The future starts now

Nothing has the potential to make you look foolish as quickly as attempting to predict the future. However, this is certainly the time of year to look forward rather than back, so we've done a bit of crystal ball-gazing for our cover feature.

The future remains uncertain, but at least most of the immediate challenges are clear. First, although consumer spending will probably pick up as confidence returns to the economy, the credit crunch has put paid to the idea of constant and unthinking consumption, possibly for ever. In 2010, every pound spent by a customer will have to be hard earned by the retailer.

In addition, the trade will have to add new strings to its bow. While traditional product categories remain important, they are probably not going to deliver on their own the margins retailers need to keep investing and staying ahead of the curve of rising business and labour costs and an increasingly oppressive regime of legislation.

So if there is one thing that the trade will need to prosper in the new landscape, it is the ability learn new skills. Retailers and their staff will have to quickly become experts in new product ranges such as fresh vegetables and chilled foods, and also to learn new ways to engage customers and persuade them to spend more. As products become increasingly short-life, with chilled and freshly prepared food to go taking an increasing share of space, the ability to upsell will be vital in the constant battle to control wastage while maintaining availability. Retailers and their staff will need to become salesmen, even showmen, more than ever before.

Let it snow

Snowfall is usually good news for local stores, so the heavy covering most of the country received in late December was a real Christmas bonus for the trade. And it's still coming down as I write this.

Many stores and symbol groups reported that last February's snowfall kick-started a sales upturn that lasted the entire year, as shoppers had their eyes opened to the increasingly impressive offer available in their local shop.

But while the snow is fortuitous, the strong performance of the independent convenience store industry in the past year is not down to luck, but is rather the end product of much hard work, investment and, above all, entrepreneurial vision from retailers. Local stores are no longer the poor relation of the grocery trade, and in many ways are its driving force.

The snow is continuing to direct customers locally, the next challenge is to keep them there. I am confident the trade is up to the task.

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