Independent retailers agree unanimously that the supermarkets are preventing them from opening more stores.

Competition from the multiples makes it difficult to find suitable stores, they argue. Life is likely to get tougher in the wake of recent announcements by Tesco and Sainsbury's that they intend to grow their c-store empires.

In May, Sainsbury's revealed plans to open 100 stores by 2010, increasing its c-store estate by nearly a third. And last month, Tesco threw weight behind its 507-strong One Stop fascia, pledging to open 18 stores this year and refurbish 200. Even so, 100% of respondents polled say they want to increase the number of stores they own.

One Top 50 independent retailer plans to break the 100-store mark in the next two years. "While this target figure is achievable, the activity of the co-ops and multiples has had a double-edged effect on the market for new sites," he says.

"It has made the smaller stores almost worthless where multiples have opened 'local' c-stores and inflated the market value of the better, higher-turnover stores."

However, it is not just the multiples that are creating problems for smaller stores. One retailer lays the blame on fellow independents. "The real pressure is coming from the independents who are paying off-the-scale prices in relation to the commercial value," he says.

The independent sector is determined to fight back, though. "It is tough being an independent but, judging by the performance of some big retailers, the issue is not so much size, but retailing skill," says one retailer.

Mark McCammond, retail operations director for Spar retailer Henderson Retail says the competition hasn't hampered his ambition to grow the business and compete with the multiples.

"The multiples are pushing the boundaries of their c-store operations in a quest for total grocery market saturation," he says. "We are equally ambitious and committed to long-term growth and will rise to the challenge of exceeding customer expectations as we aim to improve every aspect of our business. We won't stand still."