It might be a flagship store, but this new village Budgens also primes the parish pump, says Siân Harrington

If there is one thing you notice immediately at Budgens’ new flagship store in Hawkhurst it is that it truly is at the heart of its community.

Now that the church in the large Kent village has closed, the parish council has put up a community board featuring a map and local news at the store’s entrance. Plus, all staff are recruited from within one mile. “It is a friendly atmosphere. Everyone knows everyone,” says store manager Ian Williams.

The 9,000 sq ft store, which opened on October 2, is the culmination of Budgens’ strategic thinking over the past 18 months. Marketing director Stephanie Rice, who managed the programme from inception, says: “We began with a brand development exercise to evolve the offer. This store is where it comes together.”

Budgens is also testing a new management structure, in which the role of assistant manager is replaced by a customer service manager, fresh food manager and ambience manager - all of whom are customer facing.

The idea is to consistently communicate Budgens’ values of freshest foods, friendly service and local community in a more contemporary environment. Staff have been given a more modern uniform and the ambient music has been updated with songs from artists like Moby.

A new corporate identity has been introduced, yellow now complementing the familiar green to give a fresh feel, and there is new category signage. Budgens says it is the most significant corporate redesign since the opening of its Midhurst store in 1996.

There is market-style point of purchase material while shelving has been regressed to emphasise the products. Fixturing is being tested that allows for meal solution suggestions, such as Schwarz herbs on the meat display. Deeper fridges enable more products to be displayed in a smaller space, although there is less emphasis on frozen and more on fresh within the store as a whole.

The mood changes in beers, wines and spirits, with spotlights, a wooden floor, aubergine colour scheme and the feel of a wine cellar, all help to encourage browsing.

Most impressive is the depth of range, with the store carrying 6,300 lines. Local products play a key role, with 80 lines on sale - Budgens’ widest selection anywhere. “We held a forum and discovered customers thought it an insult to local producers if their products were not available,” explains Rice.

So customers can buy local wine, fruit, chutneys and cheeses. The local bacon, from Weald Smokery, was so popular it sold out in the first weekend and the supplier has had to increase production to match demand. Budgens has received accreditation from Kentish Fayre, whose logo is on point of purchase material. Organic was also highlighted in research and there is an organic option in every category.

But the interesting Kent tea and organic lemon pressé are not at the expense of traditional brands. This is all the more important considering locals have the choice of Waitrose and a new Tesco about 15 minutes away. “If there is one thing they need to go to Waitrose for then we need to make sure we stock it,” Rice says.

Judging by customer reaction, Budgens appears to be succeeding in its mission. “Oh, they have got everything,” one surprised customer was overheard saying last week.