Two months ago Sainsbury opened its doors to its new-look store in Merton, south London.
If ever there was a store in need of a makeover, it was this one. Originally built as a whopping 130,000 sq ft Sainsbury's Savacentre, it was in desperate need of attention and had become outdated and neglected. The car park had been dark and dingy and the roof was prone to leaks in rainstorms.
But now the store, on Merton High Street in Colliers Wood, has undergone an incredible nine-month transformation - and the end result is impressive.
From the rear of the store, the building looks like an aircraft hangar, balancing precariously on stilts. But from the front on Merton High Street, it looks smart and welcoming. As well as sorting out the inside of the store, Sainsbury has taken great care with the exterior. A bridge over the River Wandle, which flows metres from the entrance, has been spruced up and Sainsbury even teamed up with a local conservation group to clean up the river.
Over the bridge, the entrance of the store has been pedestrianised, leading straight to a huge glass atrium which, claims Mark Avery, retail operations manager for Sainsbury, displays the biggest fascia sign in the UK. "The store is so big that we needed the lettering that big for impact."
The atrium is dazzlingly bright, with a choice of travelators, escalators and lifts for customers to make their way up to the store on the first floor. The biggest transformation, says Avery, is the size of the store, which has been trimmed down to 70,000 sq ft. The remaining 60,000 sq ft is behind a hoarding and in about six months' time will become a shopping mall.
Avery says that Sainsbury will rent out the space to tenants and that there is scope to create anything from one to seven or eight stores over a possible three floors. Sainsbury has already opened its in-store café in the first space and next door its first tenant, a language learning centre, has moved in. Avery adds that a bank will soon open next to the learning centre.
Back at the front of the store, the checkouts mark the dividing line between Sainsbury and the shopping mall. Once inside, the store sill feels large and spacious. "Customers think that we have made the store bigger, when it is, of course, smaller," says Avery. This, he says, has been made possible because the store has been flipped by 90 degrees, enabling Sainsbury to make the most of previously under-utilised space, shoehorn in its full general merchandise range and offer a larger fresh produce section than before.
Tricks include strip lighting running the length of the store, feature lighting over the bakery and fresh produce sections and a curved ceiling.
The store layout is also easier to navigate. Once past the tobacco kiosk and customer service desk - which includes an online recruitment facility - the store has been split, with the non food section to the left of the entrance and grocery to the right.
The delicatessen, fish, meat and bakery counters run side by side the length of the back wall of the grocery section, whereas before they were dotted all over the store.
Sainsbury has also taken advantage of the revamp to introduce the latest offerings in its non food ranges, including fine jewellery, DIY, bike care, a mobile phone area and a home entertainment section that would rival any music retailer.
But it is customers who count most. Pilar Lapena-Lazaro, from South Wimbledon, says: "The transformation has been incredible. Prior to the refit it was almost too big and difficult to find things. Now I can do a full shop in less than an hour and everything is laid out in a more logical order."
Avery says the feedback has been incredible. "Customers think it is fantastic. Since launch we have beaten budget by 10% weekly and we expect that to continue."Report by Beth Brooks
Size of depot: 70,000 sq ft
Established: 5 April 2006
Total number of lines: 26,000
Food/non food split:
20,000 sq ft non food,
20,000 sq ft fresh produce, 30,000 sq ft grocery/bws/frozen