Many small shop owners believe their more personal service puts them in a different league to the multiples, and means they can still thrive by offering products and services catering specifically to the local community.

Chris and Sue Sharrinton, who run a Spar in Helston, are doing well despite a Tesco opening nearby a few years ago. The pair invested £250,000 in a shop refit that placed more emphasis on convenience and food to go. Thanks to this and the division of the store into five sections based on different needs, such as top-up shop, impulse and dinner, sales are growing, they say.

Harry Tuffins, meanwhile, has tried to differentiate itself from Tesco in Ludlow with local sourcing. The store now sells more than 200 local lines, including organic potatoes, milk and honey.

Proudfoot stores also prides itself on its wide range of goods and services. Its larger stores have a post office, butcher, bakery, delicatessen and a strong fruit and vegetable range and there is an emphasis on news, tobacco and off-licence. They also stock a large range of non-food with particular focus on household and gardening.

Budgens store owners have also been working hard to ring the changes. Andrew Thornton, who runs a Budgens in London's Crouch End, has tailored his store to its affluent customer base by introducing modern black flooring, stylish lighting and elaborate fruit and veg displays. The store emails a monthly newsletter to its customers to promote a sense of community. It is initiatives like these that help it compete with rivals big and small.

"I received one response from a customer who said the store was weaning her off her weekly trek to a Tesco six miles away," says Thornton. "We're getting the message through to customers that they don't have to leave Crouch End to do their shopping."n