Keep investing in your forecourt and training your staff if you want your business to succeed and never rest on your laurels.

That was the message from Spar UK managing director, Jerry Marwood, at the recent Spar Retail Show 2010.

Marwood said that convenience retailing was definitely the right place to be in the current economic climate, but warned that the competition from supermarkets was only going to get tougher. He told retailers at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole/NEC event on June 15: "The market is not going to get any easier in terms of what our competitors are doing on price... And we are in a state where consumer confidence has not returned properly.

"The good news is that the convenience market is the place to be. Very few other markets are performing as well as the c-store category.

"I’m very optimistic that we’re in the right place...Never stop investing. We will always invest in our stores. Find small ways of investing in your business but don’t forget the big stuff."

The message was backed up by Dennis Evans, managing director of Spar distribution, who told delegates that the most successful Spar retailers were the ones who thought ahead and kept putting money into their retail businesses.

He explained: "You’ve got to invest in your business every year. Sometimes it’s changing your offer, sometimes investing in your people. Sometimes it’s just painting your store.

"You’ve got to be ahead and at the forefront. At the start of every year, a retailer should think, ’What am I going to do next year?’" Evans urged retailers to talk to Spar about any opportunities and advice on how to make their store more cutting edge, adding: "We find that our best retailers usually do something different every year."

Evans also spoke about the importance of ’loving your brand’ as well as ’localising your offer’.

Retailers were reminded about the importance of training their staff and were urged to take advantage of Spar’s many training courses which are offered for free through the company’s Guild Academy.

Meanwhile, forecourt retailer Raj Hindocha, of the Hindocha Group, gave an inspiring talk on his family business, which now has six sites in the Coventry and Birmingham areas. His main piece of advice was: "Give your customers what they want before someone else does. This includes customer service, high standards and cleanliness."

In the current recession he also recommended retailers try to find a way of getting their bankers to understand the way they do business.

Raj spoke about the group’s Perry Barr site. He said the Texaco forecourt had gone from strength to strength since it opened last year.

There was a lot of work involved in getting the site up and running as it had been closed for three years because of severe pollution before the Hindocha Group bought it. Raj added that he chose Spar and AF Blakemore for the new store because they "went the extra mile".

He said: "Spar was and is the premium brand out there on forecourts. I had faith that AF Blakemore would be able to deliver. And they didn’t disappoint."

Raj said AF Blakemore had helped organise an event for the opening day of the site. Leaflets were sent out to nearby homes which were branded with Spar, Texaco and the Hindocha Group.

The site is now looking at a turnover of £4.5m per annum with a 7-8% gross margin. Alcohol is a big seller, accounting for about 20% of sales, while it also offers a customer ’coffee loyalty’ scheme one free coffee after four purchases.

Raj added: "If I had one criticism it would be that I would like to see a more bespoke offer for forecourts from Blakemore. Forecourts are a bit different to standalone c-stores."

Delegates at the annual event also heard about the latest EuroSpar concept which recently opened in the UK.

The large standalone convenience store, located in Wales, offer retailers the opportunity to adapt their offer such as offering more local products or a wider selection of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Other speakers at the event included Shane Brennan, public affairs director at the Association of Convenience Stores, who said the key task facing the organisation was to get the coalition government to abandon the tobacco display ban.

Brennan said: "We have a fighting chance to make a change with the new government." His more long-term priorities included tackling crime, reducing retailer costs and introducing a fairer trading environment.

He added: "How can we influence MPs to really make a difference? Get them to come to you; MP visits are very important."

Meanwhile, Tony Berry of Jet site Spar Cheltenham, explained how deciding to sign up with the symbol group last November had helped the site gain approval to offer the National Lottery, which was helping to drive footfall.

The site was previously Budgens, but he said Spar offered a more flexible approach that suited smaller, independent operators.

He said making the change of symbol group was daunting at first but the brand was working well with the demographic in Cheltenham. Indeed Tony was so impressed with the experience, he is now looking at the idea of using AF Blakemore to help develop a flagship site in Leicestershire.

The afternoon conference was followed by the Guild Dinner event, a four-course meal with Jason Manford the new host of BBC1’s The One Show.

The evening helped raise money for the NSPCC and support Spar retailer Mike Blowing, of Spar Great Kingshill, Buckinghamshire, who was due to take part in a sponsored bike ride for the charity from Lands End to John O’Groats.

The next day saw delegates attend the SRS trade show at the Pavilion, NEC.

The show had cookery demonstrations with ranges from Embrey’s meat, and wine tastings from the award-winning Spar range. Exhibitors included major names such as Arla Foods, Brecon Carreg, British American Tobacco, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Diageo, Energizer, Ferrero, Innocent, Red Bull and United Biscuits.

Case study 1:

Maqsud Mubarak and Mustaq Patel

Maqsud Mubarak and Mustaq Patel are running a successful forecourt business in Westhoughton near Bolton, in Lancashire. Purchased in 2005, they traded as an independent business until August 2008 when they joined Spar. The existing 500sq ft shop was knocked down and the whole site was redeveloped to include a new 2,200sq ft shop along with a Subway and a mobile phone store. There were also new pumps and a new car wash and jet wash introduced.

During the development, a Tesco Express store opened approximately quarter a mile away. However, despite this, Westhoughton has been a great success and Maqsud and Mustaq have acquired and developed two further fuel sites with Spar stores.

Star performers:

l Fuel volumes at Westhougton have risen from 95,000 to 130,000 litres a week

l Average store sales increased from £10,500 to £22,000 a week (the store does not sell alcohol)

l The introduction of the Spar sandwich meal deal has had a very positive effect on sales

Case study 2:

Justin Entwistle

Justin Entwistle trades in Hambleton, near Blackpool. His business was independent until 2006, when he decided to enter symbol group trading and joined Spar.

Then the store turnover was £9,000 a week with fuel volume at 45,000 litres a week. The sales area was just 1,000sq ft but Justin decided a major extension to the sales area and a complete refit were needed. The sales area was extended to 2,600sq ft. This meant Justin was able to stock a more comprehensive range. For example, he introduced a beer chiller and a full hot food offer. Last year a new fruit and vegetable unit was added. On the forecourt, a new car wash was installed.

Star performers:

l Shop sales have grown from £9,000 a week to £30,000 a week

l Fuel volumes have increased from 45,000 litres a week to 57,000 litres a week

l ’One week only’ special offers have helped drive business

l Meal deals have proved very popular

Case study 3:

Geoff Harland

Geoff Harland’s forecourt business in Pickering, North Yorkshire, was established in 1950 by his father. Today Geoff runs it with his mother Mary and other members of the family.

In 1998 BP started supplying the fuel for the site and this led to the shop and site being extended in April 2003 to its current format.

In April 2009, Geoff made the move to Spar. By August 2009, the store was sporting the Spar fascia and had undergone a £20,000 refit, which included the addition of a new dairy cabinet. In less than a year the business has grown by 15%. The store manager believes this growth will be exceeded this summer beating the £25,000 they took during a steam rally last summer, which was a record.

Star performers:

l 20% sales growth in the summer; 15% in the winter

l The chilled and off licence departments are big successes

l Spar promotions are popular