Obituary: Former Spar UK head and “8 Till Late” architect John Irish dies

Spar UK has announced the death of John Irish CBE, the managing director of the symbol group 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.

Spar said in a statement: “A clear and strong-minded leader, and always intensely loyal to Spar, John was responsible for huge growth which led over 2,000 Spar retailers to see a revolution in their trading and prosperity.”

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 MD 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, using his singular skills as a charismatic public speaker to win over retailers, wholesalers and the media. 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 wholesaler 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 thw symbol group, leading to the change of not only the face of Spar but of British retailing.

John Irish 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  personal energy he put into building “8 till late” as a  successful method of trading, together with his patience and diplomacy guiding retail members through a tricky trading period, John help make Spar a success and the UK’s biggest symbol group.

“John was always a champion for independent retailers, and built a strong relationship between Spar wholesalers and central office,” Martin Agnew, Spar UK chairman said. “Spar UK is stronger for all John Irish’s achievements, and they will never be forgotten.”

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