When manager Stacey Best took over Spar Leegomery in 2012, it was clear to her that much more could be done to help this Shropshire store reach its potential, and the threat of a Tesco Express opening nearby made the need to improve an urgent one.
The team - along with Blakemore - decided to make some brave decisions about the direction they were going to take the store and a series of initiatives were introduced, with those tackling the store’s crime rate a top priority.
Like a lot of convenience stores Spar Leegomery was seen as easy prey for shoplifters. “It was a pretty tough situation with more than £400-worth of stock being taken every week,” Stacey recalls. “They were clearing us out and it became difficult to see how we could stop it.”
The tipping point came when a stolen shelfload of detergent was being advertised for sale on a social media site. “I was on the website and noticed it was the exact same product as was stolen from us,” she says. “I went straight to the police and let them know about it and they were able to act. The most frustrating part was that they weren’t selling it for that much cheaper than we were!”
Spar Leegomery, Shropshire
Size of store: 2,900sq ft
Weekly turnover: £53,000 (store £36,500, services £17,000) plus Greggs £3,000
Average basket spend: £4.50 to £5
Extras: Greggs, contactless payment, Collect Plus, walk-in beer chiller
But it was some positive news which provided the opportunity to really tackle the problem: the decision by Blakemore to set up a franchise agreement with Greggs, and launch the food-to-go operation on site. Stacey saw it as a chance to address the crime situation, starting with examining exactly what was being taken.
“The thieves targeted all the usual high-value items,” explains Stacey. “They went for meats and cheeses so we cut back on those ranges when we changed things for Greggs and it gave thieves less to target.”
The refit also gave them the opportunity to reduce the height of the shelves, which had the dual benefit of letting more light into the store and allowing staff to see more of what’s going on across the shop floor. “There are fewer hidden corners in the store now and we can see more of each aisle,” points out Stacey. “Now we know if there’s someone in an aisle even if we’re not on it, and if we think they’re acting suspiciously one of us will start working on that aisle, or ask if we can help them. It creates more of a presence on the shop floor.”
Stacey also started using epos and CCTV more effectively to track at-risk lines. They now check the at-risk lines daily on epos and if there are any missing they have a narrower window of CCTV footage to view, cutting down the amount of time spent investigating crime.
The team also meets with a police community support officer on a weekly basis and report any incidents to him to keep the local force in the loop. Building this relationship has proven to be fruitful with shop theft now down to about £100 a week.
The move to include Greggs has been good all round for the store, as it is taking £3,000-worth of sales a week and attracting more customers to the store.
It was a bold move as Leegomery was one of just three stores in the Blakemore estate to put a Greggs on site, but Blakemore saw the brand as having the best fit for the area, complementing the store’s existing range as well as offering something new.
The brand is well signposted outside and throughout, making it difficult for customers to miss the freshly-baked pastries and sandwiches on offer.
However, with the Greggs name comes great responsibility. Food to go manager Will Clark has to adhere to very strict guidelines in the operation, right down to how to make a Greggs-quality sandwich. To ensure that he sticks to these guidelines, the site is visited monthly, a more frequent check-up than at normal Greggs sites.
“I can understand why they are strict about the model, as it’s their name and reputation,” says Will. “There are a lot of rules and procedures to follow, but it’s all for good reason and for the benefit of the store.”
Alongside the franchise partnership, the store has been on a promotional drive, keen to make sure that shoppers know about the value it offers. Windows and shelves are adorned with bright red POS material showing all of the offers and the new 50p bay, which Spar hopes will replace the pound as the new attractive price point for customers.
With the changes to the site and space given up to cater for new promotions, some categories had to be cut back. Newspapers and magazines was one of the casualties, but has bounced back despite being reduced from 3m to 2m. “Its location closer to the front of the store means it’s in the public view more and sales have increased, especially in children’s magazines,” says Stacey.
One area that wasn’t going to be cut back on, though, was Stacey’s favourite section of the store, the walk-in alcohol chiller.
Even though the beer cave takes up 14m of space, Stacey insists it’s worth it given the popularity of the section. “The beers, wines and spirits section is key to the success of the store and the beer cave helps it stand out,” she says. “During the summer, it’s crammed with people and we spend a lot of time filling it up. I’m not sure why the idea hasn’t been rolled out to other stores, perhaps due to space constraints, but it’s great for us. When we were installing Greggs, one of the options was to remove it, but I fought to keep it in and don’t regret it.”
As well as the beer cave feature, there is an extensive display of red wines and spirits, with the category topped off with a party drinks display as part of yet another initiative that is being trialled at the store by Blakemore.
So have the changes been enough to see off the competition from the Tesco Express? Thankfully so, with the multiple taking its toll at first, but sales recovering in the long term. “There was a novelty factor about it so people went along to see what it was like, but after three or four months we were back to normal trade and we’ve managed to grow sales since then.”
Zero Tolerance Award for Crime Prevention
The judges were impressed by the team’s willingness to pull together in an effort to cut crime in the store. Although the managerial team take ultimate responsibility for the crime-fighting efforts, the entire workforce go out of their way to make the store a safer place in which to shop and work.
The use of technology to record and report crime to the local authorities, with whom they have built up a strong relationship, was also praised.