Independents believe they have a future but government intervention would be rather welcome

The All Party Parliamentary Small Shops Group is expected to report its findings in a matter of weeks on the impact of the major grocery multiples on the high street by 2015.
So The Grocer asked independent retailers visiting Blakemore Wholesale’s flagship cash & carry in Walsall, West Midlands, whether the power of the supermarkets had grown too strong.
Despite admitting that c-stores were finding it hard to compete against the aggressive pricing of the multiples, the retailers were optimistic, believing that convenience and customer service would ensure a future for independents.
Ramtirth Singh, from C&A News Mini Market in Walsall, admits: “This Christmas my sales went down as there were so many good prices in the supermarkets that I could not compete with.”
But Singh believes that customer service makes a real difference: “You don’t get one-to-one treatment in supermarkets. It’s very important because you can have a little chat with the customers, get to know them, and the customers like that.”
Deepak Mistry, from Stume Road Post Office in Stafford, agrees that the convenience element of small neighbourhood shops would ensure that independent retailers would still exist in 10 years’ time.
“Not everyone goes to the supermarket,” he says. “If people don’t have a car, they don’t want to walk all the way to the supermarket so it’s much easier and more convenient to go to the local store.”
Despite this, Mistry still believes that the supermarkets are too powerful and the government should act on this by forcing restrictions on the services they offer.
“The National Lottery should be taken away from the big stores and given to the smaller shops so that they get more trade,” he says. “Big companies can survive without the lottery but small stores can’t. One of the shops near me closed. It applied for the lottery but didn’t get it. It was given to a nearby Co-op instead.”
Sukhjinder Singh, who runs Our Shop on Birmingham Street in Walsall, also believes that the government should look into the dominance of supermarkets.
“The government should definitely do a bit more to help us. I think they should set up a body to investigate it.”
He also says that supermarkets should not be allowed to undercut c-stores in pricing because independents are struggling to compete against the prices offered by the major multiples.
“There is a Somerfield near my shop and it does affect me a bit. Its prices vary a lot but we can’t compete with them. Our prices have to cover our costs.”
Of the independents we spoke to in our monthly reader panel survey regarding the future of the sector, 100% said they had been targeted by supermarkets with promotions they could not possibly compete against