How do you introduce a new store to an area where your main competition is yourself? For Manchester Spar retailer Paul Stone, it’s about fresh food to go and taking your offer upmarket. Chris Rolfe reports

Opening a Spar store within a stone’s throw of two other Spars you also own is not a typical move.

But with a different layout, design and specialist sections, plus a huge new customer base on the horizon, Manchester retailer Paul Stone is convinced his eighth store has the right format to make it extremely profitable.

The new store, on Oxford Road in central Manchester, sits directly across the road from the 2,000sq ft Spar Paul opened in 1994 – a 24-hour business which serves office workers and around 18,000 students at two nearby universities.

A quarter of a mile behind the new store, Paul’s Princess Street Spar attracts builders and around 16,000 students a week, with a specialist Chinese grocery range one of its big attractions, along with fresh coffee from Paul’s Cheeky Coffee brand.

But in between these more traditional formats, Paul’s new 1,900sq ft store – which opened on 15 March and cost upwards of £350,000 to develop – centres on foodservice, food to go, and fresh and chilled.

“We’ve gone for more premium ranging, with wine, food to go and ingredients for evening meals,” says Paul. “Foodservice is much more important, and we expect food to go to make up 25% of our takings.”

Central to the store is a pilot of Spar wholesaler James Hall & Co’s Clayton Park Deli. Around 40 products, including wraps, sandwiches and salads, are being trialled, with equipment from Merry Chef – the firm used by Subway and Marks & Spencer – allowing staff to serve hot food extremely quickly.

“We can serve fruit toast in 60 seconds – everything can be cooked in under a minute,” says Paul.

Other elements of the store which create its premium feel have been inspired by Marks & Spencer too. In an aisle housing a vast array of ingredients for evening meals, 60cm black refrigeration bays similar to those used in the multiple allow Paul to block-merchandise products such as ready meals and fresh produce, alongside fruit and vegetables, cooking ingredients and basic grocery items, facilitating full-basket shopping for customers in a hurry.

And near the entrance, equipment housing food to go items such as sandwiches and snacks allows Paul to set different temperatures for different shelves, thereby chilling sandwiches while also heating cookies and muffins with melting chocolate centres.

The store’s unique design also creates much of this premium feel.

“As we’ve grown, it’s given us confidence to try new things, and I love the design of this store,” he says, pointing out new design elements “to make the store feel funkier” such as exposed brick and wooden boards, plus copper mesh in lighting and display stands.

“It looks and feels different. Also, we had no space for seating across the street but were able to add it here, using the copper mesh design to keep it consistent, so this store feels more relaxed,” he says.

While Paul’s offer has been designed to attract a customer base of students and city workers he knows well, he also has his sights set on a huge opportunity ahead.

“Strategically, this is a very important site. A new multi-storey car park and 12 towers are being built, so we will have up to 9,000 people living and working here when the building work is complete,” he says.

To increase the store’s appeal for existing and incoming customers, Paul is already planning improvements to his offer.

“We’re about to refresh our meal deal PoS to simplify it. Customers have also told us our alcohol range is too small, so we’ll expand that, and I want to add made-to-order sandwiches too,” he says.

The success of his new store will boil down to one simple principle, he says.

“It’s about knowing your customers, and building an offer that will attract them.” 

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