Asda’s dazzling new supercentre testifies to the size of its ambitions, says Gaelle Walker

If ever there were an indicator of the size of Asda’s ambitions, it would surely have to be the new 110,000 sq ft supercentre in Milton Keynes. At two and a half times the size of the average 45,000 sq ft Asda store, the Milton Keynes goliath is the retailer’s biggest ever.
Part of a huge mixed-use scheme in which Asda has invested £70m, the store will soon sit alongside a football stadium for the MK Dons, a 200-room hotel, office space, a new Ikea and a series of restaurants and drive-throughs.
When the whole scheme is finished, it will be bustling with 3,300 new staff, 800 of whom are already employed by Asda. The day before the store opened to the public on November 19, The Grocer was invited to take a look. People or not, it was an impressive sight.
Entrance to the store is gained either through the Food Market or the George section, located at opposite ends of the store.
With more than 19,000 sq ft of dedicated selling space, the George clothing department has the biggest wow factor and is manager Tim Sparrow’s favourite part of the store.
The George team spent more than 14 months wrapped up in customer-based research before the first thread of fabric was even suggested. “We wanted to make a real statement when customers walked into the George section and we are pretty confident that we have achieved that here,” says Philip Auld, George director.
With stylishly dressed mannequins, huge magazine walls and rail upon rail of flawlessly displayed, up-to-the-minute designs, one would be forgiven for thinking they had accidentally walked into a high street fashion store.
For Auld, it is a matter of style as well as content. “We wanted the George section to offer our customers value, style and a wonderful environment in which to buy all the latest trends.”
The flood of natural light through the expansive glass frontage, combined with the lofty ceiling, works to enhance visibility and show off the garments to maximum effect.
“There is over 300% more visibility here than in some of our other large stores. There are no extra ranges or stock here, it’s just that the customer can see more of it,” says Auld. There is also considerably less PoS material, “as we are confident that the clothes will do all the talking,” he says.
With men’s tuxedo jackets and trousers on sale for just £55, it certainly makes a statement.
At 53,581 sq ft, the non food section constitutes the store’s largest selling space, a fact that clearly indicates the direction in which Asda is moving.
Its bright, airy, and decidedly upmarket appearance is much less like a supermarket and infinitely more like a department store in look and feel.
Sparrow reasons: “People can sometimes feel daunted by large stores, so Milton Keynes was planned to be much more zonal in its design. Clearly marked sections and blocks of colour divide the space into sizable shopping chunks, which are much easier to digest and attractive to boot. People are obviously impressed, as the positive feedback has been overwhelming.”
Homeware has by far the biggest range with a comprehensive selection of white goods such as fridges and freezers, along with soft furnishings and office, kitchen, bathroom and garden ware. Camping equipment will be stocked in summer, and ski-wear in the winter.
Separate tills within the non-food section are designed to take the heat off the main checkout area, which spans the entire storefront. However, with a staggering 51 tills in this zone, the danger of long queues seems decidedly minimal.
The store’s dedicated food space stands at just less than 50,000 sq ft and offers a wide range of products, complemented by its new concept café bar and restaurant, which runs alongside the Food Market.
The restaurant with ‘chef’s theatre’ serves a variety of freshly cooked specials, such as griddled salmon on a bed of minted potatoes, which are brought to customers via table service, another first for the retailer.
With leather seats, waiters and a wide selection of freshly baked pastries, cakes and deserts, the coffee bar is no less luxurious.
Put it this way: it’s not going to be difficult to persuade customers to take a pit stop.