Elaine Watson
Spar has scored a major coup in the north of England after striking a deal to supply 56 Right Choice c-stores.
Cellar 5 purchasing and marketing director Andy Smallman and operations director Steve McArdle led a management buyout of the 59 Right Choice stores after the owner Cellar 5 went into administration last month.
The new company, A&S Stores, is keeping 40 stores, which will be supplied by Spar wholesaler James Hall, while the remaining 19 have been sold.
Of these, 15 have gone to Midlands Spar wholesaler AF Blakemore, 13 of which will go to independent retailers, and two to Blakemore's company owned store division, Tates.
Spar has already started making deliveries to all the stores, previously supplied by Cellar 5 for liquor and Nisa for groceries. The stores, which collectively turned over more than £30m last year, are concentrated in Liverpool, Manchester and Sunderland.
Blakemore retail director Elwyn Davies, who has recently attracted 40 new recruits to Spar, said the deal proved Spar was the best symbol operator: "This confirms our targets for growth." Stores supplied by Blakemore should be converted to Spar within "weeks rather than months," he added.
Smallman said he was hoping to get the Spar name above the door at all 40 stores run by A&S in a matter of weeks. Proper conversions would take longer.
By improving the mix of higher margin fresh and chilled groceries, and putting a stronger brand over the door, there was a huge potential for growth, he added. "I had been thinking about an MBO for some time as I didn't want to take the Right Choice brand any further."
Spar MD Jerry Marwood said: "We said last year we needed to concentrate on maximising our buying power and take full advantage of the scale and size afforded by growing Spar numbers."
Receiver Grant Thornton said it was still in advanced talks with buyers interested in taking on a "substantial" portion of Cellar 5's 330-strong Booze Buster estate.
First Quench confirmed it has held talks with the receivers. And Bargain Booze sales and marketing manager Matthew Hughes said the company was interested in a number of stores.

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