.

What is the number one thing that the next government could do to win you over?

Nigel: There are lots of things I'd like to see, such as a repeal of the display ban, a change in the licensing laws and a reduction in red tape. But probably the most important thing for me is greater support for independent retailers, as opposed to the big businesses that's one area that this government is very bad at.

Dean: Putting a stop to the tobacco display ban would be top of my list, followed by crime legislation, a reduction in the minimum wage and a cap on minimum wage.

Ramesh: The next government could make life a lot easier for us by introducing tax breaks for smaller businesses and taking some of the burden of legislation away.

Lionel: We need tax incentives encouraging retailers to invest back into their businesses.

Beyond party manifestos, where do you look to for further information on what each party has to offer?
Nigel: I talk to my local MP quite a lot. He says he gets more emails from me than anyone else! I watch what's going on in the media and obviously through my activity with the ACS. 

Dean: I read the newspapers and check out websites. Also, the ACS is more than happy to guide you through if you have further questions. 

Ramesh: Obviously, I follow the national press, but also trade magazines. I discuss the different parties all the time with other retailers as I sit on lots of forums. 

Lionel: Our best info comes from the trade press it's the only media that covers how c-stores are directly affected by legislation
How can convenience retailers better make their voices heard by government?

Nigel: Definitely write to and speak to your local MP it's extremely important that they realise your concerns.

Dean: Attending ACS events is a good way to meet people. I've been to conferences where there have been several government ministers and MPs speaking and you have the opportunity to approach them.

Ramesh: We need to become a lot more active in a lot of the working groups and organisations such as the ACS and the National Federation of Retail Newsagents.

Lionel: It has to be through the trade associations, particularly the ACS.

What one piece of legislation would you pass if you had the power?

Nigel: I would change planning laws to favour planning applications from small stores.

Dean: Having supermarkets close on a Sunday would be nice! But realistically, I think that preventing the tobacco display ban from going ahead would be my main priority.

Ramesh: There is a huge amount of national debt. I'd like to put a mechanism in place to enable more relief for smaller businesses, and have open purse strings so that people can get access to funding.

Lionel: I'd abolish National Insurance tax for new starters for two years to encourage people to work.

Which party are you voting for?

Nigel: I have voted Labour for many years, but at this point I really don't know what I want.

Dean: I'll be voting Conservative. The amount of red tape we have to deal with at the moment goes on and on. It's time for a change.

Ramesh: I'd rather keep it private.

Lionel: I'll wait to see the manifestos. All of the parties have the power to make a better environment.

What would be the worst possible outcome from the election?

Nigel: The continuation of what we have at the moment. I don't think as independent retailers that we can carry on being knocked so hard. This election is crucial for us and we need to look very carefully at which party best meets our needs.

Dean: The worst would be if Labour stays in control and the display ban goes ahead.

Ramesh: The Labour government remaining in power would be disappointing.

Lionel: If there is no change the future for c-stores will continue to be under pressure.