Scottish Spar retailer Stanley Sokolowski finds it tough choosing new stores to add to his family chain ­ with low unemployment and high wages in the cities, few people want to work in a c-store. This, combined with shortage of parking, prevents SCS Scotland from looking at city sites as it seeks new premises to add to its current 14-strong Spar portfolio. However, managing director Sokolowski is upbeat: "We are looking at a couple of potential sites: a conversion and a greenfield site. We like our stores to be in densely populated areas, but parking and staffing in our five city stores are big problems. For example, unemployment in Edinburgh is under 1%, and we steer clear of opening stores there." Retaining the 250 staff ­ half full-time, half part-time ­ is as difficult as finding them in the first place, according to Sokolowski. But although SCS suffers from the notoriously high turnover of the convenience industry, there are support mechanisms in place in the close knit Scottish retailing community that have helped the chain and propelled it into The Grocer's top 50 privately owned retail firms. Sokolowski says: "We all share ideas and best practice, for example we recently showed Mace wholesaler and retailer Aberness around our stores, and we have a very good relationship with our colleagues at Botterills." SCS is also a regular participant in staff training programmes organised by the Scottish Grocers' Federation, of which it is an active member, and by Scottish Spar wholesaler CJ Lang. As a Spar company of more than 30 years, SCS gets 90% of stock delivered from CJ Lang in five deliveries a week ­ two ambient and three fresh and frozen. Only bread and milk comes direct from suppliers. It was Sokolowski who decided to sign his parents' business up to Spar after he became involved in the family firm in 1965. His parents had started out selling produce grown in their back garden before opening the first SCS store in Haddington, just outside Edinburgh, in 1951. Sokolowski senior was a Polish immigrant who arrived in Edinburgh after the war and married a local girl. Head office is still in Haddington and Sokolowski is preparing to hand over to the third generation ­ son Mark and daughter Jane. Mark, who is a member of Spar's Scottish Guild, is sales and development director, and Jane is personnel director. Twelve of the 14 stores have been converted to the highest echelon of the Spar Millennium format, and the other two are due for similar refurbishment. Recent trials of Food to Go at the Haddington store have proved successful, but it is not for all the stores, Sokolowski says. Although beers, wines and spirits and tobacco amount to 40% of SCS Scotland's turnover, most shoppers in more rural areas come in for a serious top up shop, not a flying convenience visit. ATMs and the Lottery are key sales drivers, each adding 10% to their store's turnover. Mark says SCS has online Lottery in eight stores, and Instants in three, and they're top of his wish list. "The problem is getting it. Camelot's programme for underperforming retailers is probably our best chance." Cashpoints are equally essential to the mix. SCS has two external machines while the other stores have internal machines from the Alliance and Leicester. Sokolowski sums up: "We want to make sure our stores provide the best quality for customers, as we expand steadily in the right areas." n {{FEATURES }}