Spar Titanic Quarter, Belfast
A £1.2M INVESTMENT, ACROSS FIVE YEARS OF DEVELOPMENT, HAS CREATED A VIBRANT RETAIL, FOOD TO GO AND RESTAURANT COMPLEX, CO-OWNER ANDY DAVIS TELLS ALYSON MAGEE
“We feel we’re in the right site now and have created a hub that people like to come to,” says Andy Davis, co-owner of SPAR Titanic Quarter, which serves as a focal point of the busy Arc retail development and residential complex.
The shop is situated between the Belfast Met campus and SSE Arena, overlooking Belfast Marina, and affording impressive views across the City skyline in one direction and the Titanic building and docks in the other.
Together with his business partner Graham Johnson, Andy owns five SPAR stores with additional sites in Ballynure, Cadogan, Ballybeen and Lisburn. Staff numbers total 35-40 in the Titanic Quarter shop, and 160 in total across the sites.
Originally operating under a different retail brand, the business partners were impressed by the Henderson Group’s offer and accordingly converted all their stores.
“We felt SPAR was ahead in terms of marketing, product availability, their own brand range and fresh foods,” says Andy. “The Henderson Group has spent millions of pounds developing their fresh food warehouses and range over the last few years.”
And the move has been deemed a successful one, with SPAR Ballybeen, for example, seeing a 27% sales boost after the conversion.
“SPAR is quite progressive in terms of always looking to build new sites, and it’s nice to be part of that fresh, clean cut look,” he says. “They’ve modernised the brand, but when you see the SPAR logo over the door, you recognise it straight away.”
To date, £1.2m has been spent on the Titanic Quarter shop, from an initial investment of £250,000 to open it in 2013 to last year’s major expansion into a 9,000-square-foot site, expanding from two to five tills across the period and adding an off licence along the way.
The 2017 refurb added a new side to the business, with Rain Check restaurant, and involved a complete shop redesign to improve its flow and enhance its fresh and food-to-go offer.
It has essentially created two distinct businesses within the shop floor; customers can enter through the doors and turn left for groceries or right for food to go. “Another big thing was we put in seating, somewhere for people to sit and have their lunch and enjoy the views,” says Andy.
Green features include LED lighting throughout and high efficiency kitchen equipment, while a £50,000 investment went into a system pulling in fresh air from outside to create a more natural internal environment.
With about 30% of business lunchtime trade, average basket spend sits at £4.78. Designated areas for free-from and nutrition ranges have performed well while forthcoming additions include a new bakery range to be piloted in the Titanic Quarter shop.
Andy has pioneered his own food-to-go concept, The Green Deli, which is currently in three of his shops – including Titanic Quarter – and will be rolled out to all five by mid-2019.
Freshness, quality and good customer service are the focus, says Andy, from the sub rolls delivered daily from Patton’s Bakery in Newtownards to pizzas handmade on site. “Our next stage for the deli is developing our own carvery baguette range, with a different carvery roast each day which will be carved in front of customers,” says Andy.
While supplemented by a few specialist local companies such as Just Desserts and French Village, Henderson Foodservice supplies most of the produce used in the deli, and Henderson Technology the EPoS systems.
“We try and keep everything under one roof with Henderson’s and then our focus is on the shop floor and what’s going on with our customers, rather than being stuck out the back doing orders all the time,” he says.
Off licences in the Titanic Quarter and Lisburn stores are, meanwhile, supplied by Drinks Inc, McCabes and smaller outlets.
“The shop and restaurant are completely different and it’s trying to keep the right balance,” says Andy. “It’s a busy operation and can be stressful, but it can be rewarding too.
“We do good food in the SPAR, it’s fresh, competitively priced and we know good customer service. We thought, if we can instil all those factors into a restaurant, it has to work.
“But a big difference I’ve found is, with the restaurant, you don’t have the marketing support you have with SPAR. We’re on our own with Rain Check and have had to focus more on marketing and facebook.”
Located next door to the shop, Rain Check was opened in January with trade slow for the first few months but picking up after a new all-day menu was introduced.
Customers range from Arc residents and workers from surrounding businesses to both locals and tourists visiting the SSE Arena and other Titanic Quarter attractions or simply out for a walk.
“We are very lucky to be able to have a store and restaurant here, and we don’t take it for granted,” says Andy. “We work very hard to get it right. We’ve made mistakes along the way, but we can always learn from them and make the business better. As long as you have more good than bad days, I think you’re doing ok.”
Next up for the business partners is redevelopment of its SPAR Ballynure with Maxol forecourt, with a significant investment earmarked for an extension to expand its food to go operation and create a sit-in area, pending planning approval.