Paul Stone’s four stores in Manchester will turn over £14m this year. But, as Steven Lambert discovered, now is not the time for the entrepreneurial retailer to put his feet up and with a fifth store waiting in the wings he won’t be

Having moved to Manchester in the 1990s, Paul Stone quickly realised that the area was crying out for a decent convenience retail offering.

“I went to university in Manchester to do a management science degree and then went to work with my parents, who have been with Spar since the ‘70s in Yorkshire, so retailing has always been in my blood. When I came back to Manchester, there was nowhere around in the city centre where you could pick up a loaf of bread or a pint of milk after 6pm. So it was clear to me there was a big opportunity for a convenience store.”

 

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<p class=This led to the creation of his flagship 2,000sq ft Spar store on Oxford Road in 1994, followed swiftly by the addition of a store in Piccadilly in 1998. A further two Spars were added in 2009 and 2011.

Nowadays, the retail landscape in the city centre has changed dramatically. But Paul feels he is well equipped to deal with the wealth of competition around him: “We now have four Co-ops, 11 Tesco Expresses, three Sainsbury’s and 38 convenience stores in the area.

“We had a Tesco Express open about 100 yards from our Oxford Road store in 2012 but we didn’t see a dip in sales at all. All of our stores are open 24 hours a day for 365 days of the year, including Christmas. I think it’s one of our big strengths that we have built this strong brand with Spar and that customers know that we are always open for them.”

Not that there haven’t been bumps along the road. The riots of 2011 saw looters damage and steal £30,000 worth of stock from one of his stores.

“It was just before we were about to open our fourth store,” says Paul. “It was the worst day of my retailing life, but we have emerged stronger from it.”

Keeping on top of the latest trends has enabled Paul to stay one step ahead of rival businesses. This includes the creation of his Cheeky Coffee Company in September 2012 to cash in on the latte craze.

“We wanted to do a coffee offer in the Oxford Road store but didn’t have the space. So we turned a stockroom over the road into a Cheeky Coffee café, from which we now supply coffee to all of our stores. We also prepare food to go there such as filled baguettes, soup and jacket potatoes. We serve about 50,000 to 60,000 customers a week.”

We’re seeing food service and convenience slowly coming together, so we want to make sure we’re at the forefront of that

Paul has also tied Cheeky Coffee in with the wealth of promotions and incentives he runs for his large student customer base, with the Oxford Road store situated close to the University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University.

“For Fresher’s Week, we gave out green spoons that students could use to claim a free coffee, and we have a loyalty card as well. We also make up welcome packs for new students to let them know that we’re nearby.”

In addition to being open 24 hours a day, Paul also operates extended licensing hours, with shoppers able to buy alcohol until 3am in the Oxford Road store and until 2am in the other three shops.

“Obviously, we work very closely with the police and the local authorities to ensure we are selling responsibly.”

With a wealth of loyal repeat customers and passing trade, Paul says combined yearly turnover for the four stores stands at an impressive £14m. And this looks set to accelerate with the addition of a fifth store in the next few months.

“We are due to open a new Spar on Princess Street, which we’re trying to get finished by September in time for Fresher’s Week. We’ll be bringing Cheeky Coffee into the store as a self-service concept and we’ll have a small seating area as well. We’re seeing food service and convenience slowly coming together, so we want to make sure we’re at the forefront of that.”

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