The number of Spar stores in Northern Ireland has fallen but group turnover is up, according to Ken McWhinney, deputy md of John Henderson, Spar's wholesaler in the province. Addressing an audience of more than 100 retailers at a conference of Spar's Ulster Guild, McWhinney said: "The number of stores is down by 40 in the last 18 months, but what is left is doing more business." Store numbers fell from 290 to 250, McWhinney describing this as "bottom enders falling out of the market". A combination of factors had caused the fall in numbers, but one of the main reasons was a more rigid approach by Henderson to store standards. "I am demanding high standards for giving them a strong brand," he said. Urging his audience to adopt Spar's Millennium Store image, he said: "This is a fantastic opportunity. Sales are up in refurbished stores. "We are prepared to invest in our members' stores. We have £5m invested in retailers' stores through various packages available. We are here to help you drive your business." Henderson also owns the licence for VG in Northern Ireland and Vivo in both the north and the Republic, with around 150 VG and Vivo stores in the north and 50 Vivo stores in the Republic. McWhinney said the group was encouraging VG stores to changeover to the Vivo fascia, to develop an Ireland wide retail brand, but said they did not want VG stores to convert to Vivo unless they achieved a standard similar to Spar's Millennium package. McWhinney also said he disagreed with Musgrave group md Seamus Scally, who told a conference last month that wholesalers should not own stores (The Grocer, April 7, p16). McWhinney said: "We own 38 stores, 12 Vivo and 26 Spar. It creates confidence in independent retailers. They can see we are putting our money where are mouths are." {{NEWS }}