Outside-the-box thinking puts lunch in the bag

Making the most of online opportunities adds to profitability for this SPAR store. 

David Burton.

As I get out and about, I hear of plenty of strategies for expanding businesses online. Supporting promotions, cross-media tie-ins and loyalty schemes are just a few. Then there is thinking outside the box.

The SPAR store at North Parramatta in Sydney falls into the lateral-thinking category as owner Frank Primerano has developed a new business servicing online orders and delivery to a different segment, with a ‘tuckshop’ website for school lunches.

Most school kids these days love to order lunch, and the regular canteen order sent along with the correct money is a ritual in many households. This works well where tuckshops or canteens, both volunteer and private enterprise operations, provide a range of healthy choices. But what if the school doesn’t have a canteen?

This is where Mr Primerano’s solution comes into its own. His concept was developed after listening to a couple of customers complain that they were always rushing at the last minute to organise the ingredients for their school lunches.

Knowing that the local Burnside Public School has no canteen, he set about creating an offer for parents who wanted their children to experience the joys of a lunch order.

Mr Primerano first sought approval from the school’s principal to make the offer to the school council. This was communicated to the council and subsequently to parents.

Online ordering is easy

The order process is made simple on the ‘SPAR lunches North Parramatta’ website. The store now takes at least 40 online school lunch orders on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. These customers do not necessarily visit the North Parramatta store, yet it still gets the sales.

The store bakes its own bread on the premises, employs a barista and already has a decent lunch trade from its serviced deli. Add 40-odd school lunches and the place is a hive of activity around 11:30am daily as lunches are prepared and packed ready for delivery to a bunch of appreciative children aged between five and 12 in time for their 1pm lunch break

A total of 29 options include sushi, sandwiches and salads all freshly made in-store. Healthy snacks and drinks include fruit and yoghurt.

Pricing is on a par with that of a school canteen. To begin the ordering process, parents log on to the site using a password they have generated themselves.

Children’s names are retained and once one child’s order is completed, the option to place the next child’s order comes up as a prompt. After ordering is completed, parents are taken to a payment screen to settle their account.

With more than 200 students enrolled in classes from Kindergarten to Year 6, Burnside Public School is about a 10-minute drive from SPAR North Parramatta. This proximity helps with timing of the flow from ordering to lunch preparation and delivery.

The success of Mr Primerano’s online SPAR school-lunch offer has led him to begin negotiations with another nearby school that also does not have a canteen.

Four successful years since opening

Convenience World attended the official opening of SPAR North Parramatta four years ago.

The store was purpose-built with the future in mind and the expectation of a progressive opening as more departments and service were rolled out. In this period the store could be comfortably staffed with a team of seven. Fast-forward to today and it takes a roster of 27 staff to keep this store ticking over.

The liquor department was planned from day one but the allotted area left vacant until a licence was secured. This is a convenience liquor offer with something for every taste, provided in a modest floor space. It has hit the spot with locals.

While the store opened with barista-made take-away coffee and sandwiches from its gourmet deli, the idea was to open up the front windows to serve tables to be situated under the covered portico.

Mr Primerano thought long and hard about the disruption this would have on his shop customers and went back to the drawing board.

Now SPAR North Parramatta features the 68-seat ‘Café Vieni’, using the same portico area. It opens daily for breakfast and serves food until 5:30pm. This new venture required investment in a commercial kitchen and dedicated staff, including chefs, to run the café.

If you thought Mr Primerano was finished with his expansion plans for the bustling SPAR store, think again. His next project is a pizza bar to be installed during the coming winter, ready for a spring opening. Appropriately, given his Italian heritage, the café will be serving traditional Italian pizza.

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