By Stephen McConnell, Business Services Partner

2021 has been an eventful year in many respects. Cast your mind back to January, we were in the depths of lockdown and consumers were once again relying heavily on their local convenience retailer.

When larger stores reopened in spring, a sense of anxiety that sales would drop dramatically at convenience level could be felt. Paired with the inevitable end of Covid support schemes, many felt their busy period was almost certain to come to an end.

In reality, however, 2021 has been very positive for the businesses I act on behalf of, including several Spar and Mace shops that continue to enjoy a boom in sales. Hybrid working is here to stay, resulting in a permanent change in our behaviour and a growth in the value we place on local stores. This is why I am unsurprised to have supported many of our retailers to expand across multiple outlets in recent months.

But 2021 has not been without challenge. Businesses had to cope with the end of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, however most managed to phase this out periodically and the much-anticipated redundancies never did materialise.

Looking forward, many factors that may impact profitability do loom on the horizon. For those who availed of the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, the 12-month period without repayment will soon end, or indeed may have already surpassed, meaning a payment plan must now be implemented.

Particular concern also lies around the hospitality sector, with VAT rates set to automatically return to 20% from the current 12.5% unless amended by the Executive. Just as worrying is the return of business rates following the 12-month rates holiday extension. With the Covid certification scheme also getting underway, this is a sector obliged to implement this into their operations, which will no doubt come at a cost.

What we do know is that business owners here possess the innovation and pragmatism to adapt and respond to these challenges. It is important to remember that we can always control our level of readiness for when outside factors do inevitably emerge. At Baker Tilly Mooney Moore, we have an expanding team of trusted accountants and advisors and specialise in servicing the expanding convenience retail sector across Northern Ireland.

This article first appeared in the January 2022 edition of Ulster Grocer.