Barely a week goes by without the tabloids telling consumers that they can now expect to vote, visit their GP, bank manager or whoever at their local supermarket. But why should these services be the sole domain of the multiples, when c-stores are so much handier for shoppers to visit?
Convenience store retailers have been adding extra services such as dry-cleaning and photocopying to their businesses for some time, but now it seems that they will have to go even further as the multiples have made this area the next battleground.
The good news is that many retailers are ready for this. After all, it is more than two years since Costcutter first linked up with pharmacy operator Numark to develop a jointly branded pharmacy and convenience store concept in the Hightown area of Liverpool.
At the same time the Co-operative Group has been at the forefront of moves to forge closer links between the police and local communities. The first of its 'cop shops' opened last April in Eltham, south-east London, and it has since opened three others in South Wales. These stores incorporate an office for neighbourhood police officers in a bid to reduce anti-social behaviour.
Some extra retail services such as GP surgeries and banks may well be more suited to the larger space and financial clout of the big multiples, but this is not to say that the innovative retailer can't tap into these services on a smaller scale.
When it comes to financial services, many independents already have great experience through in-store post offices and the growth of utility payment machines and money transfer systems. This could be extended to cover store debit cards or small-scale saving schemes.
Appean Sharma, a Costcutter retailer based in Eltham, says: "It is important that independents offer as many services as possible. We even go so far as to withdraw money from nearby cash machines for customers if the ATM in the shop isn't working."
Polling stations could offer another opportunity for retailers. The government is continuing to experiment with the locations of polling stations in a bid to encourage higher voter turnout and this has included a number of supermarkets hosting polling stations at recent elections.
While these trials have been broadly welcomed there are concerns that many of the supermarket voters won't come from the correct polling district and thus be unable to vote. For the most part this problem wouldn't exist if a c-store was the venue.
Appean says that introducing a polling station at a convenience store could be a great boost for business but acknowledges that space could prove a major obstacle. "It is good to have as varied an offer as possible but space and getting round the store are important," he says.
Appean's store is the very epitome of putting the high street under one roof. At just over 1,800sq ft, he has plans to double this in order to add more services, drive footfall and boost turnover. As it is, the store has a full-scale butchery counter where his staff bone and prepare the meat themselves. Two years ago he opened a garden centre behind his store and is in the process of opening a café and restaurant next door.
He argues that when a convenience store can marry the range of services that consumers might expect at a larger supermarket with the traditional values of local and friendly service, then the multiples simply can't touch them.
Appean says: "What I am trying to do is become a magnet for community investment and adding services is absolutely key. The garden centre has been a great success and we are currently selling two van loads of meat a week from our butchery counter. We also offer a key-cutting service, which all add up to more reasons for people to come into the shop."
The café concept is one that a number of retailers are also considering. Retailers Farhana and Saleem Mohammed launched a café concept in partnership with Nisa-Today's at their Isleworth store in London. The 800sq ft Café Nisa is attached to their Nisa Local store and Farhana says that reaction to the concept has been fantastic. Its success is such that the couple are looking to franchise the concept and are planning to incorporate a café in a new store they are developing in Greenwich.
"For the concept to work it has to be done to the same standards as the high street chains and the quality has to be very high," says Farhana. "We expect the new café in Greenwich will have a great impact on sales of other products. It will flow into an in-house bakery and speciality bread section, and will be near the newspaper and magazine fixture."
Health services present another opportunity for retailers. It may not be practical to permanently share your store with a GP given the space needed as well as queuing and privacy concerns. However, that didn't stop Martin and Gillian Smyth from offering free health check-ups in their Spar store in the Clarawood area of Belfast.
The 'Check up at the Checkout' campaign which ran last summer helped the couple win the inaugural Community Hero Award at the Association of Convenience Stores Summit '06 and, importantly, it also complemented the store's healthy eating promotion.
The campaign involved offering customers free blood pressure and cholesterol checks. A dedicated area was set up by the Northern Ireland Heart and Stroke Foundation next to the newspaper fixture, specifically targeting men aged 30-60.
A similar scheme organised by the local health promotion agency in a local hall attracted just four takers, yet on the first day of the store's campaign 80 people took advantage of the check-up. Martin says that several of those were then referred to their local GP for treatment. "I saw this very much as a life-saving issue as well as a business one," Martin explains. "During the campaign we had a lot of promotions on healthier foods, low-salt alternatives and sugar-free products," he adds.
"We saw some good returns from our healthy promotions during the campaign and sales continued to be strong for a while after."
It's unlikely that the multiples will slow down in their attempts to bring almost every element of the high street under one roof, but innovative retailers like Appean and Martin who are prepared to invest in their community demonstrate the best way of taking the fight to the supermarkets. At the end of the day, extra services are all about adding convenience and we all know who does that best