In the week of the annual ACS Heart of the Community conference, I have had cause to think about what really embeds a store in its community.

It has long been assumed that this is the exclusive preserve of independent retailers, not least by themselves. However, and perhaps not surprisingly, recent Him! research has shown that this is not necessarily the perception of the consumer.

Perhaps appropriately given their unique market position and provenance, it was two Co-op Group stores in the same town that provided examples.

The first outstanding example was Julie, an assistant in a Co-op Group forecourt and c-store, who I saw accompanying a frail old lady across a busy road to her sheltered accommodation.

” We certainly need to improve to justify our sector’s friendly claims”

The same day, my wife wanted to know if the larger Co-op in the same town sold toasters. The number of the main store was not listed in the directory, but there was one for the in-store travel shop. Pat rang this and asked politely for the main store number, only to be told by the assistant that she had been sent there due to staff shortages and had no idea of the number, before she put the phone down - one assumes she was not happy!

Not easily insulted, Pat nonetheless went to the store and asked a young assistant whether they sold white goods. To my surprise, he not only knew what white goods were, he also took her to them in the store and she bought the toaster.

That is two good and one bad experience in a group of stores that are trying to be at the heart of the community. Are all independents better? Not always, judging by my barber’s experience in an immaculately and expensively fitted-out symbol store on a main road in an affluent community. Each time he has gone in, he has received appallingly rude and uncaring service, which he delights in telling me about.

Most of us have better experiences than this to relate, particularly where we are known to the staff at the independent, and long may it continue - we certainly need to improve the ratings reported by Him! to justify our friendly claims for our sector.

If independent stores mean what they say about community involvement, they have to take the view that every interaction counts. However bad a day they are having, the professional independent needs to lead by example.

They must train staff so that every customer, especially the one who is unknown to them and who may be visiting for the first time, gets an exceptional level of warmth and personal service.

The best independents certainly practise this and everyone should learn from them.