Improved visibility and affordable refit costs are central to Lawrence Hunt & Co’s new format Spar store in Penwortham, Preston. C-Store was given a tour by managing director Kevin Hunt
1. “We started from the outside, removing all the stuff from the windows so the shopper could see straight in,” explains managing director Kevin Hunt. “The store trades well, but previously all the shopper could see were magazines, cards, tobacco and a cash machine. Customers wanted us to sell more produce and bakery, so we put them at the front.”
2. Customer research was carried out before the refit. “Customers told us they wanted more space and less clutter as it was difficult for people with prams and wheelchairs to get around. The research gave us some real home truths. For example, shoppers told us that they wanted to buy chicken - but we already sold it! So either they couldn’t find it or they just didn’t associate it with us.”
3. The importance of local ownership came through strongly in the customer research carried out, so that both the local roots and community activity are now well communicated. “Customers know we are locally owned, and they like that,” says Kevin. “Feedback from customers has been so positive - more than for anything else we have ever been associated with.”
4. The team had a blank sheet of paper for the design, but cost was definitely a factor. Kevin says: “We spent £85,000 on it - we’ve done refits before that were twice that. We wanted something fresh and modern, but also realistic for the retailer. The idea is that Spar will soon have hundreds of stores like this, not just a few.”
5. The veg display is deliberately overstated to ensure customers notice the focus on fresh, and Kevin believes loose vegetables should be stocked wherever possible. The chain is employing a produce manager, and fresh is the first category Kevin looks at when doing sales reports.
6. Meal deals are colour-coded: £2.75 for the established lunch deal of sandwiches, crisps and a soft drink and £6 for a trial dinner deal comprising of one meat dish, two veg accompaniments and a dessert. Nothing like this has been tried before so Kevin is expecting it to take a while, and for him to suffer a degree of wastage, before it really takes off. “We are selling three times the normal level of meal accompaniments, but it’s not the same for desserts, so we may make it £5 and exclude the dessert,” he explains.
7. No new meat and fish lines have been added, but the bay is now twice the size to display the products better. A new profile for the shelf also helps to improve visibility. Ambient meal solutions are positioned opposite the fresh meat, and are merchandised in country blocks - such as putting all Mexican lines together - rather than by pack formats. Grocery sales are already up an average of 30% per week, as is fresh meat.
8. An Italian bay merchandises Italian meals and drinks together. “It’s a no-brainer,” says Kevin. “These days, it’s almost industry standard. Our stock profile hasn’t changed that much - it’s been about 400 lines in and 400 out - but it’s all merchandised so much better. Customers are now comparing us with Sainsbury’s and the Co-op, and that’s exactly where we want to be, competing for baskets.”
9. Pet care space has been pared down dramatically, but the range has been updated with more focus given to pouches and less on cans. Sales have held up well, says Kevin, and shoppers are encouraged to give their views on the new ranges throughout the store with ‘just ask’ pos material and customer feedback cards. Dedicated bays for baby products and health & beauty are also new to the store.
10. Frozen space has been cut from five doors to three, to allow for additional refrigeration for milk and juices. “In an ideal world we would have more frozen, but it’s the only place we can put the units, and chilled was more important,” says Kevin. Initial customer reaction called out for more ice cream, so Kevin added some Ben & Jerry’s lines to the ice freezer in the licensed department.
11. Big brand bread is still stocked, but Kevin wanted to give bake-off and local bakery lines prominence to add to the sense of theatre. Most prepared morning goods are thaw and serve, and local bakery lines are supplied through Spar distributor James Hall. Preserves now have their own fixture alongside bread, leading to huge increase in impulse sales of both.
12. Off licence has always been a strong seller here so changes were minimal, although, in common with the rest of the store, energy-saving doors were added to the chillers. Space given to impulse confectionery has been reduced from 6m to 2m, but bags and other impulse lines are merchandised in the new queuing system and confectionery sales are up.
13. The space dedicated to news and magazines has been halved in the refit, but the store is still looking to capture sales from early risers. Newspapers, the Costa coffee machine and a full sweet and savoury bake-off selection are all ready for sale when the store opens its doors at 6.30am.
14. A number of customer-friendly touches increase the appeal of the store, including a Sky TV screen, parcel collection service, free Wi-Fi, and this phone charging station. Footfall, which was dropping, is rising again, with an extra 800 customers a week since the refit in October.
15. Weekly sales in Penwortham are up about £5k to £39k in the year to November, expected to peak at £44k in the summer, although a Sainsbury’s store is due to open nearby. “We’ve totally succeeded in growing where we wanted to grow,” says Kevin. “If competition opens, we’ll have a mature store with the right set-up in place.”