The business environment is what it is. I find that it's usually easier to make money in an unfair and hostile environment as the deep pocketed competitors tend to shy away from this market. The key is to be able to navigate in said environment to a point where you can make money where your competitors can't. Usually the main problem for foreigners is the language barrier. Once you have that down pat, being a foreigner actually offers an advantage over locals. Ideally, you want someone with the professionalism of a foreigner and the connections of a local.
The one chain convenience store that I've seen is still tiny and not on the same level as convenience stores in say Shanghai or Guangzhou. The mom n pops are not really competiton, as these are the first to fold up once you build up any semblance of scale. You are right to visit the trade office for bigger projects as local officals are measured by how much capital they can bring in and thus very eager. You'd have to invest at least 10mil RMB. Any amount under that and they won't give you the time of day. Looking at the city and knowing what I know... this city will witness a huge transformation in the next 10-15 years not unlike what Shanghai has seen from the 1995 - 2011. Back then Shanghai only had one CV brand which was Lawson's and they didn't have many locations. People thought that Shanghainese suffered from brand malaise also... guess what happend in the next 10 years.