Isle of Wight retailers John Perrett and John Ward recently opened their 14th store on the island after recognising the potential of a former carpet warehouse.

On an island of just 148sq miles, it’s no mean feat to have opened 13 stores. But for John Perrett and business partner John Ward, the duo who established Honeyhill Stores back in 2002, 13 just wasn’t enough. The savvy pair had spotted another gap in what is a finite market, and in April opened their 14th Spar store on the outskirts of Newport, following a £250,000 co-investment with Spar wholesaler Appleby Westward.

“The site was a carpet warehouse which hadn’t been used for three years, and we recognised the potential of the building,” says John P. The building is 6,000sq ft, but they limited the size of the shop to 3,000sq ft in order to comply with Sunday trading laws. Despite being small enough to open for more than six hours on a Sunday, John perceives the new Spar Carisbrooke store as a community supermarket. “There’s a lot of passing trade in the mornings and evenings, as we’re en route to a prison, hospital and industrial estate which are located on the other side of town, so we’re hoping to pick up a lot of that. There are also a lot of homes in the area which aren’t particularly well served,” he says. “There are supermarkets in Newport, but not on this side of town, and cutting down on customer journeys is very important nowadays. People don’t want to drive long distances because of the price of petrol.”

When C-Store visited in early summer, the store had been open for a matter of weeks, but it was already bringing in about £30,000 a week. “We’re very pleased from a standing start and we’re still learning what the local people want,” he says.

shop profile

Size: 3,000sq ft

Opening hours: 7am-10pm

Staff: 12

Services: National Lottery, PayPoint, Costa Coffee, pizza delivery service

With a sizeable car park, the store is well placed to attract passing trade and lure people from the Sainsbury’s and Morrisons supermarkets in Newport town centre. “We’ve noticed customers who originally came in for a paper or milk are now buying complete meal packages - they probably shopped in the supermarkets before,” says John W.

“We think we’ve got everything,” his namesake adds. “We’ve got food to go, which is very important for morning and evening trade - from breakfast baps in the morning to pizzas in the evening, as well as the Costa coffee machine. We’ve got all the Spar deals as we like to show off value for money. One of the challenges for convenience retailers is to convince people of the value we offer. Often people’s perception is that you’ve got to go to an Asda to get great value, but that isn’t true. We can also do three bottles of wine for £10.”

Value for money is key for fostering customer loyalty, but Spar Carisbrooke really sets itself apart with its in-store pizza service. The duo has high hopes for the pizzas, which are baked on demand in a traditional oven. Customers can either eat in the designated area in-store, or order over the phone and receive free delivery if they live within the Newport area. So far so Domino’s, but they also believe they can out-value established pizza delivery outfits. “A traditional pizza place will charge £2 or £3 for a Coke, whereas we can offer deals to get cheap Coke or beers or whatever,” says John W. He adds that the pizzas are slowly gaining a reputation. “We’ve had very good feedback for the pizzas. Someone told me they were better tasting than Domino’s - and better value. We’re beginning to get repeat business.”

But he acknowledges that customers need time to get used to a new concept. “You wouldn’t have thought a few years ago of phoning your local Spar shop and getting a pizza delivery service. You might have thought of buying a frozen one and popping home to put it in the oven,” he says. In order to increase custom, they will be doing sampling and handing out pizzas slices “so people can see the quality”.

They are also confident of winning over customers with their fruit and veg section, which has grown steadily from about £750 turnover a week in the early days to about £1,000 at the latest count. “Once people enter the shop they realise that we’ve actually got a great produce offering, which hasn’t always been the case in convenience,” says John W. “But Appleby Westward has worked really hard on its produce. People tend to judge your store on the quality of fruit and veg now. It’s especially important in the summer season - if people come in wanting to have a bbq they want the meat and salad, they don’t want to shop around.”

While it might not be BBQs all the way this season thanks to the unpredictable weather, the store has the flexibility to cope when heatwaves arrive. “We have deliveries six days a week, which means our produce really is fresh - we can order on a daily basis and cope with the change in weather,” adds John P.

“If it turns hot and sunny we can order more lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber - if the weather looks more wintry you can up the cauliflowers and cabbage and veg of that nature. We can move with the changing weather and always stay in stock.”

He also praises Appleby for its role in developing the store. “Appleby has got a good team on store development who have helped us with all the planning and shopfitting. They will shop around for best prices and solutions. We relied on them a great deal for the complete package,” he says.

With the benefit of starting from a blank canvas, the duo could consider exactly what they wanted and so eschewed air conditioning for money-saving and eco-friendly energy systems. “We’ve got all the compressors in the 3,000sq ft warehouse, which means we can keep the noise down and recycle the heat. A combination of cold air from the refrigeration and warm air from the compressors should make the shop self-sufficient,” says John P. They’re expecting a saving of about £5,000 a year on their electricity use. “We believe the shop will stay a constant temperature all year round. The building also has a new roof with the latest insulation, which will help,” he adds.

The store is set on a sustainable footing in other ways, too. “We have a name as a good local employer,” John says. “We’re seen to be a company worth working for many of our managers have grown from within so people see the opportunities. We also have a number of apprentices, which usually leads to them taking a full time job with us.”

He views the staff at Spar Carisbrooke as another weapon in the store’s armoury. “We employ a lot of local staff, who get to know the customers and their needs. They talk to the customers about the offers and deals, which is very important. It’s not the hard sell, it’s the soft sell - it’s just communicating,” John P says.

“We’re also very rooted in community and try to do lots of different things to help out. For example, last Christmas we had a Father Christmas in one of our stores and raised money for the NSPCC and a local animal charity. We’re heavily involved this year with a big music festival that is raising money for the local donkey charity. We’re working with them to sell soft drinks and alcohol and to run the camp shop. All the profits will go to the charity. It’s important for us to be seen as the local business out there working with the community.”

With form like this, there is every chance that they will realise their ambitions for Spar Carisbrooke as a successful community supermarket, one which engages with the community, offers value for money and quality produce, while pushing the boundaries with its food to go and pizza delivery service.

For the moment, the two Johns will keep a close eye on each category. “With the tobacco display ban looming we need to move away from any reliance on tobacco. We need to focus on food to go, fresh meat, fruit and veg, and sell a good mix of grocery brands. After a few more months we’ll look at what the shop’s strong points are, and if an area is doing well we’ll allocate more space to that product range,” John P says, with a steady hand on the metaphorical tiller. ■