265 London Road, West Malling ME19 5AE
“This business is all about investment,” says David Charman, from Spar Parkfoot in West Malling, Kent. “You can’t stay still, you have to look at your business all the time and think about what’s working, and what’s not working.”
This approach sees his forecourt and convenience store constantly working to develop and expand, whether it’s in the products and services they offer, the training they give to their staff, or their engagement with the community.
“It’s important for us that we offer customers something they couldn’t get elsewhere,” explains David. “That’s what brings them to our store, and keeps them coming back.”
Spar Parkfoot is located in a residential area away from the centre of West Malling. The business has been there, in one form or another, for more than 70 years, but they’re still pushing to find new points of difference where possible. This is also part of a bigger transition in the business, to take it beyond being a petrol station.
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“Since the 1980s we realised the limitations of just being a petrol station and how there was no potential for survival as a petrol station with a small shop. We took the decision 30 years ago that convenience was where we needed to be,” explains David. “Since then, our investment has been almost entirely in the shop.”
Major changes to the store in recent years include the creation of an in-store butchery and bakery. Spar Parkfoot employs its own butchers, and as much as possible works hard to build relationships with local suppliers – an approach common throughout the store.
Of course, implementing ideas like this takes patience for them to come to fruition. “It’s about balancing the benefits you get with the time and money you invest,” continues David. “You can’t get sales out of nowhere, it takes time to build a reputation.”
What I do well
Staff training and encouraging personal development is one area where David and Spar Parkfoot really stand out.
“As part of recent renovations at the site, we had a new office and a boardroom built, which we can also use to train about 15 people,” explains David.
“We’ve done a lot of training already. Some of it is supplied by our oil company or by Spar. We’ve also done things like fire training, with live fire extinguishers. We recently got a defibrillator, and alongside that we gave more than half our staff first aid training.
“We invite our staff to tell us what they would like to get training on,” David continues. “It shouldn’t all be about things like underage selling, it should also include personal development. For instance, 12 of my staff did a course in sign language. We have some customers who come in and can’t talk. Now my staff can communicate with them a little better than before.”
What I’m working on now
David is looking to boost the volume of customers who will come to the store for their evening meals.
“Traditionally, we’ve always had a very strong lunchtime and very strong morning offer,” says David. “With the butchery and our tonight’s tea range, we’re looking to get in more customers for their evening meals.
“In our food-to-go section, we’re starting to offer evening hot food solutions, such as spaghetti Bolognese, which we’ve never done before,” David continues. “Unless you go with a franchise, which we didn’t want to do, evening food to go in a convenience store can be quite difficult to achieve, but we’re getting there.
“I’d love to get into supplying pizza or something like that, but to me, the key thing is finding something to a standard that we’re happy with, and what the customers will expect from us.”
HOW I… make my store stand out
“We use social media a lot to promote our business,” David says. “We use Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. We make our own small, light-hearted videos, for instance, when we have a new product. They work – we’ve had customers come up and mention them.”
Investing in staff
“For the past 10 years we’ve paid all our staff above the living wage. We also invest heavily in a variety of training courses for them. These things have paid off – we’re seeing that our staff turnover is very low compared to a lot of other businesses.”
Think about the environment
“We recycle all our plastic and paper waste through our wholesaler, Blakemore. It’s collected six times a week. Our flowers are all wrapped in recycled craft paper and we also have a water refill station on site so customers can refill their bottles.”
“Earlier in 2019 we switched the supplier of our flowers. Now they’re being delivered fresher, it cuts down on wastage. Our customers know we’re now getting the flowers fresh and on a daily basis, and our sales are already up on last year.”
Get more from bakery
“This year we’ve extended the opening hours on the bakery. Previously we shut at 3pm, now we’re closing it at 8pm. We’re running 20% up in that section, and it also really helps with getting everything ready in the bakery for the following day, such as making sandwiches.”