Spar Scotland retailers who put community first

Spar Scone operators tell of rewards of their work

Susan and Ryan Hutchison, of Spar Scone, realise the importance of a friendly attitude.
Susan and Ryan Hutchison, of Spar Scone, realise the importance of a friendly attitude and investing in the local community.

HERE to help – that’s the motto visible behind the tills at the store run by long-standing Spar Scotland independent operators Susan Hutchison and son Ryan.

And that’s just what they and their staff do at Spar Scone, on the historic Perthshire village’s Abbey Road, where shoppers will get a friendly welcome.

Of course, family commitment and values, as well as deep-rooted community involvement, are core to many successful convenience retailers, especially in villages and smaller towns.

Susan and Ryan excel in these respects and they have shared their insights with Scottish Grocer for anyone looking to move into the fold of Spar Scotland wholesaler CJ Lang.

And, for existing retailers thinking of upgrading their stores, they also revealed the benefits of carrying out a major refurbishment.

The family’s convenience store journey started with Susan’s dad, Ernie Millar, in 1958 – and the shop still carries the name Ernie’s on the signage outside.

The store was established by Susan's dad, Ernie Millar, in 1958 – and still carries the name Ernie's on the signage.
The store was established by Susan’s dad, Ernie Millar, in 1958 – and still carries the name Ernie’s.

A widower with four children, the former St Johnstone footballer was a joiner who also owned a pub, baker’s and hotel, and helped run sports and community groups all within the village.

Hard graft, becoming a Spar in 1960 (the family believe it might be the oldest in Scotland) and his commitment to the village led to a thriving store.

Ernie retired at 70 but Susan and Ryan, who both started working part-time at the store in their teens before becoming permanently involved, have continued the ethos of putting Scone and customers at the heart of what they do.

Susan said: “My dad’s involvement in the community has led to this store standing out in the area.

“We’re part of the village. All the family have grown up here. We know the customers by name and they know us.”

Ryan explained that the store donates to various local causes, such as providing strips for the Scone Thistle girls football team, which CJ Lang helped organise.

Susan invested £250,000 on a major refurbishment of Spar Scone last year.
Susan invested £250,000 on a major refurbishment of Spar Scone last year.

The pair also paid to undertake an incredible sponsored trek in Thailand, raising more than £3,000 for a local mental health charity – with about 90% of the donations coming from supportive customers.

And the store makes personal deliveries to elderly customers – something that started during the pandemic when vulnerable people were housebound.

Ryan added: “We are emotionally invested in the community and the people that live here.”

This attitude extends to the very loyal staff, many of whom have been at the store for years.

As Spar Scone celebrated its 65th anniversary last year, Susan spent £250,000 on a total refurbishment of the 1,800sq ft store – radically altering the layout and look.

She said: “During the refit process, CJ Lang were with us every step of the way. I felt we had to stay open for our customers, so we refitted half the store at a time. It was nice for both staff and the customers to be engaged in the process.”

Like Susan and Ryan, the store's loyal staff are friendly and community-spirited.
Like Susan and Ryan, the store’s loyal staff are friendly and community-spirited.

The investment has paid off, as Ryan revealed that customer numbers have risen from about 3,500 to 5,000 a week, while turnover is up 30%.

Susan said: “Having CJ Lang as our wholesaler is fantastic as we can get all our ambient, frozen, chilled and fresh produce from one source, delivered three times a week.

“The reason we continue to work with CJ Lang after all these years is that they are also a family business with similar values and outlook to ours.”

Like other store bosses, the pair face a variety of challenges daily – from staff issues and rising costs to rising crime and anti-social behaviour.

And, of course, there are the busy spells – pre-school, lunchtime, post-school and the commute home, as well as Saturdays – when it is important that shelves are well stocked.

Susan said: “It’s not a job, it’s a way of life and I enjoy it. I’m here to help the community I’m a part of – and my dad was very much like that. So, here’s to the next 65 years of our family store.”