With its dark tiled floors, wooden fittings, subtle lighting and spacious aisles, this McLeish store would look more at home on the set of Friends than in a small Highland town. And that's how owner and retailing veteran Stanley Morrice likes it.
The Inverurie shop was bought last summer as part of the 60-year-old Dundee-based McLeish chain of four delicatessens and a kitchen and distribution centre.
Morrice says the idea was to bring something different to Inverurie's high street.
With plenty of supermarket competition in the town, including two Co-ops and a Tesco, Morrice felt the best way to compete was to ring the changes.
The store combines the delicatessen concept of the other McLeish stores with a c-store format and is referred to by Morrice as a Manhattan-style concept store.
The shopping experience it offers is quite different to that of a standard c-store or supermarket. Shoppers use wicker baskets instead of the standard wire or plastic type, the service is more personal and the ambience is more relaxed than your standard local store.
Its key point of difference, however, is the food. McLeish has a heavy emphasis on chilled and fresh food and was recently awarded a licence that allows it to cook food from raw. The store has chefs preparing a range of ready meals, including Indian, Thai, Chinese, European and Scottish favourites. It also has a bakery serving traditional American lines, such as sourdough bread. Sandwiches and salad platters are made in-store.
Although the four standard McLeish delis have counter service, Morrice has found that pre-packed fresh food has gone down better in the Inverurie store. At the moment, he's trying out a combination to get the balance right. "The method depends on what time of day it is - people want to get served quicker over lunchtime, for example."
The Inverurie shop is licensed and sells more than 90 varieties of malt whisky as well as wines that have been selected because they are not available in supermarkets.
There is a limited range of traditional grocery items, so you can get a can of Coke and Pepsi, but it is not somewhere to stock up on basics, Morrice stresses. "We advertise ourselves as a deli, so customers don't expect to find toilet rolls and bleach."
The store did stock a wider range of grocery products when it first opened but he quickly realised it wasn't right for the shop. "We were worried about going into the deli concept too fast, too soon, but we saw that we had to be bolder in our approach."
Now that he has found his footing, Morrice is on the expansion trail. Another store in Aberdeen will open in the next six weeks and if this works he will roll the concept out across other parts of Scotland.
The company's progress will also be bolstered by the appointment of former Somerfield chief executive John von Spreckelsen as non-executive chairman, which Morrice believes will help speed up the company's expansion plans. He is still coy, however, about how big he'd like McLeish to become.
"It's early days for us and it is
difficult to estimate future store numbers, but everything is going well so far," he says.n