It is clear within minutes of speaking to Kevin that he is an extremely hard worker. "I used to work as a manager at Burger King," he says. "The restaurant was open until 3am and, by the time the store had been cleaned, I didn't get home til five or six in the morning. I applied to Spar nine years ago because the hours suited me better and I preferred the working environment."
But that's not to say he has an easy ride, by any means. The Spar store on Great Victoria Street, Belfast, at which Kevin has worked for three years, trades 6am to 11pm, seven days a week, so he still doesn't often get home before midnight.
In fact, all the staff have had to make sacrifices when it comes to working hours. "No one is allowed on a break between 11.45am and 2.30pm," states Kevin. It might seem a little harsh, but he explains that speed of service is of key importance at his impulse-focused store. And that means all hands on deck come lunch time. "When I first introduced the lunch hours rule, there was a big kick-up about it, but I explained to staff that it's madness to put people on a break at our peak time."
Kevin is also pretty strict when it comes to facing up the store, which explains its immaculate condition. There is row upon row of soft drinks standing to attention, packets of crisps stacked neatly in clear shelving, and a chocolate range Willy Wonka would be proud of. "You have to have a certain amount of pride in your work you have to set standards," says Kevin. "I took photos of the store when it was faced up to perfection and stuck them on the pinboard in the staff room so the whole team know that's the standard I want."
Situated next to the chocolate bars (for those cross-category selling opportunities), the magazine display is also perfect and plentiful. "We have a core range of 156 titles and each magazine has its own space, so as soon as it sells out I know to increase orders. Availability is key, especially with women's weeklies."
Indeed, women's needs are deemed particularly important at Spar Great Victoria Street. Kevin explains that a core part of his customer base are female office workers. "We're always listening to the office girls' feedback and looking at how we can better meet their needs."
And it certainly pays to listen. "The girls noted that we had a vast range of 500ml soft drinks, but no 2ltr water in the chillers. You wouldn't normally associate 2ltr bottles with busy on-the-go shoppers, but the girls like to buy it to drink at their desks. I followed their advice and now I have to re-fill the chilled 2ltr water section two or three times a day."
He's also looking to tweak his biscuit range. "We'll give biscuits a bigger run the girls buy office biscuits to last all week so they want more variety."
Gifting is another area he's looking to expand. "We already have gift cards at the till, but we're going to move them to the shop floor and put them with gift wrap to make it easier to shop. They're often bought by the office girls for leaving dos or birthday presents."
But it's not just the office girls that have specific needs. Kevin ensures that he gets feedback from all his customers by running exit surveys. "We survey 20-30 people on a weekly basis so that we know exactly what customers think of us," says Kevin. "We always ask people what their biggest concerns are, and most people say speed of service." Luckily, this is an area that Kevin has in the bag. "With five tills on over lunch, our mystery shoppers report it only takes one minute to be served."
One of the main insights Kevin gleaned from a customer was regarding food to go. As you'd expect in a bustling city centre store, food to go plays a huge role, taking up about half of the 1,800sq ft store. Customers are spoiled for choice with a Tim Horton coffee and donuts stand; a Cuisine de France pastries offering; a sandwich counter; noodle bar; self-serve salad bar; and a hot food counter. The food-to-go area does a roaring trade, selling 600 cups of coffee, 400 donuts and £2,000-worth of pre-packed sandwiches a week. But through interacting with customers, Kevin found that there was still room for improvement.
"We used to run meal deals on a weekly basis," says Kevin. "But then one of our customers pointed out that there's only so much of the same product you can eat in one week." This prompted Kevin to create a daily meal deal structure. "I worked out a rough menu and a price point and then showed Spar and they authorised it. We did brainstorming with the area manager to tweak the initiative Spar was very supportive."
The store now offers a different £2.99 meal deal every day of the week. Mondays is burger, chips and a drink, Tuesdays is lasagne, Wednesdays is a sandwich and chips you get the idea. The initiative has been a huge success and Kevin is hopeful that other stores may use it as a template for their own meal deals. "It hasn't been decided officially, but there's a general rule of thumb that if it works here they'll consider rolling it out," he claims.
But with a Subway, a Centra and a sandwich bar all within close proximity, there's no time for Kevin to slow down. "I'm at the Centra every other day," he says. "The manager sees me in checking his prices all the time and vice versa. The Centra store might be half as big as the Spar, but it's still chasing the same customers."
So it's onwards and upwards for Kevin as he tackles the items on his never ending 'to do' list. "We're going to be tweaking the planogram again this year. Just because it was right last year doesn't mean it's right this year we don't want to fill our store with dead space."
It might be hard work keeping up with the ever-changing demands of customers, but Kevin claims that this is exactly what he thrives on. "I love my job the staff are worth their weight in gold, and talking to customers is great. Working within convenience is challenging and the challenge changes every day, but I wouldn't have it any other way."
Spar Great Victoria Street, Belfast Opening hours: 6am-11pm Staff: 25 Size: 1,800sq ft Additional services: PayPoint, mobile phone top-ups, cashback, Euros accepted
Winner: Kevin McTasney
From the baskets of loose fruit situated at the tills, to the queuing system created by shelves laden with bags of sweets, this store has been tailored to the needs of impulse shoppers.
It was Spar Great Victoria Street's ability to target impulse consumers and find ranges to match their criteria, such as the exciting food-to-go meal deals, that really caught the attention of the Convenience Retail Awards judges. The use of cross-category selling and the store's effective displays and eye-catching pos material also impressed.
The way in which Kevin and his team merchandise the store and manage the heavy traffic flow is to be applauded, and what better way to celebrate than with Convenience Store's Excellence in Impulse Award.