This month we visited the National Space Centre in Leicester for the launch of the hotly awaited Association of Convenience Store’s Local Shop Report. This annual report provides a wealth of information about the performance of the sector as a whole and highlights the key trends and developments that everyone working in convenience needs to know.

1. Indies make up the majority of the sector

There are 46,262 convenience stores in mainland UK and together independent retailers make up 72% of the sector. 36% of these are unaffiliated, 29% are independents trading under a symbol fascia and 7% are independent forecourts. An interesting fact is that Wales has more stores per head that any other part of mainland UK.

2. Size really does matters

58% of independent stores are smaller than 1,000 square feet. So it’s really important to remember that stores of this size need every inch of space and every product on their shelves to work hard. A one size fits all approach to convenience marketing won’t work.

3. Sales continue to rise

Total value sales in the convenience sector are currently valued at £39.1bn and they are set to rise to £40.1bn by the end of this year. Convenience is worth over one fifth of the total grocery market and remains an important growth engine. It should therefore be given the focus it deserves.

4. Investing for the future

Over the last year convenience stores have invested £814m in their businesses to improve the overall standard of their stores and ensure they meet shopper demands. The biggest area of investment has been refrigeration which suggests that stores are continuing to tap into the growing food to go occasion and demand for chilled. Internal building maintenance (30%), shelving (20%), till systems (13%) and in store lighting (13%) also saw significant cash injections to ensure their stores are fit for the future.

5. Tech and service savvy

Convenience stores of course need to be convenient, it’s in their name afterall. So it’s not surprising that 80% now offer contactless payment and I am sure that number is rising daily. Parking (59%), free to use cash machines (46%) and parcel collection points (34%)

6. Big employer

Convenience stores provide almost 365,000 jobs in the UK. 35% of employees are the only income earner in their household. Many convenience stores continue to be run as a family business with 24% of stores only employing family members.

7. Youth and Experience

Convenience continues to be a hot-bed for entrepreneurial talent. For many store owners are graduates having entered convenience as a career choice. Indeed 70% started their business versus 30% who have inherited their business. Store owners represent a real mix of youth and experience – 27% are under the age of 40, whereas 28% have been in business for more than 25 years. Trade communications strategies therefore need to be tailored to appeal to these different audiences.

8. Positively impacting the local area

Convenience stores and post offices continue to be ranked as the two most important stores that make an important impact on the local area. Which goes to highlight just how essential and relied upon they are by shoppers in the local community. Stores certainly do recognise the role they have in their communities with 81% of independent retailers engaging in some form of community activity in the last year.

9. Shopping little and often

The average shopper visits their local store 3.4 times per week. Spending on average £6.50 per trip. This reflects the trend to using convenience stores for top-up shopping and meal occasion missions. The majority of shoppers walk (59%) with 39% choosing the car.

10. X marks the spot

Customers in the age group 35-54 also known as Gen X make up the highest concentration of convenience store shoppers. They visit on average 3.3 times per week and spend the most on average – £7.39. Their biggest mission is top-up (planned) reflecting their busy lifestyles and need to shop little and often.

Baby Boomers (29%), Millennials (17%), Gen Z (13%) and Silent Generation (8%) show that people are shopping in convenience stores across the board and knowing your shoppers and giving them the right products and services to meet their needs is essential.