After more than two decades owning Spar shops across the country, Mike McQuillen and his wife, Pam, bought a convenience store in the affluent village of Wombourne, four miles south west of Wolverhampton. As members of a symbol group, the McQuillens remain independent but
have access to collective buying and marketing power and
the added benefits of operating under
a widely recognised brand. Having tailored their expanding drinks range to the
customer base, and installed chillers to keep up with
growing demand for immediate consumption, the McQuillens are in a strong position to compete with The Local that trades just metres from their store on the same small high street.
How do you decide what to stock?
Mike: We take on all Spar's stock range. Promotions are a big part of what we sell, it gives us ways to compete. But you haven't got to be the cheapest. When a customer comes into the shop, price isn't the number one priority. What's most important is we offer a different, decent range. A lot of information about what to stock comes automatically from head office. It's so useful because they have access to data and research that we don't have and they can tell us about any current trends. But they don't dictate what we stock. Head office recently wanted me to stock a wine priced at £15 and I said no
- my market is £4 and I knew it wouldn't sell.
What trends are you seeing in drinks sales?
Pam: Tuesdays and Thursdays are the busiest nights for selling for wine. Having it chilled is very important, people want something they can drink in the first few hours of buying. We bought in the chillers about three years ago and now chilled wine is our biggest seller.
Whites from Italy are doing noticeably well, especially Pinot Grigio, and South African reds are very popular. Five or six years ago France and the old world was very much a trend, now brands like Stowells and Jacob's Creek are popular. People know the names and it gives them confidence. We sell a lot of Gallo but if it's on promotion somewhere else then it dies a death.
We're selling a lot of 25cl bottles. Often it's the elderly people who buy them, they tell us they prefer not to buy a full-sized bottle because it's wasted. The space dedicated to rosé has doubled in the
past 12 months, and we're also doing more on promotion. We also get asked for sweeter wines like Zinfandel and Grenache.
Mike: Wine is growing rather than beer, which is flat at the moment. Last year was a lot better for beer sales because of the football World Cup and the weather. We always see extremes of weather positively affecting drinks sales. The week between Christmas and New Year we have to work at. Five days before Christmas people are queuing up the aisles but they don't want to come back between Christmas Day and New Year - it's a family week.
What are the benefits of being a member of a group such as Spar?
Mike: They do all the marketing and you get the buying power of being in a group. And the marketing is across the board, it's not just shelf-edge barkers. It's the symbol and the awareness that people have of the name Spar. We also benefit from planograms, POS
and seasonal promotional activity, while still remaining independent retailers.
Pam: Spar own-label brands are very good value wines for the price, and sometimes the quality is better than the brands we sell. Another benefit is the national Real Deal promotions. If we have good promotions running, 80 per cent of our sales will be on promotion. Having separate display units for promotional wines makes a big difference because regulars get to know where it's going to be. You're training customers to a
Are there any drawbacks?
Mike: There can be some conflict between what we want to do and what we're being told from the top. It means there are compromises. For example, they want me to take fewer deliveries and I don't know if we can do that because it means the stockroom becomes too congested. But the difference between Spar and other symbol groups is that it's a synergic relationship.
your staff get specific wine training?
Mike: I find people learn by experience. By looking after the range and selling it you learn as you go along. Part of being a small store is customers wanting advice, they expect a different service to what's offered at the big supermarkets. We currently have 23 full-timers, and each member of staff is responsible for monitoring stock levels of a particular section. It gives them the responsibility of the ordering
and it means they become very knowledgeable about their particular area.
Have you had any problems from customers since the changes in tobacco sales laws?
Mike: Suprisingly no. I was expecting a lot of trouble but I've had a lot less than I thought I would have. I've made sure I've trained all the staff and I've also stopped those who are 16 from selling cigarettes. I know they can theoretically sell them but it's unreasonable to put people in that position.
The bottom line
BWS turnover: £5,500 per week
Total weekly turnover: £40,000
Best sellers: £4-£8.50 wines, including big brands such as Stowells and Jacob's Creek, Italian Pinot Grigio, South African reds, Spar own-label, rosé, sweeter styles such as Zinfandel and Grenache, and 25cl bottles.
Ten-strong own-label range is launched
Spar is launching an own-label specialist wine range. Called Discoveries, it is made up of
10 wines, including a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, a South African Merlot and a French Cabernet rosé. The range will be available for all stores to order from their local retail distribution centre from January.