Twenty one years is a long time in retailing. With all the buying and acquiring of the past few years, a lot can happen in 21 days. Look back to 1985, and even old Arkwright was coming to an end, with the fourth and final series of Open All Hours airing that autumn.

The programme first ran in 1973 so by 1985 Arkwright’s store was looking like something out of a museum. So what exactly would a c-store circa 1985 have looked like? The answer is simple: a lot different to one today. There was no epos or scanning, pos meant hand-written signs and bogofs were unheard of.

Kim Cameron runs KK Cameron, a Londis store in Fort William, that’s been trading for 130 years. He says: “We moved into our present premises about 39 years ago and went self-service then. It was a radical move for us. In the 1980s scanning was still a long way off - we were one of the first stores to use it but I don’t think that was before 1985. We couldn’t get exactly what we wanted from Mace so we put in our own system and had to enter all the prices by hand.

“In the 1980s we also bought direct so I’d spend all my time seeing reps - ordering via scanning was one of the really big steps forward for us. The only good thing about the reps was that when they had a new product they’d give us free samples to try so we could sell on recommendation - there’s none of that now.”

Kim says Fort William high street was a lot different way back then - for a start it was chock-a-block with independent traders including butchers, fishmongers, six grocers and two greengrocers. Kim recalls that his store was much more of a grocers in 1985, whereas today it’s a full-on c-store. “Bake-off was non-existent and we didn’t do any takeaway food. Today convenience foods are what people want.”

Kim has four sons but unfortunately can’t see any of them going into retailing: “They’ve seen the hours their father works and don’t fancy it,” he says.

Kim says business in 2006 is good and he puts a lot of that down to being part of Londis. “I joined Londis five years ago and business then wasn’t particularly good, but Londis has revitalised me and the business.”

Much further south, in Southampton, Savages Supermarket has been trading for nearly 70 years. Present-day managing director Martin Sanger remembers retailing in the 1980s as a very time-consuming business. “We priced everything with a gun whereas now with IT we can change prices in seconds. And in the 1980s there weren’t the credit cards around that there are today, so the speed of each transaction is so much faster now.”

Many innovations have speeded up the c-store operation but something that has slowed it down is red tape. “There are so many more rules today. We have to take the temperature of the freezers three times a day, for example,” says Martin.

Another difference is pos. “My mum and dad went to a local man who painted the signs for them or drew them - now we have proper signage with photos. Things are a lot smarter in the shop now that we don’t have shelf-edge pricing everywhere. But consumers expect a lot more information - everything has to include its price per kilogram, for example.

“People today also expect much better quality. Store standards have improved vastly and we’re always setting new standards. We’ve got better quality staff and they all get training. It’s benefited the customers but there’s a higher cost to the retailer and there’s masses more paperwork.”

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