Let's keep up the pace

Independent and symbol c-stores shouldn't get obsessed with the Competition Commission. They should get on with the business of offering modern, appealing stores

It ain't over yet. Nothing is yet concluded in the Competition Commission inquiry and everything is very much up for grabs. Independent c-store owners are not lying awake in bed thinking about what the commission might be doing. We're pressing ahead as ever, working on developing strategies for 2008 and beyond. All demographic trends will favour more frequent and local retailing so we need to keep pushing on to service our customers by investing in modern, appealing stores.

Independent Spar businesses operate in 32 different countries and the main trends we're witnessing are global - for instance, the increasing importance of product provenance, food to go, green issues and so on. We are in a great position to support our retailers and serve our consumers better than the competition if each international Spar business can learn from one another.

I'm less bothered about comparing the choice we can offer to that of the major supermarkets. We're confident the quality of our own brand compares with any of the multiples' own label ranges. And I believe our investment in own brand will only increase in the coming year while we continue to modernise, segment and add to our own ranges.

Price (as ever) is the real challenge when comparing ourselves to the larger retailers. It is inevitable we are always going to be looking for other ways to compete. We still think we have an advantage when it comes to service, convenience, location and added value. In 2008 we will be looking at our availability, and, in particular, personalising ranges to suit local communities.

However, price is not everything. We won't relax and while the gap between us and the multiples is narrowing we will continue to drive unnecessary costs out of the business to support even greater investment.