With a number of its retailers moving across to the definitive Spar Market format, the result is a compelling offer that has its roots in local understanding, says UK retail director Ian Taylor.

2023 will see the continued development of bricks-and-mortar convenience stores, says leading symbol group Spar UK as independent and forecourt retailers fight for their share of shoppers’ wallets by investing on getting the right proposition for their customer base in their stores.

As competition for footfall, basket spend and profit heighten against the backdrop of industry challenges, 2023 could turn out to be another tough year if retailers do not engage with their shoppers and meet their expectations.

Ian Taylor, Spar UK retail director, says: “Convenience stores must adapt to their local customer base and engage with them if they want to remain competitive. And one way of doing that is by understanding who their customers are in investing in their stores to stay ahead. That is why we have developed a portfolio of mission-based store formats and flagship stores and created a customer-centric range for stores that is defined by format and by category.

“Every Spar store around the UK has been modelled by location, customer type, competition and sales by mission, and planograms are matched to the format with local influence. Offering our customers something entirely unique to them is a great way to differentiate.”

A market-leading proposition

Spar’s brand positioning is called ‘the Joy of Living Locally’, and a programme of store format developments has included the integration of that proposition into all store designs over the past 12 months.

In addition, Spar has been rolling out its Spar Market model in England, Scotland and Wales, which is a development of the Fresh or For Now For Later format, with certain elements of the design dialled up to bring out the uniqueness of the independent retailer or company-owned store within a specific area.

“Spar Market is designed to be a fascia for larger stores and to attract independent retailers who may not have considered Spar in the past,” says Taylor. “We have set criteria that a store must meet if they are opting for the Spar Market fascia, along with fascia and interior guidelines.”

Since the introduction of Spar Market, there are now 25 stores, all exceeding delivery expectations, he reveals. Independent retailers looking to open or convert to a Spar Market must have a shop floor space of more than 1,500sqft, an increased fresh offering, increase chilled capacity, work closer with local suppliers, offer more diverse ranges and increase the food-to-go and bakery sections.

Spar Market stores offer more fresh foods, a greater range of products including premium BWS and frozen ranges and can also offer cafés, butchers, and delicatessens.

“Those independent retailers who have opened or converted to Spar Market are seeing increased sales, basket spend and footfall and, more importantly, an increase in margin, which is a focus for us in 2023. Margin protection and how to drive increased revenues from your local footprint is at the top of our list,” adds Taylor. 

Case study: Spar Market, Clavering

Independent retailer Muru Visana opened a new Spar Market store in the village of Clavering, Essex last October and has not looked back.

The Visana family have been trading at their 4,000sqft site in Clavering for nearly 40 years.

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Supported by Spar wholesaler, Blakemore Trade Partners, the store underwent a huge transformation, including brand new eco chillers and pack system. The chilled capacity was increased by 50% and it has a new food-to-go section, as well as in-store prepared sandwiches and a bakery section with an added hot food offer, catering to a wider audience and the right range for different points in the day.

Customers can choose their own loose chocolates from a serve-over at the till section, treat themselves to a Cook brand frozen ready meal or cook from scratch with Blakemore Trade Partners own exclusive County Bridge butchery range.

The store now offers an increased fresh selection and works more closely with local suppliers to offer more diverse products and a comprehensive food-to-go range. Loose fruit and veg are also a fantastic addition to reduce plastic consumption.

Muru Visana says: “I was extremely impressed with the Spar Market proposition, and I immediately knew it would push our store to new heights. From speaking to other Spar retailers and visiting Spar stores, I recognised that Blakemore Trade Partners would be invested in my store’s transformation and the future of my business. I am really impressed with how much support I have had throughout the entire process.”

Case study: Spar Market, Dersingham

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James Thaxter and family have been trading as a Spar store for 50 years in the village of Dersingham, near Kings Lynn. The family also own Thaxters Garden Centre & Coffee Shop next door.

In addition to rebranding Spar Dersingham as Spar Market, the store’s foodservice offer has been upgraded and it now hosts an extensive Spar dailyDeli food-to-go offer. The counter area has a fresh look and feel with a new menu board, an all-new preparation area and front-of-house display, including a new self-serve area. The store has introduced Tango Ice Blast and there is also a café area linking the Spar store and the garden centre next door.

“Changing our store to the Spar Market format came at the perfect time for us,” says Liam Cross, store manager. “It has given us the opportunity to future-proof our business and provide a competitive edge against other stores in the area. We have been in business for over 50 years and believe it is important to keep our offer fresh and relevant. Adopting Spar’s dailyDeli gave our food-to-go offer a brand-new look which has been very well received by our customers.

“The response from shoppers to the new format has so far been positive. Sales are up by 23% since the rebranding and margin has grown by 2.9%.”

Case study: Spar Market, West Stour – largest independent Spar store in the south west

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The Hawtree family have been running the Riverside Garage and Spar forecourt store on the A30 at West Stour since 1988. In October, they unveiled its new purpose-built Spar Market following an eight-month construction project.

“Our customers are bowled over by what we have achieved with our new store,” says Seb Hawtree, who managed the project from start to finish. “We now have extensive parking on-site for up to 40 vehicles and a store that meets everyone’s grocery needs.

“We had been exceeding expectations with our little forecourt store for some time, but we knew the local community was demanding something bigger and better from us. People can come here to get what they want, avoiding a trip to the nearby towns like Gillingham and Shaftesbury.”

The new Spar store has been developed with some co-investment from Appleby Westward, the regional distribution company for Spar stores in the southwest. The store provides several attractive new features, including Olive’s Kitchen, a range of delicious homemade meals cooked in Sherborne, and a milk station, which is proving extremely popular with customers. There is also a substantial range of chilled and frozen products, an extensive off licence, which includes Laithwaites wines and 30 different gins, a wide-ranging food-to-go offer.

Seb adds: “The big emphasis throughout the store is on local produce as we have always backed regional suppliers in Dorset and Somerset. Our fruit and vegetables are locally produced, along with local meats, locally made sandwiches, a big Purbeck ice cream freezer and an in-store bakery.”

Record-breaking investment for Spar Crosshouse

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Spar’s wholesalers are also investing in Spar Market stores. The small village of Crosshouse in East Ayrshire, two miles from Kilmarnock in Scotland, is home to a brand-new look Spar Market store owned by CJ Lang & Son.

Investment went into new energy-efficient refrigeration, freezers, flooring, ceiling, and LED lighting. A welcoming environment was created with the very latest Spar internal and external graphics design package, as well as enhancing the customer shopping experience with 12 digital screens around the store and two new self-scan checkouts.

The food-to-go offer has also seen a huge transformation and the store stocks produce from local butchers, Pollok Williamson, and frozen meals from Cook.

Colin McLean, CEO of CJ Lang & Son, says: “We made a significant investment in the development of this store to give it a brand-new feel and, since opening in August last year, it now exceeds all other stores in the area. The refurbishment was the largest we have undertaken and meets an exceptional standard. We are enormously proud of how the store design, format, energy-efficiency, and the introduction of key retail technology solutions such as the addition of a self-checkout solution, electronic shelf-edge labels and a trial Reverse Vending Machine are key to our retail success.”

Business growth

Taylor concludes: “Independent retailers who are investing in Spar Market stores are driving the change in bricks and mortar stores. The stores offer more than just food and drink products. These are stores of the future, fit for tomorrow’s customers. By focusing on the customer and local community, investing in retail technology and understanding the data, these stores are experiencing an average of a +20% increase in sales post-refit. All the major category areas are growing: food-to-go, fresh meat, and BWS sales are up, the fresh participation within the store has increased dramatically and, more importantly, the retailers’ margin is protected.

“This proves that our clear focus on the customer, investing in the store and colleagues and defining a store’s format will strengthen customer loyalty and, in return, see a healthy increase in margin. Today, that’s what it’s all about.”

To hear more about how Spar can help you increase your store’s profitability, visit Own a Store | Independent Retailers | SPAR today.