Original by Owen Hughes, North Wales Live - https://www.dailypost.co.uk/business/business-news/shops-heart-north-wa…
The Welsh Local Shop Report 2019 reveals that Wales has more convenience shops per head than any other part of Britain
The crucial role convenience stores play in the heart of North Wales communities has been laid out in a special report – triggering a plea for more support for small traders.
The Welsh Local Shop Report 2019 reveals that Wales has more convenience shops per head than any other part of Britain – with most providing a vital service in a rural area.
They employ more than 23,000 people and have a major impact on the economy of Wales.
And while sales in 2018 were up on 2017, small shops champion Janet Finch-Saunders, AM for Aberconwy, wants more support with business rates and tackling crime to ensure the sector flourishes.
She is also calling for more backing for Welsh high streets.
John Parkinson, of Broadway Newsagents in Penrhyn Bay and a member of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, said that business is hard for small shop owners.
He said: “Things have become more difficult in the last couple of years.
“While I approve of the Living Wage it has added to costs and we are now paying more in business rates.
“In the last 10 years we have also had two armed robberies and I think the trend for this type of attack is increasing.
“The hours in this trade are very long but despite this I do still love my job. I have been doing it for 46 years and I’m now 68 and don’t want to retire yet.
“Things could be done to help us and other small businesses. We need more parking, we need lower rates and a lighter touch with regulation – this would all help.”
The village shop and café in Llanfrothen, near Porthmadog, has been taken on by three local brothers after being closed for eight months – with social enterprise Menter Llanfrothen securing the tenants.
Jack Cunliffe, who runs Y Garreg store with brothers Steff and Finn Smith, said: “It is the only shop in a village of 500 people. The shop and café is a hub for the community – it is great to see friends catching up who haven’t seen each other in months.
“There are members of the community who find it difficult to get to the big shops or to travel at all given the limited bus service. The shop is a genuine lifeline for these people.
“We go the extra mile with some customers, dropping goods off at their house or helping them with their shop – services that bigger supermarkets aren’t able to do.
“I think it is clear that there is a need for a community shop, particularly in rural areas.
“There is, however, a reason that many of them have closed down – in a way it is a failed business model.
“It is difficult to compete on price and range with the bigger supermarkets so, as a small shop owner, it is important that you have a distinctive offer that provides something unique.
“Using local suppliers, providing good quality homemade food and buying in one-off items for people all set you apart from the experience of shopping in the bigger and less personal supermarkets.”
Janet Finch-Saunders is chair of the Cross Party Group on Small Shops.
She has now called for cross-party and community cooperation to provide Welsh retailers with more help.
She said: “According to the report, there are 2,923 convenience stores forming an important part of the strong army of shops we have across Wales.
“Whilst the number of shops remain high, I have serious concerns about the health of our high streets.
“Indeed, a report published last year highlighted the fact that the number of empty retail premises stood at 13% in 2017 – a higher figure than both England and Scotland.
“Going forward, more must be done to help our retailers address the challenges being faced and contributing towards closure.
“For example, business rate relief is less generous in Wales than that in England. Indeed, whilst the Welsh Government have decided to give Welsh businesses 100% small business rate relief up to a rateable value of £6,000 (due to be £9,000 from April), in England the full relief is available up to £12,000.
“Additionally, every store in the UK convenience sector loses an average of £1,739 as a result of shop theft, and the number of assaults and threats committed against the wholesale and retail sector has reached 1,433 incidents per 1,000 premises.
“Whilst I will continue to question the Welsh Government, and hope that Police and Crime Commissioners will do more to support retailer-led crime prevention, there is action we could all take.
“Next time we look to buy items on our mobiles, tablets, or computers, we should think of our local shops, and where possible, wait to spend with them.
“Seriously, if we and the Welsh Government do not act to provide more help now, I really do worry as to what may be on the horizon for our high streets.”
Michael Learmond, Federation of Small Businesses senior development manager – Wales, said: “Smaller shops and convenience stores provide vital services which promote viable communities, but many of these shops operate within margins and are vulnerable to shifts in consumer habit.
“In order to survive, shops are increasingly diversifying their offering, delivering a greater range of services, and the more successful ones are very responsive to changing customer demand.
“However, small shops should not be seen in isolation and approaches to helping develop such shops should be made as part of a wider strategy to developing regional towns.
“This approach is represented in the Future of Welsh Towns agenda.
“We want to see a reimagining of towns across Wales, including rural towns, with an approach which looks at how we can use new thinking and technology to boost footfall and variety, and how we can promote new use of vacant space.
“Some suggestions include digital town-centre managers to curate and promote the collective offering of towns, strategies for every town in Wales to draw traders and other businesses together to contribute to and collectively own the approach of towns, and a Future of Welsh Towns Fund to promote new thinking and measures to support high streets and towns.
"By considering such measures and joining the conversation, we can help smaller shops to flourish and remain an integral part of the communities they serve.”
When it comes to the multiples, one of the biggest names in convenience is Co-op.
Tina Mitchell, director for the Co-op, Wales, said: “Connecting communities and bringing people together is at the heart of the Co-op.
“We continue to see ease, speed and convenience rise in importance for time-pressed shoppers, and the right location and range tailored to fulfil the shopping needs of a community is a cornerstone of our approach.”
Ms Mitchell added: “We continue to look for new locations which support our ambition to operate at the heart of local life and make a difference in local communities, by offering our value and values conveniently.”