Christmas trading patterns vary wildly for independent retailers. Rod Addy reports

As the multiples cash in on the run-up to Christmas, the independent sector increasingly views the Yuletide season as a time of mixed blessings, according to retailers who spoke to The Grocer at Key Lekkerland’s annual conference earlier this month.
Elisabeth Smith has owned and run F Woolas & Son, a forecourt store with a strong convenience offer in Swinefleet village, East Yorkshire, for 20 years. She says her store is in a privileged position, with little competition in the area.
Consequently, the Christmas trading period is never diminished much from year to year by the influence of rivals.
Others tell a different story. Iqbal Atwal, owner and manager of a Key Store in Renfrew town centre, Scotland, for five years, says: “It’s just the last few days before Christmas that we need to get extra stock in and even then sales are only a little higher than normal. Some days after Christmas are also quieter than normal. Overall, we see higher costs and lower margins during the festive period, so I don’t look forward to it.”
David Bruton, owner/manager of the 1,300 sq ft c-store First Choice News and Convenience in Walmsley, near Sutton Coldfield, adds: “Seasonal trading gets later every year. It’s definitely less important for me than a few years ago. Christmas week used to produce the biggest turnover of any week in the year, but I beat it last year on two separate weeks.”
Atwal says the discounts that multiples slap on alcoholic drinks during the Christmas period hit him particularly hard. “The multiples are selling a lot of items cheaper than I am. There’s no way I can compete.”
However, he says he is not tempted to buy booze from a multiple to sell it on. “I used to do that, but you can realistically only buy three cases at a time. It’s too embarrassing - they soon know what you’re up to.”
However, Bruton is more upbeat. “We run our own discounts on a range of products through Key Lekkerland. Some deals are strong enough to compete against standalone off-licences and some supermarkets and they create the perception that we can provide special offers, which is important.”
Smith says she’s not affected by the issue, since her store doesn’t sell alcohol.
A newly-introduced ban in England and Wales on stores bigger than 3,000sq ft opening on Christmas Day has not encouraged retailers to try opening.
Smith says she certainly isn’t and Bruton says he’s always valued taking time out then. “I’ve always said I would not work then.”