The Convenience Retail Award winner for Best Independent Store is a shining example of a store that perfectly meets the very distinct needs of its shoppers while ensuring a competitive edge against its many multiple rivals. It does this by trading 24 hours a day and offering a unique and engaging range which includes essential items such as duvet sets and cutlery for the city’s many university students. Owner Paul Stone’s theory is that being there for them when they first start the term can help to secure their loyalty long term. With the store turning over £100,000 a week, it’s a strategy that is clearly working.

Best Chilled Retailer

Spar Oxford Road

Spar Oxford Road also claimed the title of Best Chilled Food retailer, having impressed the judges with the optimum range, effective use of pos and almost perfect availability despite being open 24 hours a day. In addition to a wide array of key branded chilled goods, including ‘meal for tonight’ options, the store prides itself on its range of home-made fresh food to go such as filled baguettes and salad boxes prepared in the store’s purpose-built kitchen across the street. It also sells more than 2,000 sandwiches a week.

Food to go

Spar Oxford Road

With 38 other convenience stores within a short walk of his store, including 12 Tesco Express stores, Paul has invested heavily in food to go as point of difference. It’s clearly working, with food-to-go sales in major growth and now worth more than £23,000 a week.

The store’s hot food-to-go offer evolves throughout the day with breakfast (pastries), lunch (burgers and sandwiches) and dinner (pizzas and home-made ready meals) prepared across the road in Paul’s ‘Cheeky Coffee Co’ shop which boasts a large kitchen and food preparation area. 

Spar Oxford Road

Meal deals are an important part of the mix, offering freshly-made salads, filled baguettes and wraps. Salads include more unusual ingredients such as pitta, couscous and hummus.

Innovative products

Spar Oxford Road

American-style red cups as seen in US teen movies are popular with party-loving students, and more than 40 packs are sold a week. Paul buys the cups in bulk bags of 400 from Costco and makes a “huge” margin on them.

Spar Oxford Road

Celebrity face masks also bring a sense of fun and hundreds are bought a week.

Manchester’s high mix of foreign students means that Paul also does a brisk trade in international adaptors. He also sells basic cutlery kits, dining sets and duvets.

The store’s enhanced spirit range includes 3ltr bottles for busy bar owners who use the store as a back-up supplier late at night. Spirits now account for £20,000 a week.

Hot coffee

Spar Oxford Road

Hot coffee sales are a growing area and Paul plans to shrink his declining news and magazine section in 2015 to create space for a small bench seating area which he hopes will further boost sales.

He also plans to add a second coffee machine to help speed up service during peak times and provide an essential back up should one machine break down.

Directly across the road from Spar Oxford Road is Paul’s coffee shop ‘The Cheeky Coffee Co’. Cross-promotions are run between it and the store.

Trading hours

Spar Oxford Road

Spar Oxford Road is open 24 hours a day, helping it to take £100,000 a week.

It is licensed to sell alcohol until 3am, and after this time the drinks chillers, which are all covered with energy efficient doors, are locked.

The store has three distinct busy periods: lunchtime between 12pm and 2pm; late afternoon between 5pm and 6pm; and then late evening between 11pm and midnight when its competitors close.

A security guard at the entrance prevents inebriated shoppers from entering. “We serve drinkers, not drunks,” says Paul.

Paul employs different teams of staff for day and night shifts. “Late at night it’s a bit like working behind the bar in a busy pub or club; it can be challenging and it’s important to have people who can handle that,” he says.

High-tech marketing

Spar Oxford Road

Branded media screens display promotions and highlight brands such Mars.

Spar Oxford Road

The store recently conducted a trial with Wrigley and Camelot which saw small hidden speakers play pre-recorded messages to customers as they browsed. One message reminded lunchtime shoppers to buy chewing gum to freshen their breath after eating, resulting in a 5% uplift in sales.

The store has installed ‘Big DL’ beacons which work with an app to ‘push’ Spar offers onto customers’ mobile phones as they enter.