‘If we’d just been a corner shop we would’ve folded’

When floods in 2015 put Spar Sandylands nearly five feet underwater it forced the store to have its first major refit since in more than thirty years.

Location: Kendal, Cumbria

Hours: 6am-10pm every day

Staff: 17 staff (two full-time)

Size: 1,000sq ft

Trading since: 1983

When floods in 2015 put Spar Sandylands nearly five feet underwater it forced the store to modernise with its first major refit since in more than thirty years.

Refitting and rebuilding the store themselves, manager Sharon Walker and her team have overcame insurance hurdles and the flood’s impact on the local community to build a store fit for the future.

Staying through the night of the flood with little sleep, Sharon began the clear up effort straight away. Describing the state of the store she says: “It was carnage, complete devastation. Not just our store, but the houses as well. You think: ‘how will we all come back from this?’”

However, both the store and the community rose to the challenge and within six months they were celebrating the store reopening and people returning to their homes.

“There was a real community feel – the morale was incredible, people who didn’t usually speak to each started talking and we became a real caring community,” says Sharon. “We are only a tiny council estate compared to the others nearby, but we all came together, and it’s still going strong more than a year on.”

Rebuilding went beyond just replacing units, it brought in new features that have helped the store to retain its audience amidst tough local competition from multiples. Sharon explains: “Before there was an attitude of ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’, but now we’ve now got great fridges that have halved our electricity costs, a posher coffee machine selling way more than the old one, we’ve got contactless payments and a shiny new EPoS. We’ve gone all modern and I couldn’t be happier.”

While embracing the modern, the store has kept what it is most famous for – it’s huge range of home baked cakes. Every year the store makes more than 1,000 Christmas cakes. It counts Prince Charles as a fan and they even export fruit cakes to Italy. “Our cake counter saves us. If we’d just been a corner shop we would have folded,” says Sharon. It’s so popular that when they reopened, the team had to bake through the night to meet a tenfold demand.

Sharon adds: “It’s all homemade. The quality is great – it’s cheap and, most importantly, it tastes fab.” The strength of this USP turns the tables on the multiples with the manager challenging: “It’s not a case of how can we compete with them, it’s how they can compete with us.”

Modestly, Sharon also describes the free cake counter as one of the reasons the store has such low staff turnover, with some staff members achieving 20 years’ service. She adds: “It’s not hard work, as long as the job gets done we’re here to talk to and look after the customer and it’s fun. It’s hard to call it a proper job when you get to spend the day talking with friends.”

Top tips

Invest in up-to-date equipment

The store’s previous ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality meant some equipment was passed its best. Replacing the units halved their electricity bill.

Opportunities in reduced smoking

Tobacco law changes have impacted sales, but impulse buying remains strong. “There’s more opportunity for selling sweets, soft drinks, groceries and other goods in store now,” says Sharon.

Look on the bright side

Even when things seem bad, it’s important to find a plus side. Discussing the flood, Sharon says: “We used to have that horrible Corrie fake brick effect so it felt good to rip all that down.”

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