Spar retailer Paul Stone's latest store is the epitome of modern convenience retailing with its carefully staged lighting, wide aisles and metre upon metre of chiller space. 

What's more, it stands at the bottom of Manchester's prestigious City Tower redevelopment in the busy Piccadilly area. Nearly 150 buses stop outside City Tower every hour and 14,000 passengers pass by every day.

However, Paul's journey to opening this store was far from easy, despite running two other stores in Manchester for 15 years. "It took us a year to get the developers to let us have the space," he says. "They were not keen on having a convenience store. I think it was only because of the downturn in the economy that they finally relented and let us have it."

The set-up costs were £280,000, which Paul managed to fund without any bank borrowing, and the rent is as sky high as the building. But Paul says he managed to get a good deal on his first year.

He rents 3,700sq ft of space, with a trading area of 3,000sq ft, and the store is what Paul describes as a designer's dream: a 'perfect box'. "It was great to work with as you don't often get a perfect box. The design people were thrilled with it. We have gone for a black floor and black suspended ceiling the ceiling is 3.5m high which gives an extra feeling of space." And the result is stunning.

The first thing that greets you when you enter is the lunchtime range: sandwiches, coffee and meal deals. The store stocks the Great Northern Sandwich range from Spar wholesaler James Hall, as well as Spar own label and Ginsters sandwiches. When Convenience Store spoke to Paul the store had sold 1,600 sandwiches the previous week mostly Spar.

"We do a £2.99 Gold Star Meal Deal. You can have a Spar sandwich, sub or salad with a drink (up to 500ml) and a packet of crisps or item of confectionery. All the items included in the deal have a gold star on them. We sold nearly 600 last week," says Paul.

The store has all the usual c-store categories except hot food as the lease prohibits it. There is also no lottery yet but Paul is hoping that will come in the near future.

Not surprisingly, there's an emphasis on chilled foods there are 42 metres of refrigeration. James Hall planogrammed the whole store and delivers nine times a week six chilled, two frozen and one ambient.

Twelve staff work at City Tower, managed by Rob Hinchey, who has also invested in the business. Paul says Rob brings "youth and energy" to the business, as he's in his 20s, compared with Paul who has reached the grand old age of 42!

The store's main customers are commuters and office workers. There is an incentive for the latter to shop in the Spar store anyone presenting a City Tower ID card at the till gets 10% off their shopping.

Round the clock

While Paul's other two stores operate 24-hour trading, City Tower's trading hours are 7am to 11pm, seven days a week, but Paul is considering extending this. "The area is busy until midnight in the week, plus there are the night buses. We have a late licence for alcohol in the other two stores until 3am and that's been a big part of our success."

However, getting permission to open beyond 11pm in his new store may be a sticking point, as the police imposed 15 conditions on the original licence. But Paul reckons they might let him extend the licence if he can show that he has traded for six months without any problems. "It will probably be difficult and costly and there are no guarantees, but we will apply for it."

Crime hasn't been a problem so far although Paul's biggest niggle is shoplifting, "especially the persistent shoplifters who either make a living out of it or are feeding a drug habit". He adds: "The police haven't been able to help much and it can be very difficult if you feel the police aren't on your side."

Some 28 CCTV cameras help keep the crooks at bay, though. "They are a big deterrent. We have big plasma screens in the shop and it's a quality system so it really makes a difference," says Paul.

In addition, the City Tower store employs a security guard. The guard stands just inside the door and has their own monitor.

"The police insisted we have a uniformed Security Industry Association-registered security guard from 11am to 11pm every day. It's a big cost for us but it has helped, although I've now noticed one or two problems before 11am," says Paul.

With a hat-trick of stores Paul is one busy retailer, but he says he tries to visit each store every day. And he's not averse to rolling up his sleeves and working on the shop floor. "I'll do the odd night shift if we are short of staff, but when that happens the manager gets a black mark against his name," Paul quips. "But if it's busy I really like it and get quite a buzz."

City Tower opened at the beginning of July and turnover is growing every week. Although Paul has yet to hit his targets, he's confident he will get there. "We served 13,000 customers last week. My other two stores have got very high turnovers so perhaps my expectations were a bit much. People tell me that I've taken a big risk, but I'm glad I did it. I'm really pleased with the store; the feedback's been good. It's great to have a business that you're really proud of," he says.

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