Paul Stone faced an uphill battle when he opened a temporary shop while his existing store was revamped, but his well thought- out approach has paid off handsomely

Why did the Spar shop cross the road? It might sound like a joke, but the challenges Paul Stone faced running a temporary store across the road from his existing shop were no laughing matter.

Originally from Yorkshire, Paul came to Manchester to study management science and fell for the city’s charms. He now owns three Manchester Spar stores, one of which is on major city thoroughfare, Oxford Road. “When we opened the Oxford Road store in 1994 we were the only c-store in the city centre,” says Paul. “A lot of people in the industry were writing it off, thinking that it wouldn’t work, but now everyone’s at it! In this area alone, there are eight Tesco Express stores, six Sainsbury Locals, four Co-ops, and two Waitrose outlets.”

In fact, Spar Oxford Road is so busy that it is worth Paul’s while to trade 24 hours a day. “You’ve got to be open when people need you and if that means 24 hours a day then that’s that,” he says.

Of course, with the high street store doing a roaring trade, shutting up shop was the last thing on Paul’s mind. But two years ago that’s exactly what he ended up doing when he was asked to surrender the six years remaining on his lease. The freeholders wanted to demolish the building and rebuild it adding an 11-storey hotel. The hotel would contain a shop unit which would be ready for Paul to re-open in two years’ time.

“I could have gone on holiday for 18 months, but instead I decided to open a temporary store. Because it’s such a busy store and I’ve had many of the same staff for a long time, I decided it made sense to find a new space.”

shop profile

Spar Oxford Road 
Size: 2,000sq ft Staff: 14 full-time, eight part-time Additional services: lottery, PayPoint, off-licence till 3am, coffee to go

So instead of chilling out in the Bahamas, Paul opted for renting the site over the road from his existing shop to create a temporary store that he refers to as the Quad. “We spent £150,000 kitting it out,” says Paul. He had his work cut out for him as the temporary store was considerably smaller than Spar Oxford Road. “The Quad is 1,500sq ft and the original unit was 2,000sq ft. We were trying to get a quart in a pint pot, as my Dad would say!”

In order to get as much fast-selling stock as possible into the space, Paul was forced to take a hard line on weaker categories. “Frozen food suffered, but it wasn’t a strong seller for us,” he says.

Managing deliveries to the Quad was another hurdle to overcome. Access to the delivery entrance was restricted much of the time because of the construction work at the existing store. “While building work was going on there was just a big hole in the road,” says Paul. “That made deliveries difficult.”

The construction work also made it tricky for customers to access the Quad. “We were 40 yards away from the high street and people had to walk down a narrow walkway to reach us,” explains Paul. “We put banners up on the construction hoarding to tell people about the temporary store.”

But even with signposting, accessing the store still wasn’t straightforward. “At one stage an 18-tonne crane fell onto the building site, making it almost impossible for customers to get to us for a couple of days,” says Paul.

Despite the numerous setbacks, the Quad still managed to do a decent trade. In fact, it performed so well that even in October 2010, when the original store was finally ready to trade, Paul decided to keep the temporary store open for the remainder of the year.

New beginnings

It might have been two years in the making, but the all-new Oxford Road store was undoubtedly worth the wait.

Paul invested £250,000 in the new store and, judging by the 20,000 customers who visit the store on a weekly basis, it was worth every penny.

Its high street location makes it a great one-stop shop for consumers on the go, and Paul has tapped into this with a wealth of chillers full of impulse products. There is row upon row of sandwiches, baguettes and wraps, not to mention the vast selection of soft drinks.

The new store also boasts wide, spacious aisles and modern signage. The store’s contemporary feel is particularly apt for its youthful customer base, many of whom are office workers popping in for lunch, and students from the city’s universities. In fact, Manchester is home to about 50,000 students and Paul ensures that the store benefits from their custom by offering frequent stationery deals, and a 3am liquor licence.

Paul also polls his staff, many of whom are students, to find out what to stock. “It’s good to listen to their recommendations. For example, they suggested Chocolate Weetabix and it’s been very popular,” he says. “Energy shots are also a big seller as students use them to stay alert when they’re studying.”

In addition, Paul has tapped into other opportunities by meeting the needs of businesses in the area. “I’m constantly visiting rival stores to look at milk prices and such we can’t afford to be too expensive.” His strategy is clearly working as the local café uses Spar Oxford Road for top-up shops. “We have a Starbucks nearby and if they’re really busy, they’ll buy 10 or 20 2ltr bottles of milk from us,” says Paul.

The local bars also make use of Paul’s store. “We get bartenders coming here to stock up on supplies; sometimes they’ll buy 50 limes. I reckon they’d buy ice too if I sold it, so I’m buying an ice machine. It will cost about £7,000, but it will pay off,” he says confidently.

He’s made plans for a food-to go area, too. “We’ve already got a coffee machine and we sell about 200 cups a week. In the future we’ll have a small seating area near the front of the store with hot food.”

And he’s got a few more bright ideas up his sleeve. “We’ve got to make every inch of space count. I’m going to raise the height of the gondolas at the entrance to create more selling space, and I’m going to install a queuing system by the tills where we can display confectionery to create incremental sales.”

It’s clear from listening to Paul that he is someone who never takes his finger off the pulse. And his continuous flow of ideas are often spawned from the many hours he spends on the shop floor. “I’ve worked on Christmas Day for the past six years, and I love working night shifts, too,” he says. “I love the rhythm of it. It’s busy until 4am, then there’s four hours of cleaning and re-facing the store. It’s so satisfying when the shop is neat at 8am and everyone is going to work as you’re heading home.”

But just because he’s hands-on doesn’t mean Paul isn’t able to look at the bigger picture. He claims he’d like to have a couple more stores under his belt in the next few years, but doesn’t want so many that he loses touch with their day-to-day running. “I check in on all my stores every day and make sure I’m always available if anyone has any queries. I don’t want to play the numbers game, but I’d like to have five really good stores.” There’s certainly no time for moss to gather on this rolling Stone.