Retailer profile: Justin and Sara McIlveen, Spar Llanrwst

As you walk into Spar Llanrwst, sitting proudly next to the till is the Spar Retailer of the Year Award, which Justin and Sara McIlveen were awarded at the Spar Retail Show last month.

The facts

Location: Llanrwst, Conwy, Wales

Staff: 16

Hours: 6.30am-11pm Mon-Sun

Size: 2,400sq ft

Trading since: early 1980s

Style: A convenience store in the centre of a market town. There is a large Co-op within a five-minute walk and a McColls over the road.

It’s easy to see why they scooped the accolade. The shop is well laid out – no doubt thanks to Justin spending time as a merchandiser for Blakemore in his 20s – and it is filled with a vast array of products and services to meet every need. 

It has excellent fresh & chilled and food-to-go areas, and you can’t miss the value on offer, with several £1 bays and low prices flagged throughout the shop.  

“We’ve really got behind the £1 promotion,” says Justin, “and it has made a difference. Where others have seen static sales, we’ve had growth across our stores over the last couple of years. Considering we’re selling a lot of things cheaper than we were, it means we’re selling a lot more of it.” 

The store has always supported local producers, but over the past two years they’ve ramped up their support. “We get Blas ar Fwyd products from a local deli down the road – things like coleslaw, houmous, soups, cheesecakes – it’s a big brand in Wales,” says Justin. 

They also have local beer, cider, cakes, bread, eggs and vegetables, which are grown just half a mile away. “Whenever I see something that I think will work I get it in,” adds Justin. 

“We promote to consumers that by shopping with us and buying local product, they’re benefiting local businesses and money is rotating in the local community.” 

Community is hugely important in Llanrwst, where the population is around 3,000. The shop sponsors local rugby, football and cricket clubs, as well as triathlons, cycle races and school sports days. “It all helps the community and gives us an opportunity to promote ourselves on Facebook,” explains Justin. 

Top tips
  1. Get social: Spar Llanrwst has a Facebook page and Twitter account, which Justin uses to promote the business and their various great offers.
  2. Focus on value: The shop is filled with eye-catching “value” areas for a raft of different categories, which are a hit with customers.
  3. Go local: Justin says they deal with around 50 local suppliers, making their range unique and relevant to their shoppers.

He admits that the potential arrival of a Tesco spurred them to take action and increase marketing of the shop. “The Tesco threat brought up the issue of local produce,” he says. 

“We had it, but customers didn’t know or didn’t know how much we had.” 

“Now we market it through social media. It also gets the message out that we are a family business putting a lot of money back into the local economy.”

Sara and Justin say the biggest challenge is staying interesting and relevant. “You have to be different and keep people interested in coming to you,” says Sara. 

“We keep our eyes open and take in information from different areas and types of stores. We go to Waitrose and Marks & Spencer, as well as Aldi to see what they’re doing that we don’t.”

While they know they have a great store, Justin and Sara are also aware of where they need to improve. They plan to change the layout of their food to go area, which includes bringing hot food further forward in-store and introducing a chiller facing the till, filled with snacks and sandwiches.

They also plan to put fresh meat in a better site to encourage shoppers to stock up for ‘tea for tonight’. “We sell cooked chickens for £4 and sell 30-40 a week,” adds Sara, “but we could sell a lot more. We need to put other products with it for a full meal offer.” 

Despite winning the Spar award, it’s clear the McIlveens aren’t resting on their laurels – if anything, it’s inspired them to make the store even better than it already is. 


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