I was fortunate enough to attend a recent Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) conference entitled Symbol Summit. It was an opportunity for the IGD to deliver its state of the nation address and give some insight into the convenience market. It was also a chance for us to listen to five major symbol groups present their strategies.

There was a common theme among the presenters. Each said that the convenience market was growing at around 11% per annum, with forecourts at approximately 5% Great news for all or is it? This kind of growth and the forecasts to continue at a pace for a number of years to come will entice even more competition.

We have already seen the growth of hypers as they move inexorably to the forecourt and high street. Tesco, Sainsbury, Morrisons, Co-op and even Waitrose are becoming your competition.

Another common theme was the need for information. Modern epos systems are seen as necessary by all of the symbol groups. No longer is it acceptable to just have sales data. Systems in your forecourts will need to provide more than this if the independent forecourt retailers are to survive and grow in pace with the market.

As an independent retailer you need to be as smart as the big boys and use the information gained from your systems to look at things like cashier productivity.

Ask yourself: how many times are cashiers not serving on the till can they be doing other things in the shop when they’re not? Where in the store are the sales coming from and, by changing price, what increased margins can be made? Is that promotion really doing what it could?

Promotions should be smart and able to promote your stores as places where your customers can get good value. Many of you will be competitive with your local branded high street store, but are you telling your customers?

Modern back-office systems can offer this information in simple-to-access and easily digestible formats. When looking at systems for your future strategy, look at how easy it is to obtain information, not just data. Use this information to set your strategies for growth. Use the epos and back-office information in these plans to counter what the big boys are doing. Technology can help!