According to data released from the U.S. Economic Census, overall sales at independent retailers grew by about four percent, after adjusting for inflation, between 2002 and 2007. The bad news: chains grew faster and independents still lost market share, falling from 31 to 28 percent of consumer retail spending. This decline in market share, however, was considerably slower in this five year period, compared with the preceding 20 years, in which independents lost ground at a faster rate. In 1982, independent retailers captured nearly half of all retail spending. The report comes by way of the, “New Rules Project,” a program of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
The U.S. Economic Census is conducted every five years. The resulting data are released in batches two to four years later. For this analysis, the New Rules Project defines independent retailers as those with fewer than 10 outlets. Because the 2007 Census preceded the current recession, the downturn’s impact on both independents and chains will not be evident until the 2012 Census.
Here are a few other highlights from the new data:
• Most remarkable has been the growth of specialty food stores, such as bakeries and greengrocers. The Census showed a net gain of over 1,400 small specialty food retailers (those with fewer than 20 employees). Sales at these stores shot up 23 percent even as grocery sales overall grew just three percent. This trend likely reflects increased public interest in locally produced foods, as well as a growing desire to shop at neighborhood stores.
• Employees of independent retailers earned more per year than employees of national chains (an average of $27,451 vs. $20,313). Whether this reflects a higher hourly rate or more hours worked is not discernable from the data. (A similar pay gap showed up in 2002 as well.)
• The number of independent supermarkets remained relatively unchanged at 40,000, although revenue slipped by about four percent.
• The U.S. recorded a net gain of independent retailers in several categories, including 870 new clothing stores, 425 fabric and sewing stores, 352 pet supply stores, and 549 office supply and stationery stores.
As of 2007, the U.S. counted the following independent retailers: approximately 60,000 grocery and specialty food stores, 38,000 clothing shops, 19,000 florists, 18,000 pharmacies, 18,000 furniture stores, 17,000 sporting goods retailers, 12,000 hardware stores, 12,000 nurseries and garden centers, 7,400 appliance stores, 6,400 shoe stores, and 2,700 general bookstores.