The New Year is traditionally a time for predictions. And here's one that makes for particularly grim reading: 10,000 small stores will close over the next five years, representing a fallout of 9%. This rather gloomy statistic comes not from the top of my head but from the pages of a new report by the Verdict retail consultancy.
Given almost every major supermarket player is now looking at the convenience sector, and with the Tesco acquisition of T&S having been given the green light by the OFT, it is easy to see why so many commentators are concerned about the future of the independent sector.
We have reported in the past that some Express stores are generating more than £100k on a weekly basis. Verdict points out that Tesco Express stores typically generate about £55,000 a week compared with the £16,000 or so turned over in T&S stores.Verdict also reckons Tesco will be looking to double that figure in the 450 or so T&S stores it converts to the Express format. And all that growth clearly has to come from somewhere.
As Budgens' Eoin McGettigan says in this week's Saturday Essay, the incoming tide of competitive forces will raise the game for all c-store operators. His concern is whether that tide will prove to be a tsunami.
I am sure that for many it will, although I remain optimistic that the fallout will not be quite of the magnitude forecast by Verdict. How can I find reasons to be cheerful? Simple: while the pressure continues to mount on the independent sector, the tide of retailing is turning towards more and more towards convenience.
And those operators who play to their strengths ­ whether it be making the most of local knowledge, exploiting niche opportunities or providing outstanding customer service ­ are prospering. You will find plenty of examples of such companies featured within The Grocer Top 50, our annual ranking of Britain's best independent operators, which we publish next month.
It is tough out there ­ and it will get even tougher as Tesco starts to flex its muscles in the convenience sector. But my prediction for 2003 is that the best independent retailers will enjoy another prosperous year.