Asda’s newest showcase for its non-food offer is a standalone 34,000 sq ft store on a retail park. Rod Addy goes shopping

With new sites increasingly hard to come by, Asda is hoping to take the battle to Tesco in the one area it knows it stands a good chance of winning - standalone non-food stores.
Last week it opened its first general merchandise store, Asda Living, at Crown Wharf Retail Park, Walsall, in the west Midlands. Asda describes it as “a supercentre, but without the food” and that’s certainly evident from the layout, with 20,000 sq ft of general merchandise on the ground floor and 14,000 sq ft of George clothing upstairs. The ground floor is divided into four zones: entertainment, homewares, health & beauty and seasonal, which reflect the non-food divisions in mixed-offer Asda supercentres.
Store manager Mark Ryles says: “The aim is to showcase the best of our non-food products under one roof.”
Merchandising borrows a lot from other Asda stores, with PoS and banners identical in design to those used in supermarkets and in its five standalone George stores.
Continuity is important to ease the customers’ transition from other formats to this new concept, says Ryles.
There are some notable differences, however. The area stocking the full George clothing range, including the latest babywear lines, has a built-in accessories section, which is a first for an Asda store. Its supercentre in Huyton, Merseyside, is opening a similar section this week.
Homewares merchandising has also taken a step away from the routine with products such as cushions and lamps arranged by colour to enable consumers to choose colour co-ordinated products that fit the co-ordinated décor they have in their homes, says Ryles.
As shoppers move to the back of the store, they’ll see a customer service desk and here Asda is attempting to make real advances in overcoming the hurdles that hold back the sales of home entertainment equipment in the major multiples.
A section of the desk is run by staff who have been trained by equipment manufacturers and can provide specialist knowledge to help match hi-tech products to customers’ needs and deal with returns. A photo and digital processing centre is also situated at the desk.
The prominence of seasonal products is a further development. They take up almost one fifth of the ground floor and are positioned at the front to draw shoppers inside. Hallowe’en is currently the major theme and some products have been sourced from Wal-Mart in the US, where the festival has a higher profile.
The seasonal area will also be the main centre for its retailtainment, hosting many of Asda’s trademark instore events. Paula Minowa, non-food format director, says: “Customers told us they thought retail parks could lack life and vibrancy. We wanted to give a high profile to an area that was subject to frequent changes.”
On the upper floor, the layout of the George range of clothing is designed to encourage shoppers to browse and a Caffè Ritazza coffee shop on the same level fits the relaxed mood. Minowa says: “Customers have different shopping missions. Retail parks are about people having a mini day out and a mooch.”
Minowa is confident that the new features of the store will give it a competitive edge over Next and TK Maxx, which are also located in the retail park. In fact, she is convinced that Asda will soon be drawing on the two stores’ existing customer base for their shoppers.
Looking to the future, Minowa acknowledges that the store’s innovative features are not set in stone. Customer feedback will prompt changes to the format, she says.
A company spokesman says it is too early to determine the long-term potential of the Asda Living concept, but another 30,000 sq ft out-of-town store at Cortonwood Retail Park in Brampton, south Yorkshire, is scheduled to open next spring and a further site has yet to be confirmed.
Meanwhile, with City speculation that Matalan is an obvious target for Wal-Mart, it is believed a store-by-store review of Matalan is taking place, no doubt identifying sites with potential for the Asda Living format.