Among the first things you see as you enter Tesco’s first dedicated non-food Homeplus store in Denton, east Manchester, are crates and bottles of wine on special offer.
If successful, Tesco says this could be a permanent feature. It’s certainly a cunning move in the run up to the festive season - and especially appealing for companies arranging their Christmas parties. But there are other reasons why people might want to visit the 30,000 sq ft two-floor store.
First of all, there’s the location. The Crown Point Northern Retail Park is easily accessible from the M62, within a stone’s throw of Denton. The town is a major residential centre in its own right and is a suburb of Manchester.
The retail complex in which the store is situated presents no comprehensive competition, either. There’s a TK Maxx clothing store just down the way, a BhS, a Birthdays for cards and wrapping and an O2 mobile phone outlet. And there are rumours a Toys “R” Us will be setting up shop in the currently vacant slot next door.
But none of these alone has a range that rivals that available in Homeplus. And even those offering partial competition are already performing the dual function of attracting shoppers for Homeplus. “I was popping into TK Maxx and BhS for clothes and thought I’d have a nose around,” says one elderly Denton resident, who says she’ll return to Homeplus.
There’s certainly plenty for people to browse. The ground floor is split into numbered, colour-coded aisles. These include DIY & car care, health & beauty, household, homeshop (including domestic accessories), cookshop (embracing kitchenware) and toys & outdoors. The others are cards & party, books & stationery, newspapers and magazines, seasonal, and bulk deals.
A total of 9,000 sq ft on the first floor is devoted to clothing, namely Florence & Fred and Cherokee, including the retailer’s 16-26 size range. The remaining 3,000 sq ft includes jewellery and accessories, a digital media area selling products such as iPods and MP3 players and a section selling mobile phones. There are also CDs, DVDs and games, home entertainment appliances and computer equipment on display, plus an electricals help desk for queries and consoles screening previews of DVDs and games.
All told, the store showcases the largest non-food range of any Tesco store as well as the largest array of clothing.
Of course, there’s no food, aside from a small corner devoted to crisps, snacks and drinks, a fact some customers we approached were unhappy about. Others were surprised at the lack of a cafe in the store.
However, apart from that, shoppers say the store is similar to other Tesco supermarkets, highlighting Tesco’s every day low pricing strategy throughout. You can pick up a 28-inch TV for less than £200 and a family PC pack, with computer, monitor, printer and scanner for less than £400. Oh, and jeans for £3. Chart CDs retail from £9.77 and chart DVDs from £11.97. Tesco Value lines pepper the aisles and staff livery is identical to other Tesco outlets.
“I went in there for a widescreen TV because of the prices,” said one man. “Clothes and wine are the main things I would visit the store for if I came back.”
But there were a few downsides to the shopping experience during our trip to the store. One elderly woman who had trouble walking said the conveyor belt taking customers upstairs moved too fast and the lifts were out of order. But she said she was able to get about with her husband’s help.
Another shopper said the experience left him cold. “It’s a bit impersonal. If I go to my family butcher, I can have a banter with him.”
Despite these views, the store is already attracting people from some distance away. One person we spoke to had travelled from Gloucester. “I thought I’d look at their Florence & Fred range,” she said. “They have a lot to offer and I would definitely come back.”
It’s a promising start for what represents a significant challenge to Asda’s non-food Asda Living concept. But Tesco is playing it cool with regard to further stores. “We have always said this store is a trial. We’ll be led by customers,” says a spokeswoman.
That said, Aberdeen, Telford and Bristol have been mooted as potential sites.