Going through the ACS Local Shop Report, which came out this week, I found myself asking what convenience stores are for. This isn’t just a question that people like me working in the industry might ruminate on, it’s clearly something decision-makers in retail, wholesale, manufacturing and finance are spending more time considering as the sector goes through significant change.
If there’s one thing that defines the UK’s 50,000 c-stores, it’s their reach into every community. Forget the motherhood and apple pie rhetoric about the local shop owner chatting to their elderly customers every day (though there’s some good stuff on that in the report too, and it is important), and think about the services retailers are offering, and how stores are changing and becoming more relevant to their customers.
Think back - Generation Y and older - to the 1980s. Post Offices maybe sold a limited range of confectionery next to the stationery, and if you wanted to buy booze to drink at home, you got it from the off licence. Today, both those services are almost completely integrated into a convenience store offer. In many places, the closed-down chip shop sits next to a convenience store with food to go, which also sells artisan bread that was available in the bakery, before that shut down too. Of course, some fantastic specialists remain, but the local shop has picked up this business and kept the offer alive.
What’s next? Maybe we’ll see pharmacies rolling into stores, whether through recruiting a qualified specialist, or more likely by extending the health & beauty range and allowing locals to pick up repeat prescriptions. Or maybe pubs and cafés will become integrated into local shops where they are only viable together, with one set of business rates, rent and core staff costs.
And this is the why the future for c-stores is so bright. The sector will continue to grow and change as entrepreneurs innovate to offer new services where their customers need them. We can bemoan the decline of some specialists (and we can bemoan with the best of them), or we can celebrate the rich and essential role that local shops play.
James Lowman is chief executive of the ACS