Seeing the expectant crowd, parents telling children to be patient, journalists and photographers jostling for position, you might think you were at a Hollywood film premiere.
But the reason for the excited gathering in Swadlincote, south Derbyshire, two weeks ago was the opening of Morrisons’ new store. The 36,000 sq ft store close to the centre of town is Morrisons’ second new build this year.
One local man has been waiting since 4am to ensure he’s first in line to enter. “The local people have been looking forward to this for a long time,” says Frank McArdle, chief executive of South Derbyshire District Council.
The opening also marks the first public appearance of Morrisons’ new chief executive Marc Bolland. What does he make of his first store opening? “It’s great. This is my first and I didn’t know what to expect.”
He proudly points out the fresh sections, which take up one third of the space, and highlights the retail ready packaging efforts of some of the confectionery suppliers. And although he’s reluctant to divulge any details of his plans for the retailer, the new store does suggest a number of areas on which he will be focusing.
Morrisons’ premium range, The Best, is one. For the first time a whole chiller section within the Market Street aisle is being devoted entirely to The Best products, including ready meals, yoghurts and desserts. Store manager Keith Theobald says: “This is a new concept for us. We really want to make an impact with The Best and I’m sure we’ve got a roll out programme for other stores as we gather speed with the Safeway conversions.”
The Market Street aisle, common to all Morrisons stores, is an impressive sight already. It includes a fishmonger with exotic delights such as octopus and oysters, a cheese counter and deli, a salad bar, a fresh meat counter and the usual selection of fruit and vegetables.
Theobald started with Morrisons 34 years ago as a butcher. “The meat section is one of my pet loves,” he says. “All the meat in the section is cut here in-store and, if you can’t see what you want, our butchers will cut something for you.”
Another change is the positioning of non food items. As you continue down the Market Street aisle it wraps around the back of the store where pies, hot food, cakes and bread are all on show. Every now and again a bell chime pierces the hubbub to notify customers that a fresh batch of pies has just come out of the oven.
In old stores you would also find non food items here, but for the first time they have been moved to the front of the store. “This is another new concept. The At Home section and health and beauty lines are at the front to bring the non food stuff together,” says Theobald.
The store also stocks video games, flatscreen TVs, DVD players and other electricals, plus homewares such as pots and pans, vases, crockery and bedding. The only clothing line for adults so far is socks, while for babies there are socks and pyjamas.
Alcohol is also at the front of the store. It includes an extensive wine selection contained under a wooden canopy professing its international scope: Wines of the World. Superior wines are highlighted with their own Something Special boxes.
Elsewhere the store sticks firmly to the Morrisons standards. Trolleys are kept in the foyer when possible, while cut flowers and seasonal goods greet you as you enter and bogof promotions sit at the end of every food aisle in the store. There are 150 bogofs on offer at any one time.
There is also a 180-seat restaurant inside serving hot and cold food all day and a forecourt just up the road, which, Theobald says, is the northernmost forecourt in the UK that provides bioethanol.
As for Bolland, he’s off to visit some more stores to continue his research into the UK retail scene. “You can really only get to know retail by being in the stores,” he says.