Ulster Grocer

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Clarke’s SPAR Twin Spires, Belfast

At a spacious new store on the Falls Road, SPAR’s dailyDeli offer is proving a particular hit for locals now able to pick up hot food on foot, co-owner Paula Clarke tells Alyson Magee

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Having only opened its doors on March 3, SPAR Twin Spires is still finding its feet in terms of tailoring its range to meet the needs of its local community.

A clear winner already, however, is its Barista Bar coffee and dailyDeli food-to-go range featuring hot food, a chicken bar and a cold deli.

“The dailyDeli has definitely gone down very well,” says Paula Clarke, co-owner of the business with Emma Cowan. “It really took off from day one. People are saying it was needed in the area, as there wasn’t really anywhere else they could go for a hot food breakfast or lunch, so that’s proving very popular and our fresh range as well.

“Just chatting to the customers, it means they don’t have to get taxis elsewhere to get something for their dinner. And then we have Mullins ice cream, which is a point of difference for the area as well.”

Paula is quick to thank the community for its support, and the shop staff for their efforts in getting it up and running. The team has already risen from 18 staff members at the opening six weeks ago to 22 now, including a newly appointed manager for the site, which is open daily from 6am to 9pm. “Hopefully we’ll be handing over a bit of the pressure,” says Paula.

SERVING THE LOCAL COMMUNITY

“This has been a personal dream for us for many years and we are very excited and proud of our new state-of-the-art store, which will be serving the local community,” she says.

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“Opening local businesses is an essential part of the continued development of our local communities, and our store provides everything the community might need, under one roof.

“Our exceptional range of locally sourced groceries mean we are providing great value, high quality products for our neighbours should they need to pop in for a top-up or grab something for their dinner that night.

“Our location at the Twin Spires Complex means our store has also been built to cater to workers returning to their offices who need that morning coffee treat, or to pick up some hot food to go for lunch.”

SPAR Twin Spires is the second shop owned and operated by Paula and Emma with their other site, SPAR Hillsborough, set to mark three years of trading this August.

Emma has retail in her blood from a young age, with her father Davy Cowan a grocery store manager back in the day. Teaching her all the tricks of the trade since she was little, he helped her find her passion and drive for the retail sector.

Paula has worked in retail since she was 15. “I’ve worked for quite a few of the different groups, but I think by far Hendersons are the strongest in both their brands and their computer system EdgePoS, which is second to none for reporting and the till systems,” she says.

“It just all worked for us and obviously, since we partnered up with them in Hillsborough, we’ve built up a great relationship and I can’t see us doing it with anybody else out there.”

An investment of £500,000 has gone into the Twin Spires shop, knocking three units into one and completely redesigning the space. It features 14 bays of fresh food, included chilled cabinets installed by Dunlop Refrigeration.

“The upstairs has been taken away, leaving us with a lovely, vaulted ceiling with a lot of natural light coming into the store,” says Paula.

"We have a great relationship with Ortus, who own the complex, and liaise with them frequently. They have been very supportive from even before we opened the store and have continued with that support since opening. Between ourselves and the team at Ortus, we all want to achieve the same goal in supporting and providing a service to the local community."

The shop has a six-pump GO fuel forecourt with 30 car parking spaces, with the Twin Spires Complex also featuring a Greggs, solicitors and hairdressers. “It’s like a one-stop-shop complex for the community,” she says.

While the business managed to rapidly rebound, its opening did face an unpleasant setback when the premises was the target of two incidents of vandalism.

Two masked men entered the shop on the evening of its opening day and threw a tin of what appeared to be driveway sealant over the interior of the shop. And three days later a masked man smashed its windows, apparently with a hammer.

“Obviously it was very disappointing as it had been a brilliant day up until then,” says Paula. “The customer feedback was great, we were busy and to get the phone call that night and then come up and see the damage was horrific.

“With a brand-new store, it was a bit soul destroying, but we got in professional cleaners alongside our staff and got it cleaned up on the Friday morning and reopened at 1.30pm to trade again.”

While the police have released descriptions of the perpetrators from CCTV footage, no arrests have been made as yet. “Thankfully, there’s been no more since so we’re hoping whatever has happened, it has settled down,” she says.

A WIDE RANGE OF LOCAL PRODUCE

Alongside the dailyDeli offer and Mullins counter, the 3,000-square-foot store features two Barista Bar coffee machines, SPAR NI’s enjoy local range of locally sourced meat, fish, poultry and dairy products and the SPAR range of snacks, household products, cakes and bakes.

Supplementing the SPAR Bakery range, which offers freshly baked loaves, croissants and pastries, are local brands such as McCloskey’s, Slemish, RJ Kerr and A Slice of Heaven.

And alongside SPAR’s own-brand convenient ‘tonight’s tea’ solutions, popular ranges include Go Pig or Go Home and McAtamney’s Gourmet Kitchen.

“At the minute we’re only six weeks in, so we’re trying to get a feel for what the customers in this area want, but we certainly have a few local suppliers in there as well,” says Paula.

While many of the customers are coming into the shop on foot, whereas they might previously have had to travel by taxi to other stores further away, the shop is also attracting people passing through and stopping by to fill up their car and pick up coffee and hot food.

Other shops in the area would be at least a mile away, says Paula, “so we’re not in direct competition with anyone as such”.

To market the new shop, Henderson Group supported it with digital billboards at bus stops in the area ahead of its opening.

And the store team welcomed its new shoppers with a scratch card competition. Anyone spending over £5 was given a prize ranging from a soft drink, coffee, chocolate bar or bag or crisps up to a 50-inch 4K TV, Nintendo Switch or Echo Dot.

As well as getting the range right to suit the community and driving sales, a big focus for the business going forward is getting more involved in the community, says Paula. “We’ve rang round a few schools about sponsoring their sports days and are looking at possibly picking a local football team to sponsor.”

Paddy Doody, sales and marketing director at Henderson Group, said: “SPAR Twin Spires is an excellent example of community retailing, building a business that not only provides local employment but a shopping experience to meet both everyday grocery essentials, alongside worker and passing trade demands. The store is an asset to the area, and we wish Paula and her team all the very best of luck with their first months of trading.”


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