Shine like a Spar

Your friendly neighbourhood Spar shop has been a regular feature on the streets of South Africa for over half a century. The famous red logo has become a byword for quality, value and convenience

When you need to grab a loaf of bread, birthday card, football, biro, sweets, bottle of milk and, who knows, something a bit stronger for the evening, there aren’t many stores where you could tick off all those items. Spar is one of the few places that cater for all tastes and even the most abstract shopping lists. Ever since the doors of its first store opened Spar has strived to think about what is best for its customers.

Top of the shops

Operating on a national scale with an instantly recognisable logo is worth its weight in gold. Over the last 50 years the unmistakable Spar sign has been a reassuring red and white beacon on the landscape for its loyal patrons, many of whom have relied on it for generations.

Since 1963 people have recognised the Spar brand as a symbol of convenience and reliability. Its independently owned stores are a regular sight in South Africa and throughout the continent.

Although the badge has remained steadfastly unchanged, the company has always moved with the times, tracking the habits, needs and expectations of the people it serves. In total there are 850 branches (employing 70,000 people), with many more planned in the next few years. There are three types of store within the impressive Spar repertoire—QuickSpar, Spar and SuperSpar.

Regular Spar stores are in the region of 1,000 square metres and are essentially small supermarkets, whereas QuickSpar stores boast 500 square and are more like a convenience store.

Independently owned, the branches are often run by local people and therefore retain that essential ‘family’ ethos for which Spar is very proud. Indeed, in the competitive arena of domesticity and helping households to run smoothly, Spar has got it made.

Marketing Manager Mike Prentice explains: “We offer all the departments; butchery, bakery and grocery lines, often hosting anything between ten and 20 thousand different groceries. In addition there are online services, which have become increasingly popular.”

These major outlets have grown over the last few years and Mike is optimistic about continuing progress. “SuperSpar is successfully competing head-to-head with the major supermarket chain stores in South Africa. As a result we now require that bigger stores contain at least 1500 square metres of selling space, and many of them, up to 3000,” he enthuses.

More in store

Reputation for Spar has been an integral part of its rise to prominence. The company is keen that South Africans view the franchise as a good facilitator of independent business, with a reliable and versatile outlook.

“Spar gives the smaller business people, with big ideas, the chance to compete against large multinational chains. I think the perception of Spar is of a very professionally run supermarket group,” says Prentice.

Spar stores are currently sitting pretty among the best performing retailers in the country, with a consistently impressive turnover.

Prentice thinks that regional knowledge in addition to the individuality of each store is pivotal to the brands’ enduring popularity and longevity of its presence.

“The Spar stores are owned by local people and that engenders trust in customers. The owners get very involved with the schools, churches, charities, and generally like to have a positive impression on the community,” enthuses Prentice. “This connection is a distinct advantage for us and something that our rivals struggle to match.”

Shelf space

These solid foundations prepared the company well for the global financial crisis in 2008 and, after overcoming a small amount of turbulence, Spar Group has pursued its aim to keep doubling the business every five years—a target that has come to fruition during each chapter of the last quarter of a century.

The company will also continue to expand enthusiastically across its neighbouring states. It is currently well represented in Botswana, Zambia and Namibia, and a historic first store has been opened in Mozambique with more to follow. Meanwhile, discussions are at an advanced stage for some exciting ventures in Angola. The Spar Group will continue to make its mark and is always keen to expand wherever possible.

“I think any country that provides a fairly established independent retail sector, could be an opportunity for us. As a wholesaler, we are very keen to establish partners with facilities like retail parks. We’re always interested in effective collaborations with innovators,” Prentice says.

“We’re continually looking for more projects, all of which fall into the same Spar model of helping and coordinating the efforts of independent retailers,” he adds.

As the world changes beyond recognition, it is sometimes reassuring to know that certain services will stay true to traditions. For this historic store it’s a case of so Spar, so good.