Blakemore Trade Partners (BTP), the network for independent Spar retailers in central England and Wales, has had “its busiest summer for some time”, managing director Jerry Marwood told retailers at the group’s annual show last week.

Ninety-seven independent retailers joined the group in the last financial year, with a further 38 signing up during the current year, Marwood revealed. On the back of this growth, the group is to invest £4m in IT infrastructure to “revolutionise” the way that technology serves the business, £1.6m in price reductions and unique deals, as well as £2m during the financial year on co-investment projects with retailers wishing to develop their stores.

This year’s focus is on incremental gains, explained Marwood, through an ongoing exercise of “process improvement”.

“With the UK retail environment becoming increasingly demanding, generating new customers is a challenge for retailers across the sector. However, a huge opportunity exists with the millions of customers who come into our stores every week,” he said.

“We have been inspecting everything we do to make it work, and to identify small incremental improvements that will add up to one significant improvement for our stores when added together.”

To this end, the group has launched a Retail Excellence programme, delivered via its Guild Academy training function.

Under the scheme, a new Retail Excellence team ­- led by former store manager Dave Hammond - will share best practice across the estate and provide additional support to drive basket spend through detailed guides and checklists for key sales events such as Halloween. Best practice will be shared via a web portal, which hosts ‘how to’ videos and enables retailers in different stores to chat to each other.

An early success for the Retail Excellence programme was delivered through BTP’s new lunchtime meal deal, where retailer input enabled the group to create a rationalised product range with a new price point, leading to a 20% increase in sales and a minimum 22% increase in profit.