Retail Q&A with Ian Taylor

Head of retail for SPAR, the independent retailers group, Ian Taylor discusses the role the smaller store can play in the community.


Words by Clare Dowdy

Customers are doing more of their shopping in smaller stores. Why is that?

Customers are shopping little and often. Convenience is high on the agenda, and in many cases shoppers are looking for 'tonight's tea'. Customers don't want to walk around a large store to get this, so are travelling to smaller convenience stores on the high street, in villages, towns, city centres and at petrol station forecourts to fulfil their needs. We see convenience stores on fuel sites getting much better at adapting to this growing trend and meeting the needs of the passing motorist.

Ian Taylor
Ian Taylor

How is SPAR delivering on the convenience factor that customers are after?

SPAR has developed and designed a number of formats to deliver customer needs. For example, stores should have open windows, so customers can see what is on offer in the store, with a view across the store. A coffee offer together with hot and cold snacks are now key in some formats, together with some seating, Wi-Fi and mobile device charging.

Our stores are now becoming the hub of the community and many also have parcel collection, bill payments and food-service partners integrated into the stores.

Why are you increasing locally sourced products? Has that affected design, graphics or layout?

Although SPAR is seen as a national business, it is delivered on a local basis from five regional wholesalers spread across the UK. Locally sourced products have always played a large part in our ranging decisions, and customers expect to see locally produced products. As the hub of the community, we can stock these products far more easily than larger businesses, as we can deal on a local basis. Locally sourced products can be displayed in fixtures or on modular displays and form part of the overall look and feel of the store.

Crate-style shelving is a feature of the SPAR Roadchef at Northampton
Crate-style shelving is a feature of the SPAR Roadchef at Northampton

Give an example of how you accommodate a concession, in terms of design and layout

Local butcher's produce sits alongside our Daily Deli, and we keep the heritage of the local butcher, while keeping the design in harmony with our Daily Deli brand.

The crate-style shelving at Roadchef Northampton is from LinkShelving, together with the wine crates and the front of store unit. We have been working with it to create a cost-effect shelving system that gives a point of difference.

What are your priorities when it comes to design and aesthetics?

I have never met a customer who, when entering a store, looks at the colour of the floor and says 'I'm not shopping in here: I don't like the colour!' Yes, everything needs to harmonise, but not at the expense of cost or of the customer mission.

I work for independent retailers. It is their money I'm spending and I'm committed to getting them the best store design and layout for the best value for money, enhancing their sales and more importantly their return on investment. I emphasise value for money, not lowest price, as the products need to be able to stand the test of time in a busy convenience store.

I work with SPAR's design agency, Appetite, when looking at all new formats. We have a number of award winning stores, which is great for the team and for SPAR. But for retailers, I see success as increasing their profits and rolling the format out to more stores. Increases in profit for a revamped store are between five per cent and 10 per cent.

At the same store, an open entrance and a view across the floor is inviting
At the same store, an open entrance and a view across the floor is inviting

Where does SPAR go from here? Any innovations ahead?

We have a saying in SPAR, 'the next store has to be better than the last'. We are always looking to develop our formats, by analysing the trends in the market and listening to our retailers and our customers.

We believe that a local SPAR can become the hub of the community, with all the services that have been displaced on the high street within the store. I also think more stores will be licenced for on-trade in the future, with seating areas and some form of vending and collection services.

Our ambition is to refit or refresh 20 per cent of our estate a year. Each business will determine its own level of expenditure.

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