The history of Gilletts Spar

This is the story of how as a family we made the enormous change from being dairy farmers in Lancashire – born and breed – to SPAR retailers of 30 years in The South West of England with 63 stores across 5 counties

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The family come from a long history of farming, our Dad, Granddad & Great Granddad before him ran our dairy farm in Lancashire, and we all fully expected this would be something we would take over one day.

We had always regarded farming as our destiny so to speak…. In fact we’d only ever pictured ourselves going to work in wellington boots and John Deere overalls.

However in 1983, with the introduction of milk quotas, & family influences things became very tough indeed and after long discussions between family members, mum and dad decided we either had to continue the struggle onwards on the farm or we could look for pastures new.

In January 1984 after looking at farms the length and breadth of the country, dad stumbled on a SPAR store for sale in Daltons Weekly. Strangely, and for as long as we can all remember our Mum and Dad had been friends with Peter Sykes, the owner of our local SPAR store in Wrea Green, Lancashire. Peter had always appeared to be successful in his business and had suggested we could make the change from farmers to retailers on a number of occasions before finding this site, although we have to be honest we don’t believe he ever thought we’d take up the challenge – ironically it was Peter who sold us the Dalton’s Weekly, triggering the move.

The store was in Callington in Cornwall we didn’t think we could have got any further away from Lancashire if we’d tried! But in mid-January mum & dad made the trip to Cornwall to see the store. Mum still has a clear vision of arriving in Cornwall on a very cold & wet day, entering the store & pulling at dad’s arm telling him “she wanted to go home!”

But she didn’t get the answer she was looking for, he said “if we’ve come this far then we might as well have a closer look”.

Within a fortnight we’d made an offer for the store which was accepted & the farm was put up for sale! On the farm we had just one full time farm labourer & one customer the Milk Marketing Board things were about to change.

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Week one in Cornwall & things perhaps weren’t so bad after all! The store was only open 50 hours a week, Wednesday was half day closing & Sundays were free! It seemed like a holiday compared to what we were used to. At Callington we were fortunate to inherit some very good staff & a superb store manager many of whom are still with us today albeit in differing roles within the business.

In our first week we managed sales of £10,100.00 & sales gradually began to grow. Within 4 weeks of arriving we were opening during the lunch hours, and there was no more half day closing. In September we started to open on Sundays. This was a fairly radical move at the time believe it or not & we were one of only two people to ever be prosecuted in Cornwall for breaking the Sunday trading laws. It was ironic that 2 of the 3 magistrates on the bench regularly shopped with us on a Sunday & handed out the minimum £50.00 fine available to them.In early 1985 we refitted the store which saw turnover climb to £26k a week. In August of the same year we introduced ‘Eight Till Late’ opening hours and we were now starting to get back to the hours we were used to!!

The combined refit & extend hours saw the turnover reach £40k per week. The success of the Callington store gave us the confidence & provided the foundations for the growth which we then embarked upon.

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In 1986 we bought our second store just 7 miles from Callington. The store was averaging £8k a week & within a year was averaging £19k a week after we had carried out a refit & extending the hours to ‘Eight Till Late’.

Without it being a conscious thing we began to identify opportunities in smaller towns & villages with the emphasis on ‘rural’ locations. We think this stems from our farming back ground, along with a bad experience we had had with a store in the centre of Torquay, which we bought & sold in 1994. In fact it would be fair to say that we now actively avoided large towns & cities. Over the following years we added store’s at a steady rate right up to our current level of 40, with the last store being in Wool in Dorset, which has represented a big move for Gillett’s Callington Ltd and now means we will be looking for stores in a much wider area.

Since our move over to the new territory in the east back in 2006 we have added more stores to the portfolio including, both Blandford and Upton in Dorset and the last store to join Salisbury is in yet another county, Wiltshire.

As of November 2007 store numbers have grown to 44 and with purchases already planned for early 2008, we should soon reach our next milestone of 50 stores.

This was combined with a significant refit program for 2008 which made it a very exciting year especially as it saw the introduction of a very exciting new store in August 2008 which meant the company had reached its next milestone whit the opening of our 50th store at Williton in Somerset. 2008 was the busiest in the company’s history, seeing 6 stores added to the chain in a little over 10 months as well as that we also completed many refits, bringing some of our more dated stores up to new levels.

2008 also saw the company relocate the head office operation to new premises in the town where we opened our first store 23 years ago, The old granary building in Callington now converted into GCL Head Office.

The Silverton store offers all the usual quality items found in a modern convenience store along with a large butchery department, similar to the one purchased with the first store in Callington 24 years ago, which also supplies meat into trade outlets in Exeter. The addition of this store has brought the total number of butchery outlets within Gillett’s Callington Ltd up to 4 and we are hoping to add more in the future as the directors see this as a great point of difference to the competition in the high street.

2009 saw Gillett’s Callington Ltd take a period of consolidation as far as adding stores to the group was concerned and instead continued to invest heavily in our existing stores completing a number of major refits and a good number of smaller ones.

The company also rolled out a well tried and tested self-service Food To Go offering to a further 12 stores, which has had significant impact on sales within those stores.

2010 saw the company add a further 5 stores to its portfolio, Including in early September over in the East of the territory a store in Wimborne Dorset. The store underwent major refurbishment works and re-open to the public on the 24th of September 2010.

Other stores purchased this year include two stores in the Cornish fishing town of Looe and another one close to the surf capital of Cornwall near Newquay in a village called Quintrell Downs, which is due to open to the public around November time after comprehensive building and refit works are completed, this brings store numbers up to 59.

Since the addition of Quintrell downs back in 2010 the company have added a further 4 stores bringing it up to its current level as of May 2013 of 63.

The stores added have been across the whole territory with Bridport Store in Dorset being the 60th store to join the company back in May 2012.

This was followed by the takeover of the Local Store in Chudleigh a rural town just outside Exeter. The store there required extensive works before it could be opened in January 2013.

Since then Gillett’s Callington Ltd have added 2 stores in quick succession, the first being a Nisa store in Maud Road Dorchester, which was a SPAR store many years ago and has once again been refitted and is now ready to serve the community once again as a very modern SPAR store.

The company then completed the purchase of one of the best independently operated stores in Cornwall and probably the UK, as it has won many awards in the past, including Convenience Store Retailer of the year in 2010.SPAR Helston, formerly run by Mr and Mrs Sharrinton, is certainly a great purchase for the business and one that sits alongside many of our other stores in Cornwall making it a great acquisition, and everyone at head office is really looking forward to being able to work alongside everyone at this great store in the future.

In 2015 the company added to the portfolio with the purchase of a store in Christchurch, Dorset and this was followed in 2016 by opening a branch in the ancient Dorset town of Wareham.

In July 2016 the business was sold by the Gillett family to Appleby Westward based in Saltash, Cornwall who continue to trade the business as Gilletts Callington.