Jeremy Symonds, chief executive of Smile Stores, has outlined the chain's plans to pass the 100-store barrier before 2007.

Symonds said that he hoped to be completing negotiations on eight sites in the coming five months.

Many of these were brand new greenfield sites and could support fully fledged convenience stores, he added.

He said the chain, ranked at number 16 in The Grocer Top 50 listing of independent retailers with 95 shops, remained fussy over the sites it wanted to secure. "We're after quality, not quantity and we look very closely at demographics."

The chances to acquire chains of stores were becoming increasingly infrequent, he added. "Most opportunity is coming from individual acquisitions."

Aside from completing the integration of the 25 Nugent Westward Spar stores that it bought 18 months ago, the retailer has invested a seven figure sum in IT systems, said Symonds. The cash was used primarily to install the Voiteq EPoS system and a software package called Tahala, which manages sales data.

"One of the things this has shown us is that we should be putting more emphasis on more traditional, core grocery products," said Symonds.

"It is crucial that you are analysing what you sell. We have adopted a back-to-basics strategy, because most of our growth is coming from things that we have been selling well for many years."

Symonds added that the retailer was in the process of boosting space devoted to chillers in stores, seizing on demand for chilled impulse products. Space was also being increased for staple commodities such as bread and milk, he said.

The other major aim for the business was training staff to keep customer service central in all it did, he said: "We're focusing on internal development. If we have our house in order, then everything else will handle itself."

Symonds said sales were currently running at a 2% increase year-on-year at what was virtually its half-year period. Smile's most recent full-year results showed sales had grown 31% to £58.6m.