New research shows that Convenience Store’s readers are feeling more than a little confident about their businesses and are planning to invest in new fixtures and product ranges. David Rees gets behind the figures.

Convenience store retailers had a good year last year, expect an even better one during 2005 and are preparing to invest in new equipment and product ranges to meet their customers needs.

These are the findings of Convenience Store’s latest readership survey. Based on more than 500 written questionnaires and telephone interviews this spring, the study gives a valuable insight into the levels of optimism and future plans of small store retailers in the UK.

Responses were received from multiple, symbol and unaffiliated businesses, but most respondents are owners, proprietors or partners in a single, independently-owned store. As many as 80% of readers now classify themselves as a ‘convenience store’ rather than an independent grocer, the highest figure ever recorded in a C-Store readership survey.
C-Store readers’ turnovers have increased over the past 12 months by an average of 8.7%. Despite this healthy rise, most readers expect next year to be even better, with turnover expected to increase by an average of 9.2%.

Categories expected to grow as a proportion of total turnover next year include alcohol, confectionery, fresh & chilled and soft drinks. A significant number of retailers also expect non-traditional c-store categories such as food to go, non food, and in-store services to make an increasing contribution to their businesses’ bottom line in the next 12 months, while tobacco is widely perceived as a category in decline. However, one in four readers still believe that tobacco sales will increase faster than overall shop sales next year.

Overall, 75% of readers are optimistic about the future of their own business, while 59% are optimistic about the prospects for the convenience store sector as a whole. On average, retailers will spend £12,430 per store on refitting and refurbishment of their premises in the next two years - a significantly increased figure compared to C-Store’s last survey in 2002.

Nearly a third (30%) of respondents have been approached about selling their store. There was no strong pattern in the type of organisations that had made the approaches to retailers, with estate agents the most commonly named by just 9% of respondents.

Three out of 10 independent retailers said they used epos, while 78% are connected to the internet either at home or work. Around 18% of retailers communicate with wholesalers or suppliers via the internet, while 12% of respondents use the internet to order stock.
But while retailers develop their businesses, some other elements remain depressingly unchanged.

Nearly one in three stores (29%) have been a target of violent crime recently, and of the perpetrators of crimes, only 40% have been caught and convicted, retailers say.