Over half of independent retailers quizzed by The Grocer are so concerned about losing their independence that they have not joined or have no intention of joining a symbol group.

The exclusive survey found that even though the majority of non-symbol group members believe that joining would definitely enable them to develop their stores better they did not want to give up their independence.

“I don't fancy them sticking their noses into my business,” said one shop owner in Nottingham while another felt that they'd sooner stay independent so they could buy stock from who they wanted. “I have quite a few specialist suppliers these days on breads and dairy products and I want to expand this part of the business as I see fit,” said one retailer in Northern Ireland.

“I bought my shop because I wanted to be my own boss and I don't want to answer to anyone,” said a shop owner in Birmingham.

These findings fly in the face of recent IGD figures that revealed growth in symbol group-affiliated retailers. IGD's Convenience Retailing report published last month showed that during 2005 symbol group store numbers had grown by 5.1% [The Grocer, 6 May, p4].

The four out of ten shop owners that were part of a symbol group were, on the whole, delighted with the benefits of joining. “It would be much more difficult to compete if I wasn't part of a group,” said one retailer in Edinburgh. “They give us great support and guide us rather than dictate to us.”

A Shropshire-based symbol group member felt that she got very good deals, great merchandising materials and lots of support on shop redevelopments.
Interestingly, the survey found that 70% of retailers felt they could compete on price and promotions against major supermarkets' convenience store formats even if they could not compete against the supermarkets' traditional stores.

“My price-marked packs show my customers that I am not ripping them off and they are often cheaper than the Tesco Express up the road,” said a shop owner in Hampshire.

“People think Tesco will always be cheaper but that is not the case,” said a retailer in Leeds. “I can definitely compete with them on price and often on promotions but I can't match the range of products they offer,” he continued.

Three out of ten shop owners felt they could not compete with the promotions that were run in supermarkets' convenience stores. “I can't usually compete on beer and it will probably be even worse during the World Cup,” said one retailer in London.

Bipin Patel, Londis, Deptford, Convenience store, 1,000 sq ft

I'm a member of Londis and do most of my buying from Londis because it's convenient and their availability is always very good. But they also helped to develop my store and it's much better now. Sales are up and its much more welcoming. I just do top ups at cash and carries and to pick up good deals. Londis doesn't stock ethnic products either, so I go elsewhere for those, but other than that there aren't really any other disadvantages to being part of Londis. And I can definitely compete with Tesco Express on price. It's just the supermarkets that are difficult to compete with.

Asvin Patel, Londis, South Croydon, Convenience store, 1,250 sq ft

I'm a member of Londis and I like the delivery service they offer. I use it at least once a week as it makes things so much easier. I come to cash and carries to top up at least three times a week too though, but also because they have better promotions. The advice Londis gives is good however. They helped me develop a new shop front, they helped improve inside and it's now much tidier. But the majority of people come in store to use things like PayPoint or the telephone. Only 10% just come in for shopping so I wanted to use promotions to get more people buying groceries. Londis helped me with that too, on how to make use of my promotions, and my sales are up 5% because of that.

Shaku Patel, Durand News, Castleton, Convenience store, 1,000 sq ft

I tried to be a member of Costcutter but it didn't happen, because the Nisa store was too far away for me to get to. I'm now trying to be part of Londis though, and I hope that will happen soon. Hopefully being part of a symbol group will make me more profit, but they also do deliveries which would help a lot. I also need advice and would like to make use of that and you can get magazines too. I have to go to cash and carries too though, and I come here to Dhamecha every day because they have better promotions and lots of different foods. I think we can compete with the convenience formats of supermarkets on some lines, but other lines like groceries can be hard to compete with on price.

Reader survey - Symbol groups

Are you or have you ever been a symbol group member?
Yes - 40%
No - 60%

If a symbol group member, does the support from your symbol group enable you to develop your stores better?
Yes - 96%
No - 4%

If not a symbol group member, do you think the support from a symbol group would enable you to develop your store better?
Yes - 66%
No - 17%
Don't know - 17%

Do you get all of your supplies from a wholesaler or symbol group or from both?
Symbol - 20%
Wholesaler - 60%
Both - 20%

Are you supplied by a van sales distributor?
Yes - 78%
No - 22%

Can you compete with the major supermarkets' convenience store formats on price and promotions?
Yes - 70%
No - 30%