Greater Government support for rural convenience stores has been called for by the Association of Convenience Stores, as it publishes its latest report on the sector, which highlights the vital contribution that these businesses make to the economy and their local communities.
The ACS 2022 Rural Shop Report has revealed that half of rural stores operate with no other retail or service businesses close by, acting as a lifeline for their customers by providing access to vital services including free to use cash machines (48%), local grocery delivery (26%) and Post Offices (22%). This year’s report also shows that if their local shop was no longer there, customers would have to travel an average of 3.3 miles in order to access these services and to feed their families.
Findings from the report show that over the past year, rural convenience stores have achieved around £15.8 billion in sales and the average rural customer visits stores around 2.5 times per week.
ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “Rural shops are a lifeline to thousands of communities and have gone above and beyond to ensure that they can keep providing essentials throughout all of the disruption caused by supply chain issues and the ongoing pandemic. This is despite rural shops facing significant additional challenges compared to their more urban counterparts – thousands of rural shops do not have adequate broadband or mobile coverage, and many are at the farthest tip of their supply chains struggling to get a choice of supply and the full range of products their customers need.
“Providing targeted support to rural shops and other rural businesses must be integral to the Government’s levelling up agenda to ensure that the gap between rural stores and their urban counterparts doesn’t widen even further.”
During the presentation of the report, Rachel Hockmeyer, director of rural forecourt convenience business Hockmeyer Motors - based in Sleaford, Lincolnshire - said she would welcome the government being realistic about business rates. “Petrol stations in particular are hard hit by rates bills - although we have been looked after during the pandemic.
“The difference in rural areas, is that we don’t have the volume of product sales, but we still have to have stock. We are an essential service so we should be looked after.”
She said she would welcome assistance with energy saving features, such as solar panels, and referred to Carbon Trust Loans, which she described as “fantastic”. Less red tape and legislation would also help, she stressed - in one week last year the business had to deal with E10, Natalsha’s Law, changes to gambling laws and a VAT rate change all in one week.She also expressed concern about the forthcoming HFSS regulations, which - as a symbol retailer with a 2,100sq ft store - the business would have to comply with.
“Coping with all the legislation and red tape is a lot for a small retailer in a rural area to deal with,” she stressed. “We’re trying to be everything to everybody.”
Additional key findings from this year’s ACS Rural Shops report include:
- Over the last year rural retailers have invested around £195million in their businesses.
- Rural shops provide local, secure and flexible employment to over 138,000 people.
- Rural convenience stores contributed £3.5billion in GVA.
- 79% of rural convenience stores are independently owned.