Spar UK has announced the death of John Irish CBE, Managing Director from 1981-1994, at the age of 84.
John Irish was a hugely influential force within Spar and the whole of the UK retail sector, as the architect of ‘8 till late’ and longer opening hours.
A clear and strong-minded leader, and always intensely loyal to Spar, he was responsible for huge growth which led over 2,000 Spar retailers to see a revolution in their trading and prosperity.
John Irish: the driving force behind ‘8 till late’
After gaining a degree in economics at the London School of Economics, John had a two-year spell as an army officer before joining Marks & Spencer in 1954.
In January 1971, John joined Spar UK as Retail Director and then Marketing Director. He took over as Managing Director in 1981.
By the mid-70s, the pressure on the independent sector was becoming intense and John began to look at ways and means of halting the decline. At that time, most Spar members closed for lunch and Saturday was a half day, so he began to urge members to open for longer.
John met with little success at first, but he continued to argue the case. By the start of the 80s, it was obvious that a new form of trading provided the only hope for the future of Spar, although as yet this idea had no formal name. John came up with ‘8 till late’ and registered it as a company.
In 1981, Kent Stores, Preston became the first ‘8 till late’ new concept Spar store. Supported by Ian Hall, who served as Spar Chairman during the same period, ‘8 till late’ provided Spar retailers with a secure future and was a critical event in history.
The success of John’s idea attracted many newcomers to Spar, leading to the change of not only the face of Spar but of British retailing.
John’s achievements with Spar
John achieved a huge amount of recognition in his Spar career. He was awarded a CBE in 1989, and he also won Super Marketing’s ‘Man of the Year’.
Thanks to the huge personal energy he put into building ‘8 till late’ as a very successful method of trading, together with his patience and diplomacy guiding retail members through a tricky trading period, John help make Spar a true success.
John was always a champion for independent retailers, and built a strong relationship between Spar wholesalers and central office.
After his retirement from Spar, John held eight various non-executive roles.
Spar UK is stronger for all John Irish’s achievements, and they will never be forgotten.