How can independents differentiate their offer/customer service/approach to the major players? What are the most effective tactics available to them?

Tom Fender, HIM
To compete head-on with the major multiples is tough for any retailer. That is why independent retailers need to be different.

Independents should always have an advantage over the multiples when it comes to delivering fast and friendly service, because local shoppers enjoy being served by local store staff. But are enough independent retailers offering a wide range of services?

They must consider whether they have a credible gifting offer, are sourcing locally grown products and whether they are developing their fresh offers sufficiently. They also need to decide if they can become “famous” for a particular product or range.

They should consider, for example, that 75% of shoppers think an in-store bakery improves the appeal of an independent c-store.

Independents also need to be first to market with new product launches. Most independent retailers tell us they don't always stock new products. We also know they don't know what the top sellers are in basic categories.

Stocking unique lines to create a point of difference is one thing, but retailers really need to be aware of the must-stock lines first before deciding to deviate.

John Ibbotson, Retail Vision

Multiples are becoming more like each other, with store layouts, own label offerings, services and standards. Independents need to become more like the multiples but with a difference. They need to copy the multiples' store layouts, category selection and space allocation, and ensure standards of service and availability are as good, if not better.

Independents should source products with a local connection. They should also source products their customers cannot get in Asda or Tesco, such as fresh meat from a local butcher, produce from local farms and regional cheeses.

They should sell and produce as much as they can from service counters staffed by friendly staff. In wine for instance, they should continue to stock known brands but also source something different from a local wine supplier and tell the customer about these products with non-standard informative signage.

Independents can also use their personality by talking to customers every day. The key is to copy the multiples' basic standards but differentiate with niche products, service counters, fresh food and friendly customer service.

Ros Windsor, Paxton & Whitfield

Independents can differentiate by being clear on what their unique selling point is and what differentiates their products from the major players.

At Paxton & Whitfield we sell artisan, handmade cheeses that are produced by people passionate people from around the world. We experiment with ranges by buying artisan cheeses in small quantities, which the major players can't do. All the staff are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the cheeses we sell and we retail our products in an inviting environment.

Our four stores have very different looks, from traditional fine food retailer at our Jermyn Street store through to a contemporary look at our Birmingham shop.

Our staff are trained in-house and learn about the cheeses they sell by visiting the cheese producers in the UK. We encourage this because it really helps them sell cheese to our customers.

Good members of staff are the backbone of any business and we ensure that the people we employ are passionate about fine food, have a great personality and enjoy working for us. That is the key for any independent.