In 2009 retailer David Jones invested in a substantial and impressive refit at his Hazel Grove Spar shop in Stockport, Cheshire. A year on and the results speak for themselves.

"We purchased the adjoining store a former laundrette and totally refurbished our existing store, extending it from 1,800sq ft to 2,600sq ft," explains David.

As part of the refit the store was given a swish set of front windows and electric doors. "We have a Tesco Express about a third of a mile away and we wanted our store to look just as good, if not better than that," he says.

The store also has new tiled flooring and widened aisles. "We opened all the aisles up to give the store greater accessibility. They are now 4ft wide, whereas before they were under three."

All areas have benefited from the investment. "Since the expansion we've seen great results a 5% increase in dairy, a 19% increase in grocery, an 11% increase in meat and 4% growth in fruit and veg," beams David. "We have grown sales by about £7,000 a week."

Extra refrigeration was one of the major additions to the refit. There are now 17 1.5 metre-long bays. All white wine, rosé and Champagne is available chilled to ensure ultimate convenience.

Fruit and veg is displayed in refrigerators to give an extra sense of freshness. "Chillers take up more space in our shop than your average convenience store," says David. "This is because we understand that fresh food sells better in chilled cabinets."

It may seem excessive to store fruit and veg in chillers, but it seems to be doing the trick. "We do £1,800 in fruit and veg a week," says David. "The fresh food operation forms the backbone of our store."

The tapestry of contrasting colours and textures means the fruit and veg display is an assault on the senses. Green-tinged kiwi fruits nestle next to vibrant oranges, and prickly pineapples contrast with smooth yellow melons. "All our staff have been trained extensively in how a chilled display should look," says David. "We understand that quality and freshness is crucial and as a result we have a dedicated member of staff who looks after this section on a daily basis."

Of course, no matter how aesthetically pleasing your display is, David knows full well that shoppers' pockets have limits. "We bought in sweet peppers a while back, but the rrp was £2.49," he says. "That's just too expensive for my customers, so I reduced them to £1.49 straight away. You have to be realistic in your pricing, or customers will feel they are being taken advantage of."

David also gives customers tempting deals through a chilled promotional bay, which offers a range of multi-buy and money-off deals. "The promotional bay has been here for two years and we've seen great results," he says.

And for shoppers who are looking for more than just a good deal, the store's vast range of products is enough to keep even the pickiest of foodies content. Take yogurts, for example, where big brands such as Müller, Danone and Onken sit alongside the more niche Yeo Valley Organic and Anna Forshaw's, ensuring that there is something to suit everyone's needs.

Meanwhile, the meat display is equally as diverse, boasting pork loin steaks, lamb loin chops and braising steak to name but a few. "In other stores there's just one facing of chicken, whereas there's so much more to offer within the meat category," says David.

"We've decided to go for it it costs a lot in electricity, but it's worth every penny. Chilled brings in £6,300 a week."

And it's not just chilled produce that has benefited from the refit. Ambient produce has also seen a significant rise in sales. "When we opened the aisles up we saw a big increase in grocery, which was previously dying. People feel comfortable browsing now without worrying that they are obstructing the walkway, and it is much easier for pushchairs and wheelchairs to access."

Turbo charged

Magic was also worked on food to go and now all manner of sizzlers and pasties glisten from within their polythene jackets. "We've put in a food-to-go turbo serve to replace the old counter," explains David. "With the old one we had to serve customers, but now everything is prepared in advance and customers help themselves, which saves time and staff."

The refit cost more than £150,000 so it wasn't an investment that David took lightly. "Myself and store manager Matthew Southern spent a lot of time talking to [local Spar wholesaler] James Hall about how the refit would work. Their engineers planned it all with us."

He explains that he has a very strong relationship with the wholesale organisation. "When we had the really bad snow we sold out of everything and James Hall set up an extra delivery for us so that we didn't disappoint customers," he says. "I don't think you can survive without the support of a good wholesaler group."

David has been in the business for more than 30 years so he's been through his share of wholesalers. "We've probably had about three or four different wholesalers over the years, but James Hall has been head and shoulders above the rest they are always on hand to give advice.

"I know of other people who left for other groups and came back because they weren't happy. Others might be cheaper, but you won't get the same service."

As well as maintaining good connections with James Hall, David also ensures that he makes time to talk to other retailers and is an active member of Spar's Northern Guild.

"It's really important to meet up with other shopkeepers and discuss business," he says.

He cites the example of mobile phone top-ups, which used to be processed by a machine separate to the till. Since this was raised as a causing a problem at a guild meeting they have been incorporated into the till system.

"The benefit of going to these meetings is that you are able to prioritise issues and get the more important things pushed through quickly," he notes.

Looking ahead

It's true that David is one of those retailers who makes the job look easy, but despite having plenty to be proud of there are still a few areas he would like to change. "One thing I'm trying to do now is get to know customers by name," he says. "I recognise lots of faces, but it would be great to take it to the next level.

"I'd also like to knock through the stockroom to make the store bigger, but you can't stay open late on Sunday if you're above 3,000sq ft, so we're holding off."

With one eye on the lookout for improvements, David is convinced that continual development is the only way to stay ahead of the game. "If you don't change things then they become old hat you simply get stuck in your own little world," he says. "I'm always looking at ways to take the store forward. That's what keeps us ahead of the game."
shop profile
Spar Hazel Grove, Stockport Store size: 2,600sq ft Staff: eight full-time, eight part-time Opening hours: 7.30am10pm, Monday-Saturday, 8am-10pm Sunday Additional services: Lottery, PayPoint, ATM, photocopier, mobile top-ups, food to go