A supermarket before it opens is like an Aladdin’s cave. Fruit and vegetables shining in their trays, the bread and cakes arranged temptingly on the Patisserie counter, freezer cabinets full of exotic foods – and frozen peas, tins and packets in perfect multicoloured array and herbs and spices from all over the world. The work of art becomes a working shop when the first customer arrives.
The work, of course, starts much earlier. The building at Beaconsfield began on 31st August 1981 and the shop was formally handed over to the Branch Manager, Ian, on 13th September 1982, 15 days before it opened on 28th September. In that fortnight, the Partners there had to turn themselves from a collection of individuals into a team to open the shop.
All the managers, with exception of David, Section Manager, Wines, are ‘old’ Partners. So are some of the assistants on the selling floor and in the warehouse. Among the newcomers, nine cashiers and 15 selling assistants had already had some training in Waitrose Witney, Marlow or Whetstone. Others were trained entirely at Beaconsfield, learning everything from how to fill a shelf properly ( there is a wrong way of doing it!) to how the Partnership works. Ian says that the two main objectives in the training are ‘to teach people how to work as a team and how to deal with customers.’
A week before the Branch was due to open, there was already a list of Waitrose clubs and societies up on the board, together with photographs of the branch management and an invitation to a free cheese and wine party ‘ to get to know your fellow partners.’
The stock began to arrive on 13th September. Merchandise teams came down from Bracknell and laid out the ‘two stocks’ – two of everything in the branch assortment to show where the stock should go. Food continued to arrive until early on the opening morning when the fruit and vegetables and locally baked bread are delivered. These deliveries mean early rising for the Partners concerned – 30 came into the branch between 4.30 and 6.30am. on opening day. Fortunately they were fortified with a Waitrose first class breakfast at 7.30a.m.
The shop itself is unusual – the main entrance opens onto the main road but the very large window behind the checkouts looks over a lawn behind the road. The branch is surrounded by flower beds – 2000 plants in all – with a large car park at the back. Inside, the wine shop is especially attractive – heptagonal with a sloping pine ceiling and reflected light. Above it is the Partners’ Dining Room, decorated in green and white with large windows on three sides and a skylight making it an airy place to eat.
Two changes for Waitrose – the usual black and white colour scheme, has been replaced by softer colours, more important perhaps, the management structure now provides not only a deputy manger for the whole branch – Peter formerly of Woodley – but also one for each department – they are Sue – Administration, David P – Fresh Foods, David A – Dry Goods.
OLD AND NEW
Beaconsfield itself is a pleasant town – almost two towns. About a mile from Waitrose there is the ‘old town’ with its Georgian houses and beautiful church. The ‘new town’ where Waitrose is situated, was largely built when the railway arrived early this century. The two are linked by residential roads. One of the town’s most famous inhabitants was the poet and creator of Father Brown , G.K.Chesterton. Waitrose Partners are out to prove that his Song Against Grocers is totally untrue, or at least so far as they are concerned.
There was a small crowd waiting for the Branch Manager, Ian, to open the doors at 9a.m. half and hour later the shop was humming and by the evening Ian could describe the trade as ‘absolutely first class all day long’.
Edited excerpt from The Gazette Vol 64. 2nd October 1982.