Learn more about the success of Spar Minster Lovell over the past 70 years as KP Snacks, celebrating its own 70th anniversary this year, uncovers insight from Ian Lewis regarding the family retailer’s long-term success.
KP has been delivering delicious, high-quality nuts since 1953 and this year the brand is celebrating its 70 years of success. KP Snacks trading director Matt Collins talks exclusively to longstanding retailers who share the secrets of their success. In this article, he speaks with Ian Lewis, owner of Spar Minster Lovell, a store that was founded in 1937.
As you know KP Nuts has been around for 70 years this year. We’re reflecting on the success of the brand, which is No.1 in the nuts category1. Your store has been around for a really long time too. Can you tell us a bit about it?
I’m the third generation of the family running the store. First my great uncle and aunt opened the store, then my grandparents took it over, with my father getting involved in 1967 and leading the store. We joined Spar in 1991 and expanded to the current size in 2005. I was an IT engineer after leaving school but after I had my little boy, I decided that helping run the shop would be a better fit for our lifestyle. That was in 2012.
In 2017, we underwent a complete store refit. This was a huge investment, a leap of faith and a massive commitment for the whole team, particularly my parents at their age. But it truly transformed the environment, making it much more appealing and commercially successful. In this industry, you can’t rest on your laurels and the risks we’ve taken have paid off because we put the customer at the heart of our business. Our community even embraced the makeshift store we created under a marquee in the grounds while we undertook several weeks of construction work.
Our modern, clean and appealing store keeps customers coming back, but part of our magic is that we’re genuinely a family business. My parents are still involved, albeit a little less hands-on than they used to be, and my siblings are also involved in running the business. I wasn’t sure if running the store was going to be for me, and it has its challenges but it’s so rewarding, seeing everyone come in day to day, and the same familiar faces who appreciate what we do.
With our store, our customers feel a sense of neighbourhood and our staff feel like they’re part of the family. It’s such a lovely feeling.
What would you say is key to your success?
We get close to our customers and react well to their needs. If there’s a specific request to stock something new, for example, we’re very open to that. In the past, we’ve had requests from customers to stock specific free-from or vegan products, for example, and we’ve always been really accommodating, in a way that larger stores can’t or won’t be. The fact that we’re happy to go above and beyond fosters customer loyalty. And I think people really appreciate us – they see us as a destination.
Alongside this, we saw customers gravitate to shopping more locally during the Covid pandemic. This gave our customers an opportunity to experience the positives associated with shopping in an independent store. And we give them reasons to keep coming back for more.
I feel we have an edge on the mults – we work closely with our wholesale partner Blakemore (also family-run), which guides us on shopper missions and its pricing makes sure we are competitive. We recently launched a Tesco price match on core products, for example, which gives customers reassurance.
We were early adopters of food-to-go and have established a strong offering and reputation in the area. Our first team member gets in at 3am to support in-food preparation, so there is a full fresh food offering that’s ready when people are on their way to work first thing. Most other stores would be starting this process at 6am but we’re set and ready to go.
We are also really invested in the community and I think, therefore, the community is invested in us. We sponsor local football teams, local cricket disability teams, we never say no to requests for donations even if it’s simply a prize for a local raffle. My brother-in-law sadly lost his battle with cancer so we are heavily involved in fundraising for Macmillan, led by my sister who still works in the store.
Your background in IT has driven innovation in your store. Can you tell us more about the technology changes you’ve introduced?
We have introduced several new initiatives that have saved both time and money in the long run. Our electronic shelf labelling has saved about 12 hours a week of staff time, is more accurate and is helping us communicate with customers because we can put messaging on the shelf labelling too. We’ve also introduced automated temperature checks. Both of these initiatives have saved so much time, which can be diverted to focus on the important things like cleanliness. We’ve also incorporated digital screens to showcase new products, deals or initiatives, which really appeal to our customers. Investing in technology can feel like a huge expenditure but it will save money in the long run.
We believe there’s a huge opportunity for nuts growth in C&I, especially in the year of our 70th anniversary. Nuts have been recognised for their natural properties and are therefore exempt from HFSS restrictions. What is the role of nuts in your CSN proposition?
CSN is a hugely important category in our store. We are a destination store with an emphasis on food-to-go and meal deals, so crisps and nuts are very important to us. We are guided by our wholesaler on what to stock, but I would say KP is a must-stock brand – they are the biggest player so we need to have them. We don’t really look elsewhere. KP does everything we need it to do.
To finish, would you mind telling me what advice you would give other retailers in terms of ensuring longevity and success?
I would say, put your community at the heart of your store, and make sure you embrace and invest in innovation – you’ve got to move with the times to make sure you’re on the front foot. Be a little brave and move with new crazes, so you can test and learn but also excite and delight your customers. We work really closely with Blakemore and they’ve given us the opportunity to push on some really ‘of the moment’ products – we were early stockists of Alani, Mr Beast and Prime, which has helped reinforce the concept of our store as a destination.