Retailers must make themselves indispensable to their communities to remain competitive in the face of the multiples' assault on convenience, it was claimed this week.

Former CBI director general Sir Digby Jones told delegates at the summit that small shops "had to be the social glue that holds communities together".

ACS chairman Mike Greene said c-stores needed to make better use of their traditional position at the heart of the community.

"C-stores are far more in tune with the way we live our lives than the supermarkets," he argued.

FWD chairman Francis Ball urged independents to do their bit to reduce antisocial behaviour in the community.

Sir Digby also warned retailers one of their biggest challenges was finding good staff. "One constant factor in all kinds of business is that you can't pull anything off without good people," he said, adding that this would often mean devoting time to developing staff who were not equipped with basic skills such as literacy and numeracy.

Kate Davis, an independent who owns Hodnet Stores in Shropshire, echoed Sir Digby's comments, admitting she was having difficulties finding the right calibre of staff.

"A lot of people just do not want to work," said Davis, who said she was working 100 hours a week.

Sir Digby also challenged retailers to be brave when it came to innovation and bringing ideas to market.

"If you can go out of your comfort zone to develop that USP, then you can beat Tesco every day of the week in that niche," he said.