Customer interest in corner shops has never been higher. Here’s how to start your own high-margin corner shop business.

Looking to start your own business? With the last fifteen months of lockdowns, working from home, and plenty of time for self-reflection, it’s unsurprising that many people are taking the chance to break away from their old jobs and paint a silver lining on this dark storm cloud – quitting their nine-to-five and starting their own business. 

But what business should you pick? Chasing the dream is one thing but making sure it’s profitable is another vital aspect too. So if you’re seeking start-up success, glance down the street and consider your corner shop. 

A love for local rekindled 

According to the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), customer interest in corner shops has never been higher. At the start of the first lockdown, more people searched “local shops” on Google than at any point in the previous 12 months. A survey by YouGov supported this finding, revealing that 23% of Brits used their corner shop more during lockdown

Rekindling our love for local is not a short-term response to the lockdown either. We examined three reports from ACS, covering 2018, 2019, and 2020. In 2018, the total value of sales in the convenience sector was £39.1bn. By 2019, before lockdowns impacted our shopping habits, this had grown by 3.06% to £40.3bn. In 2020, this grew again by a whopping 10.9%, reaching £44.7bn – a 14.32% increase since 2018. 

The convenience store sector is going from strength to strength. With the right products, you could also tap into this success. 

Product trends to bring in the pennies 

Using ACS’s “Local Shop Report” releases from the last two years, we compared category sale data from independent convenience stores: 

Product Category20192020Growth

Tobacco and e-cigarettes

34.00%

32.70%

-1.30%

Alcohol

20.00%

20.10%

0.10%

Soft drinks

9.90%

10%

0.10%

Confectionery

6.40%

6.60%

0.20%

News and mags

4.30%

4.10%

-0.20%

Chilled foods

4.00%

4.00%

0.00%

Canned and packaged groceries

3.70%

3.90%

0.20%

Bread and bakery

3.40%

3.60%

0.20%

Savoury snacks

2.80%

2.90%

0.10%

Fresh milk

2.30%

2.60%

0.30%

Household

3.00%

2.00%

-1.00%

Frozen foods

1.80%

1.80%

0.00%

Fruit and veg

1.20%

1.20%

0.00%

Non-food

1.20%

1.20%

0.00%

Pet products

N/A

1.10%

N/A

Health and beauty

1%

1.10%

0.10%

Sandwiches and wraps

0.60%

0.60%

0.00%

Category sales of independent local shops (2019 and 2020) Source: ACS

From this, we are able to advise on the most profitable – and future-proof – items to stock. 

Drinks

Beverages fare particularly well at corner shops, with alcohol and soft drinks accounting for 20.10% and 10% of sales in independent convenience stores in 2020. Both are holding steady, with a slight 0.10% growth over the last 12 months. 

Stocking a range of beers, wines, and spirits is a given, and keeping the fridge filled with go-to favourite fizzy drinks is a no-brainer. But to stand out, your shop can go the extra mile and make the most of several trends at once. 

Our fondness for a cheeky drink clearly isn’t going away any time soon, and the struggle of 2020 and 2021 has had many people yearning for the easier moments of yesteryear. The nostalgia trend has hit fashion, TV, music, and now, we can utilise it at the humble corner shop. Nothing is more nostalgic than popping to the local store for a slushie and getting a mix of slush syrup flavours (blue and red combo? A classic). A slush machine will certainly help you tap into this trend and rake in the profits, but why not take it further? One Premier store did, launching an in-store cocktail bar to serve takeaway cocktails and alcoholic slushies! 

Confectionery

Confectionery has also stayed strong in sales, accounting for 6.4% and 6.6% in 2019 and 2020. It’s likely the first thing people think of when they consider a corner shop – again, think of the nostalgic element of heading to the local store for a pick ‘n’ mix. This is another way you can tap into the trend of recalling happier times.

While you should certainly stock modern fan-favourites, why not set up a retro pick ‘n’ mix stand? Stock classic choices like cola bottles, foam bananas, cinder toffee, and flying saucers in vintage glass jars for an aesthetic that will certainly be snapped for social media! Of course, you’ll want to keep your COVID-19 regulations in place, so putting the jars behind a clear screen and having customers request which sweets they want you to pop into a paper bag, rather than offering a self-serve station, is a smart move. 

Keep a wary eye on e-cigarettes and magazines

While tobacco and e-cigarettes still dominate independent corner shop sales, we’re starting to see a decline – the category fell by 1.3% between 2019 and 2020, which could be attributed to overall health concerns as well as specific worries regarding respiratory defences against COVID-19. 

Newspapers and magazines have also started to experience a slight downturn, which is likely due to the rapid nature of news being broadcast on social media feeds and breaking news notifications on smartphones. A newspaper hot off the press that morning is, in the modern day, sporting yesterday’s trending Twitter hashtag. 

While you should certainly keep stocking these products, be mindful that they may begin to taper off as the years go on. 

Watch out for no-growth items

Several product categories saw low numbers in 2019 and experienced no growth in 2020. These include non-food items, fruit and vegetables, frozen food, and sandwiches and wraps. Like with newspapers and magazines, the rise of superfast food delivery services could be to blame for the lack of uptake in frozen food and sandwiches. 

It may be worth considering forgoing these items in your start-up shop’s inventory, as no growth is never a good sign when it comes to profits. 

When making the venture into your own business, having a tried-and-true foundation to walk on is certainly beneficial. Starting up your own independent corner shop, with all the savvy product know-how provided above, could be your first step to business success.