Darren Park

Opinion: Australian convenience – the role of the local independent

In the latest issue of C&I Retailing Magazine, Darren Park, CEO, United Convenience Buyers, discusses why independent retailers are the backbone of Australian communities.

As I write, the broader Australian retail sector is feeling uncertain, with evidence of interest rate rises beginning to be felt. Not to mention the challenges that corporations like Amazon, large company-owned retail, and even home delivery companies provide. It can seem at times that the deck is stacked against the independent retailer. While the challenges retailers face are undeniable, as an industry, we have a group of retailers who continue to adapt and thrive in the face of many challenges – our Australian convenience independent retail community.

The many benefits of passionate independent convenience retailers are visible both socially and economically right across Australia. The AACS State of the Industry 2022 Report indicated that independents represent approximately 45 per cent of all convenience stores across Australia, with a high share of those being regional and country sites. There’s no doubt these sites are the backbone of many Australian local economies, delivering jobs, community based purchasing and services.

I have a deep respect and appreciation for all convenience retailers, and maybe I’m ‘slightly’ biased but I want to celebrate our independent retailers. Local independent convenience retailers not only contribute significantly to our economy, but they also play an integral role in their local communities as just mentioned. They contribute to community spirit through sponsorships and other forms of support and form a part of many daily shopper rituals from fuel to food and to coffee. And because they are local and community centric, they have a good chat with many shoppers too, which for some shoppers is all they really want.

While they might not be able to mirror chain stores in terms of resources, Australia’s independent convenience retailers are sharp in other areas such as store cleanliness along with speed, service, and friendliness of service. Australians can be very loyal local shoppers, who understand the value of supporting independent retailers in their communities, and this has benefits that are far reaching. On the other hand, retailers understand what motivates and appeals to their local shoppers, keeping ranges of products that suit, along with delivering shopping experiences with a personal touch.

Many times we have read and spoken about how our demographics are changing, particularly among younger shoppers who are moving away from big brands and towards locally-owned and staffed shopping options. We’ve seen these changes rapidly influence store design, with many independent retailers now looking and operating like cafes or QSRs. In many cases, independents are leading the charge here too.

We shouldn’t underestimate the contribution independent convenience retailers make. They’re part of the fabric of our local communities, while also delivering innovation that is seen globally as world class. The Australian convenience retail landscape would be a very different place without independents – so the more we do to support all our retailers, but most importantly our independent ones, the more Australian shoppers’ benefit.

This article was written by Darren Park for the Feb/Mar issue of Convenience & Impulse Retailing Magazine, which can be read in full here.

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