An industry-wide consultation, that will set the agenda for local shops into the next General Election and beyond, was announced by James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, at last month’s Summit ’09 in Birmingham.

Around 400 delegates attended the annual event, which was this year structured around four themes - the future, uniqueness, people and passion.

Expounding the ACS’ strong lobbying credentials, and results achieved so far, Lowman said the strategy was to grow the evidence base, as success would come through "hard work, and hard facts".

He explained that with politicians preparing for a General Election, there was a golden opportunity to set out clearly what the industry wanted - hence the launch of the Heart of the Community Consultation: "We need to hear from retailers about the issues that concern them most, whether it’s business rates, National Minimum Wage, crime or supermarket dominance," he said.

By logging onto the ACS website - - retailers can choose the three issues most important to them.

Lowman said that with around 80 c-stores in every constituency, there was a good chance for retailers to get their voices heard, as an MP had told him it could take as few as three letters from retailers to persuade him to take up a cause.

"Grass roots pressure is extremely important," he stressed.

The Heart of the Community consultation runs until July 10. Each option chosen will be championed by an ACS Local Shop Campaigner - a politically interested retailer. The results will be unveiled in September, in advance of the political party conference season. Leading politicians will be invited to respond to the agenda at the next ACS Heart of the Community seminar, which takes place on November 3.

Delegates at the Summit listened to a range of speakers, case studies and customer insights. The keynote speaker was David Smith, chief executive officer of Global Futures, who set the scene about the future. He said it wasn’t good enough to just survive the recession, retailers needed business agility, and to embrace the complexity of what was going on - "there is massive change that’s driving us". Key factors such as global instability; energy, water and talent shortages; feminisation; declining trust; and ageing societies (within 20 years 50% of the population will be over 50) were all examples from a long list of global trends affecting our everyday lives. And on the age front, Smith told delegates to consider what older people need - eg larger print, smaller portions and brighter lights. Other things to consider included the fact that over 1,000 communities are supported by only one bank brand; there are now more supermarkets than pubs for the first time in Britain; Tesco has submitted 10 planning applications in three months for pub sites; and 50% of shoppers say having a local shop within five minutes walking distance was more important to them in times of recession.

Jim McCarthy of Poundland, on the ’uniqueness’ theme, said the company always put customers first: "We have to deliver amazing value or we fail. We cut costs all the time to keep the offer."

Star of the event was Olympic cycling coach Dave Brailsford, who explained how considerable investment and focus on understanding what makes people tick had brought such an amazing haul of gold medals at the Beijing Olympics.

Passion was covered by Guy McCracken, former chief executive officer of Co-operative food retail; and Dennis Reid of RPS Global.

"Passion is an intangible quality shared by all great retailers," concluded Lowman. "They are bursting to face the future, to differentiate themselves and to help their people to develop."