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Once a traditional forecourt store next to his family’s car dealership, Justin Taylor’s Spar Winford has doubled in size and now offers customers a not-so-traditional modern convenience experience. Tim Murray reports
Spar Winford Ford – part car dealership part convenience store – has gone from 0 to 2,400sq ft in 50 years, although the real acceleration in the retail side has come only in the past decade. An extension and complete refurbishment, last year, effectively doubled its size from an initial 1,200sq ft.
Justin Taylor, at the helm of the family-run business in the village of Winford, near Bristol, which dates back to the 1960s, has overseen the project and – with the development settling down, is ready to proclaim it a huge success.
An independent store for years, in 2004, the family chose to move away from its traditional forecourt roots, dipping its toes into convenience, with Mr Taylor signing up with Spar. That relationship has continued to this day, helping him through both a refit in 2013 and last year’s doubling in size.
“The whole point of the expansion was to spin the emphasis around, introducing a proper fruit and veg section, and upping the ante on our chilled range by pulling it right to the front.”
“Before last year, we had a reasonable but limited selection of fresh produce and chilled and it was right at the back of the shop,” he says. “We concentrated more on the traditional things, a few boxes of crisps, a bit of chocolate, cigarettes, papers and not a great deal else. It was a very, very old-fashioned operation,” he says.
The changes have paid off. “We’re really pleased with how it’s gone so far,” Mr Taylor adds. “The sales and turnover has grown hugely. Fruit and veg sales went up 270% year on year, chilled has gone up by 170%.”
It’s brought in new trade, too. “We have a mixture of both existing and new customers,” he says. “We don’t get a lot of walk-in trade, everyone has to drive. We have a high percentage of local trade and see a lot of old faces in here, but we’ve got a tranche of new people too.”
The location, despite being isolated (the only houses nearby are two cottages), is one of its key selling points to customers, as Mr Taylor explains: “The biggest rival store is a Co-op a mile away, but parking is really challenging there. We’ve got a big forecourt with a lot of parking, which is a big attraction. And now our range compares well to what is on offer there too.”
Other than its improved chilled offering, Spar Winford Ford has added a Cook frozen food concession, which has proved to be another good earner for the store. “Given the demographic around us, we knew it would work well, but it’s really taken off. People come back too, it’s really good for repeat business. And the margins are healthy.”
The addition of Cook, alongside a new Daily Deli food service counter, means that the store is now something altogether different from a traditional garage shop. “We’ve moved away from what you’d think a forecourt shop is in terms of its look and feel, but you can still come in and get a breakfast bap and a Costa in the morning, cigarettes and a paper.”
The expansion came as Mr Taylor looked for growth for the business outside of its car dealership and garage roots. The first move was to get on board with a symbol group. “We needed a trading partner, Spar was the one we went with and we’ve never regretted it. They were very helpful and worked closely with us.”
Its Retailer Roadshows – a forthcoming one looking at the impact of the national living wage and other employment issues was mentioned – are also helpful, he says: “That kind of support is really important. They’re worth their weight in gold.”
So what kind of advice would he give to other retailers thinking of taking the plunge and expanding their operations into modern convenience?
“We could have stuck with where we were, treading water, but we had the space to do it and we had the parking. But you have to have the stomach for doing it, you have to be brave.”
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