Far from only the basics, Raj Bathia’s Battersea General Store stocks exotic specialities from all over the world
Towered over by a decommissioned power station, Battersea General Store might not be everyone’s dream location. But for owner Raj Bathia the landmark is the “crown jewel” of convenience sites.
Growing up in Clapham Common, Bathia always had “one eye” on Battersea Power Station as the spot for his next food store and last month achieved his goal. The first retail outlet in the £7.8bn regeneration project, it opened two months after the first 100 residents moved into finished luxury flats in the complex. Over the next eight years a total of 3,400 new homes will be built at the South London landmark.
“We are just a fragment of that beautiful puzzle they’ve created here,” he says, sitting in the 6,500 sq ft store, smack bang between the 113m-high landmark and Battersea Park. “It is an amazing development and they’re trying to create a way to support local businesses, and to create a community, and I think that’s what defines how special this place is.”
1. Twelve months of careful planning lie behind the 6,500 sq ft Battersea General store
2. The £7.8bn regeneration of Battersea Power Station is set to be completed by 2025 – with 3,400 new homes planned. Residents began moving into the first finished flats in May in a luxury complex called ‘Circus West Village’ - where the Battersea General Store is located
3. A fruit and veg boat is the centrepiece
4. Covent Garden market supplies the 500 sq ft deli counter
5. Charbonnel et Walker is just one of 75 suppliers
Equally amazing is how little the Battersea General Store looks and feels like your average Nisa member’s offer. Raised by a tea and biscuit entrepreneur, Bathia was behind upmarket grocer The Market Place, which he opened in neighbouring Chelsea Bridge Wharf back in 2008. It was there Battersea Development Company CEO Rob Tincknell first approached him with the idea for a Battersea site and the same premium, cosmopolitan feel is echoed throughout. Though essentials supplied by the symbol group play a major role, making up 40% of all products, the shelves are full with unique food and drink inspired by Bathia’s travels across the globe. In total there are 75 suppliers, 20% from outside the UK, including lager from Brooklyn, biscuits from Saudi Arabia, crackers from Norway, spices from Morocco, Bathia’s hand-picked wine selection, and £800 bottles of champagne locked behind glass. “Subconsciously you’re making notes in your mind as you travel thinking ‘that’s amazing’ or ‘that’s a good concept’,” he says.
Local producers get their share of the limelight too, with craft beers from Battersea microbrewery Sambrook’s and Mondo, ready-made salad boxes from Pollen & Grace, and fresh produce from New Covent Garden Market.
In a store triple the size of The Market Place, Bathia has made the most of the space too, with a sweeping 500 sq ft deli counter serving up fresh salads and sandwiches, and an array of themed stands for vegan, British, and Italian produce. “There were so many things I wanted to do there over the years that I’ve been restricted with, and it was like setting myself free and doing everything I’ve dreamed of,” he laughs.
But though this eclectic mix might not typically see an independent retailer team up with Nisa, Bathia says it was a no-brainer.
“Their product catalogue, their pricing, their promotions, in my opinion, are unbeatable,” he says. “They’re a really great company. Much like the Battersea Power Station Development Company, they are there for the stakeholders, the retailers, the residents and the community.”
Only days after opening, categories are already being tweaked here and there, though. “You’ve got to start somewhere and already we’ve edited, adapted, and tweaked our offer. There are things that have been responded to very well, and there are some bits that have not taken off. So we adjust.” That’s included reshuffling the layout to collect complementary food-to-go products into one space.
Providing such an international mix of food and drink from around the world brings its own challenges. “It’s a logistical nightmare,” says Bathia. “We work with small artisan companies and small chateaux in Bordeaux and they don’t have barcodes. So we’ve developed a system by which we attach a barcode to each product. We were given the contract on the effort we make to find products from around the world. To find the best in class products, not the most expensive.”
He’s determined to keep that philosophy of high street prices throughout the store even with Brexit looming.”We’ve got a job to do here. Brexit, no Brexit, whatever form it takes, we’ve got a job to do,” he insists. “We can’t stop for anything.”