Future Positive data is revealing the key lines that deliver profits to small stores. But broadening the offering is essential if independents are to thrive in the future, says The Knowledge Store deputy md David Craft Future Positive is generating accurate information about what independent retailers are selling. For the first time, EPoS data from across the sector is being collected and analysed to give us a clear picture of what's selling on a day to day, and even an hour by hour basis. This will enable us to detect trends, such as which products are growing in importance, but before we can look ahead we need to be sure of where we are today. So what does today's typical independent store look like? Using the new accepted classifications drawn up by William Reed and a number of partners ­ this is how the sector breaks down. There are now 35,500 independent convenience stores, and more than 20,000 other specialist independent retailers, either CTN, grocer, off licence or forecourts. If you accept that many forecourts have a significant potential for convenience, and that most CTNs are moving to a more general convenience offering, it's clear the profile is moving away from specialisation and towards a convenience format. Location is still an essential factor, which is why forecourt traders in particular are enjoying good levels of success. They already hold prime sites, motorists have to refuel, and parking is obviously not a problem. Consumers are demanding more fresh produce, ethnic specialities, meal solutions and impulse purchases. While variety is the order of the day, space is at a premium in most independent c-stores, so their exact offerings depend largely on location and understanding the demographics of their captive markets. Consumers are also demanding more niche offerings which can offer opportunities for entrepreneurial store operators. One particularly interesting example of such an entrepreneur is Chris Joyce, former drummer with the band Simply Red. During his touring with the band he developed rather sophisticated tastes but discovered he could not find the items he wanted when he returned home to Manchester. After a couple of years' research, Chris opened his store called Love Saves the Day. It is a modern c-store that combines an American style deli with groceries and eat-in or takeaway food. Fine wines and beer are also on offer. Joyce chose an emerging, Bohemian part of the city which is undergoing regeneration. The aim was to provide an exotic range of goods at an affordable price. The store operates a newsletter, a web site and a delivery service and the interior is more like a design studio than a typical shop, and it's a great success. It is no secret that certain non food items such as tobacco and newspapers have always provided incremental sales for local stores as the table from Future Positive shows. If the nation gave up smoking tomorrow I can think of a number of operators who would be left gasping ­ and not for a cigarette. However, convenience stores are branching into other areas of non food to supplement their revenue. For example, the sale of mobile phone vouchers and the lottery products now represent examples of highly successful non food lines which are truly making the independent retailer richer. We can also expect the development of new technology to dramatically influence the look of our future independent. There is phenomenal growth in home internet use which is likely to increase still further with the advent of interactive TV and automated telephone systems. These advances will stimulate greater demand for remote shopping. The independent retail network arguably presents a far more versatile home shopping opportunity than any other sector. Perhaps all the problems associated with home delivery, such as busy consumers not being at home to get their delivery, could be overcome if orders were delivered not to the home but to the local community store? Which wholesaler or distributor is going to support these types of initiative? Or will Bill Gates beat them to it? Why else is he planning to install 25,000 two-way terminals into independents with the People's Lottery'? Technology will also inevitably improve efficiency and have a direct impact on the supply chain. Some Japanese stores can already expect a delivery of Coca-Cola within hours of ordering. They even remerchandise their stores four times a day and re-price goods and services according to peak demand for each item. Several UK retail chains have expressed interest in a project launched by IBM in Japan which has generated a 20% increase in sales for participating stores. Special in-store terminals provide online shopping ­ consumers select a product and take a paper receipt to pay at the till. Products are delivered a few days later to the store or home. It has allowed the chain to add 1,000 new product lines instore without the requirement for additional warehousing. Technology is also offering the opportunity for brand advertising on EPoS and ATM machines or indeed shelf or wall mounted flat screens. An intriguing visual spectacle for the future, I think. The key to the future is broadening the convenience store offering. By developing new categories and meeting the demands of consumers, it is possible for the convenience market to grow. As we all know, the major multiples are progressively squeezing margins. They also influence collectively, to some extent, the market penetration of a product. The independent sector offers different opportunities to manufacturers ­ to find new channels and gain wider market penetration. But they have to have the independent retailer on their side. Future Positive believes that manufacturers can benefit from a better, more complete understanding of how the independent sector trades. If they do benefit from this information and couple this knowledge with an understanding of how consumers are changing their purchasing patterns, then the whole independent sector will benefit, with the right products, in the right pack sizes, with the right case compositions at the cash and carry. The independent sector has traditionally been considered to be an unknown quantity ­ the twilight zone of the food retail market. Better information will reduce that unknown element and allow suppliers and manufacturers to plan marketing activity more effectively, develop more appropriate products and measure the results. In the same way cash and carries and wholesalers will be more able to stock the right products in the right areas at the right times. And who knows maybe even at the right price. For more information about Future Positive contact Caroline Bevan on 01293 610400. - An error was made when analysing the top 100 lines in independents (Grocer Club, May 27) which resulted in Gallaher's Benson and Hedges lines being excluded. {{GROCER CLUB }}