Located in the middle of a shopping centre and office business park, Spar Park West provides a great introduction as to why Irish independent retailers are leading the world when it comes to fresh food to go.
The store offers a hot food counter, which holds pastries, wedges, meals and wraps; a cold self-serve salad counter, where shoppers can load pots with superfood salads and fruit; a fresh sandwich counter; a large bakery display from Aryzta; and a comfortable seating area, inviting customers to stay for longer.
“We’ve had a minimum wage increase of 3%, overhead inflation is running at 2.5% and my rent has increased. As a result, we need to generate a €700 (£600) a week increase. We won’t get it by increasing prices, but we will get it by expanding our fresh,” explains owner David Bagnall.
The store opened in 2002. All of the equipment was built to last and many of the ovens are now 17 years old. “They still produce €3,000-worth (£2,600) of bread a week,” he says.
Its dependency on office workers means that the shop is open five days a week, with no service over Christmas, Easter or bank holidays.
This makes it even more challenging to tackle all the overheads that are present every day of the week. “It makes fresh food a challenge, but this year we’ll make margins of 50% on fresh,” he says.
Because of the office routine, lunch needs to be handled with military precision as the store serves 1,000 people their midday meal every weekday.
If there’s bad weather, it could lead to €500 (£430) in waste because the number of customers could drop. On a warm day, the number of customers could reach up to 1,100. “We’ve met with all the businesses because we can’t serve everyone at the same time,” David says.
“All the offices are on 15-minute schedules – we call it ‘the wave’. The first block hits the deli and then goes into the tills as the next wave comes. It’s enabled us to increase spend and improve customer service.
“Every time a new company moves in to the area, we give them a lunch-break slot. It’s a good way to build local relationships.”
This has enabled David to remove the phones he had for people to call and text in their orders, as he found customers still wanted to come in and see the food to make their choice. However, he is planning to introduce iPads at the door and scanners to help customers get in and out even quicker.
“This shop is unusual because you have people visiting in the morning, looking for dinner after a night shift and you have people visiting in the evening for their breakfast. No matter when they come in, though, speed of service is everything,” he says.
The shop has already introduced one tablet next to the self-serve salad counter that displays allergen information supplied by a company called Profcal, as part of a trial. “This tablet has all the allergen details of everything we buy,” David says.
“It also enables us to email this information to our customers. You can search by category and it’ll bring up the full list of everything we have.”
While being able to own how customers use his shop puts David in a good position, it also comes with an element of risk. After two companies in the area went bust, the store’s turnover was hit by 25% in two weeks.
But by focusing on the higher margins that come with food to go and continuing to push the percentage of sales that come from higher-profit categories, Spar Park West is continuing to take control of its own destiny.