With shoppers watching their money more carefully, it is crucial that independents regularly review ranges, ensure popular lines stay in stock and provide the best possible customer service

James Lowman
CEO, Association of Convenience Stores

Says: There is significant talk of a financial squeeze in 2008 and this has led to concern in the media and industry. However, retailers should not be too pessimistic about the year ahead. The answer to how to face the intense competitive and financial pressures is the same this year as in any other. Focus on having the right products at the right time and provide excellent customer service. Successful retailing is achieved the same way, whatever the financial weather.

The real opportunity for independents lies in being different and individual. Local shops rooted in the community can drive personal attention and service to a level that multiples will always struggle to match. Shops can cement their local identity through smart use of -local products and services, as well as involving themselves in community activities.

Talking to customers, understanding what they want and fostering loyalty add that bit extra to independents' offer, but meanwhile retailers must provide the very best ranges, availability and standards that can be expected in a modern food retailing

Raj Krishan
Retail controller, Landmark Wholesale

Says: At Landmark, through our Hot House retail programme, we will continue to drive home the importance of disciplined retailing for independent stores.

Having a core range of key bestsellers is absolutely crucial, as is taking advantage of promotions and highlighting these in-store. Building up consumer loyalty by having the right range of products with competitive promotions will help independents compete.

Chilled and fresh and food to go will also be key categories as independents fulfil their role of providing convenience.

Simple things such as maintaining a professional image are also important but easily overlooked. Retailers should keep their stores clean and tidy and maintain fixtures to ensure they are well-stocked and well-presented.

Independents need to promote their point of difference against the multiples and other areas of competition.

Whether this is offering chilled alcohol to take advantage of the take-home drink-now opportunity or having fresh fruit and veg, independents need to be on top of their game to take their fair share of the market.

Graeme Collins
Head of marketing, National NFRN

Says: It is not unreasonable to assume economic conditions will get tougher and customers will become more careful with money.
This is not all bad news for the local independent and is potentially an opportunity because some customers will switch their shopping pattern away from the big weekly stock-up and towards small, regular purchases.

Local shopping will also be driven by the increasing momentum behind environmental issues and the growing concern over carbon footprints, so maybe 2008 will turn out to be a good year for independents.

But these factors alone will not drive customers into shops that fall below the standards expected by today's customers.

A prerequisite for successful trading is to make sure your shop is up to scratch in terms of physical standards.

Independents must also review the products stocked to ensure they offer the ranges people want and make sure these lines stay in stock as well as provide the best possible service.

If you do that, new customers will come back and become regulars.