Independent by Design, which is set for a soft launch in October and full roll-out in January, would show independents how to transform their stores into 'community hubs' by radically rethinking their layouts, said James, who operates two Spar stores and three Budgens stores in Cambridgeshire and is vice chairman of the ACS.
"It's coming from a completely different angle," he said. "I'm pretty confident this is the next step in convenience. If retailers claim they can't compete with the big four, they can make their store bespoke to the local community."
Shoppers should be made more aware they were in a family-owned, local store, added James, who is working on the project with retail design consultancy CDW Partners and Mike Greene, CEO of Him!
"Stores are becoming clones of their symbol group and if you pulled 10 people off the street and asked them who owned a symbol group store, they would say that symbol group," he said. "With this project I'm saying, 'this is me and this is what the area wants'."
James said he would use the service to redesign his 17,000 sq ft forecourt site set to reopen in Littleport, Cambridgeshire, in February.
The c-store would be run under a symbol group fascia but would be designed to incorporate "all that is best about independent retailing", he said. The store's reopening would also coincide with the 150th anniversary of James' company James Graven & Sons.
Meanwhile, BP has confirmed it has scrapped plans to launch its first BP and Marks & Spencer Simply Food independent franchise with James.
"All parties have worked hard to determine how best to introduce the offer," a spokesman said. "Despite this, it has not been possible to continue, and development of the pilot has been stopped."