Spar wholesaler CJ Lang is setting its sights firmly on the forecourt sector in Scotland, with 36 forecourt shops already branded Spar and five more in the pipeline for the next few months.

“Our target is for 24% wholesale growth this year, which equates to 12 sites until April 2006,” says Ewen Chisholm, forecourt business controller at CJ Lang. “About 18 months ago we recognised the opportunity within forecourts.

“Nobody was doing a particularly good job so we wanted to provide a single solution and do something different for the c-stores from a marketing point of view. We’re looking to be a one-stop solution for retailers in Scotland who want to develop convenience store offers.”

There are around 750 forecourts in Scotland, and that number is diminishing at a similar rate as the rest of the UK, adds Chisholm. “The expectation is that fewer sites are doing more volume but forecourts are realising that they’re having to do something else to survive – pressure is very much on the sector now. Some retailers in Scotland have been a little slower in recognising this – the market is changing but some retailers haven’t.”

In a bid to attract more forecourts to the Spar brand, Lang has adapted its c-store offer for the forecourt market, and nine months ago it created a dedicated forecourt division. Developing the forecourt side of the business along with Chisholm is forecourt development manager Lee Black, and forecourt trading manager Gillian Scott, who is responsible for ensuring that the forecourt offer is being focused on at all times.

But the key part of Lang’s strategy for the forecourt sector is bringing points of difference to its retailers. One area it is focusing on is the area on the forecourt in front of the shop – what Chisholm calls the bunker. “We’re looking to develop bunker deals in front of store – three weekly promotions tied in to Spar Real Deal promotions,” he says. “The bunker is a unique part of the forecourt, and something that c-stores don’t have.

“Forecourts have customers standing on the forecourt and wondering what to do next, so it’s a massive opportunity that needs to be fully exploited in the Scottish market. We see the bunker as very much driving incremental sales and profit. We’re actively looking for suppliers to assist with bunkers as well as three-weekly promotions. We aim to have an annual promotions calendar.”

Along with non-food products, the bunker offer will include larger pack sizes. “We’re focusing on profitable, fast-moving products and bigger pack sizes,” says Chisholm. “Big pack sizes are ideal for forecourts because they go straight in the boot. We’ve also identified a massive opportunity for seasonal offers. People say there are four seasons but you’ve got more seasons than that so we’re making sure we account for those. We want to be at the front-end of the market and not seen to be following it.”

A full marketing package for forecourts is being unleashed next month and takes into account forecourt posters, outdoor advertising to attract motorists onto the forecourt, pump advertising, as well as the forecourt bunker offer. “This is a Lang initiative but we will look to pioneer it for the whole of Spar UK,” says Chisholm. “We’re beefing up point of sale on the forecourt with banners, pump nozzle advertising, and pump crowners.

“We’re also beginning to specialise in forecourt promotions and these will be in addition to – not instead of – our other promotions so those retailers who use these promotions lose nothing but stand to gain a lot.”

Another development for Spar-branded forecourt shops in Scotland is a specific price field for forecourt retailers. “Forecourts have the opportunity to make an enhanced margin due to their convenience and opening hours,” says Chisholm. “There are currently three pricing fields but we’re looking to add a fourth specifically for forecourts, allowing them to control their margin more easily with a pre-made pricing solution. We want to simplify life for the retailer.”

In store, Lang has been developing certain areas to capitalise on the impulsive buying habits of forecourt customers. One of these developments is a fast lane for chilled snacks and soft drinks. The Q8 site in Kilmarnock (now a part of the Pace Petroleum network) was one of the first sites to trial Lang’s fast lane concept. “We’ve taken a lot of learnings from Kilmarnock and created a blueprint for the fast lane,” says Chisholm.

And manager of the Q8 site, Lynn Paul, says that since the site went with Spar three years ago, the business has changed phenomenally. “Shop sales in every department have increased by 35%,” she says. “The Spar brand has definitely brought additional footfall to the sites, and our off licence sales went up 65% after turning the store around and making the off licence a feature. Availability and selection of products has made a huge difference and the Real Deals really attract customers.”

Scottish independent group Calanike has also adopted the chilled fast lane – and sales have risen by 40%. Three of the 12 sites run by Calanike have already received the Spar treatment and owner Kenny Webster says he’s waiting to see the full results before committing to any more.

“We had two shops refitted in December 2004 and early indications are good,” he says. “Spar brings to us a lot of experience and a lot of promotions, which we didn’t have access to before. We expect sales increases to climb to 10-15% and we’ve already seen alcohol sales jump up by 60%. The offer, pricing and promotions have made a huge difference.”

With groups like Calanike on board, Spar in Scotland looks set to have a bright future. And following the announcement that Esso has chosen Spar as the preferred symbol fascia for its dealer network, Lang has converted one Esso site in Dunoon, with three more due to open between now and May. “We’ve surveyed and assessed 75 Esso sites throughout Scotland and we expect to add more of these in 2005,” says Chisholm. “As a company we have high hopes for the relationship so we’re looking at every opportunity.”