It’s enough to make you want to up sticks and move to Essex, just to have the pleasure of branch 229 as your local supermarket. Spacious and light, with the extensive assortment and excellent customer service you would expect from the food division’s newest branch, it makes shopping an experience to savour instead of dread. Quite an achievement in a busy world.
Awaiting the customer in the new High Street branch is a selling area of more than 23,00 square feet kitted out with the usual array of tempting fresh food service counters ( including ‘Hot Food’); an innovative Olive Bar and ‘Cooking with Waitrose’ section; Customer Service Desk; salad bar and create a pizza facility; Quick Check; Quick Pay; a 24 hour automated cash machine (ATM) and a Coffee Shop. The latter, like the one at Waitrose Food and Home at Waitrose Salisbury has views of the bustling High Street, giving customers the chance to ‘people watch’ as they enjoy their cappuccinos. A 214-space car park makes access to the branch, as easy on four wheels as on two feet.
With 8 years in the Partnership behind him, Nick is finding his role as Branch Manager of the new shop both exciting and challenging. Drawing on the experience as Branch Manager at Waitrose Buckhurst Hill and the opening of Bishop’s Stortford, he and his Partners have worked hard to ensure a smooth countdown to opening.
‘This is a fantastic new branch sited in prime Waitrose territory, and I think people will enjoy shopping here,’ he says, ‘ we are lucky to be opening with so many Partners from Waitrose Chelmsford.’ [ which closed on 15th November] who are making sure both new Partners and customers receive a warm welcome. There is a good team spirit.’
A quick trip around the shop floor shows that Partners’ team spirit is only one aspect of the new branch’s multi-faceted customer offer. Convenience is the watchword as, entering Waitrose Billericay from the car park at the rear, one of the first things the customers see is the Customer Service Desk and the Quick Check hand-held scanner racks and help desk. The customer toilets and baby changing facilities are also located in this part of the shop.
Straight ahead, Waitrose’s rainbow selection of fresh fruit and vegetables is enough to dispel the deepest December gloom (especially as it includes the aforementioned salad and olive bar) while the fresh food service counters – with their mouth-watering array of meat, fish, fresh roasting chicken and delicatessen assortment- are an enticing sight against the far wall.
Patisserie and 20-stool Coffee Shop area lie at the front of the shop, adjacent to the Wine Department; the latter features bottles from the Waitrose ‘Inner Cellar’ selection, and a wine chiller for those last-minute pre-party purchases. A long row of check-outs ensures that queuing shouldn’t be a problem.
Merchandising innovations include a ‘Cooking with Waitrose fixture. Designed to make the preparation of dishes from the food division’s range of recipe cards even easier, this contains all the ingredients (both ambient and chilled) required for two selected recipes with recommended wine so customers no longer have to collect the ingredients from around the shop. No excuse for trying your hand at chestnut-stuffed beef olives then…..
Speaking of olives the new branch offers 10 different types which the customers can be bought by the tub from the self-service olive bar. Another new service is the optional heating of cold dishes from the delicatessen counter.
Raising the new branch’s profile in the local community has been a priority. The run-up to opening saw the area’s account card customers and other local residents receiving an informative brochure and video, while ten year old Carl had is choice of items ( a copy of the Times, a video of Titanic, and a Billericay Town football shirt ) buried in a time capsule in the branch’s car park after winning a competition run by Waitrose and the local newspaper. He and his parents received £300 in John Lewis and Waitrose vouchers. Waitrose has also made a donation to the cost of the town’s Christmas lights.
Chris, Department Manager Customer Services, moved from one side of the M25 to the other, when he transferred from Waitrose Allington Park to the new Essex branch; he joined the partnership in 1996, having previously worked for a competitor ‘I enjoy the fast moving and competitive of food retailing; its hard work but it keeps you on your toes.’ he says.
Retail Management Trainee, Laura has her sights set on being a Section Manager and is gaining valuable experience in her role as Assistant Manager Checkouts at Billericay ‘I’ve been with the Partnership for four years, three of which I spent as a weekender at Waitrose Enfield.’ I was working at Chelmsford when it closed, but I’ve been looking forward to getting into this new branch.’ At Billericay, Laura will be helping customers to get to grips with Quick Check and Quick Pay.
There’s not a lot that Brian doesn’t know about Billericay’s warehouse; as Security Checker, it’s his job to make sure that the goods handling operation runs like clockwork. ‘I spent six years at Waitrose Chelmsford , so I was sad when it closed, but I am sure we will be able to create the same friendly atmosphere at Billericay. I like the spaciousness of the new shop and the way it fits in with the High Street’
Responsibility for the smooth running of Billericay’s new coffee shop rests in the capable hands of James, Section Manager Patisserie and his team, ‘I was Assistant Section Manager at Waitrose Harpenden but spent time at Waitrose Berkhamsted and Food and Home at Southend, seeing how a coffee shop works’ he explains, ‘I will be encouraging our customers to try our excellent coffees.’
A radical change of career brought Linda, Supermarket Assistant, Food Service to Waitrose, ‘I was a nurse for eight years, but wanted a new direction. I trained at Southend, whose Partners were superb, and couldn’t wait for Billericay to open to see customers’ reactions.’
Alan, Supermarket Assistant Food Service, is another newcomer to the branch, although not to the world of meat – he previously worked in the butchery business. ‘Coming to Waitrose has meant learning a new way of doing things, but there’s a great team here. There’s nothing worse than being served by someone with a long face and that’s something customers certainly won’t see at Billericay.’
Of course, there’s more to launching a new branch of Waitrose than opening the doors on the first morning of trade. Partners from Waitrose Development, The Building Group and from Waitrose Merchandising have all played a major role at Billericay.
As Senior Development Manager (New Branches) Paul’s role has been to co-ordinate the handover of the building, work closely with the Building Group, Merchandising and the Branch Manager to ensure that all the equipment arrives at the right time – and in the right place. ‘My job was to make sure that Billericay was ready to open and that meant working to a tight schedule ‘he says. ‘I have been involved with the design of the internal layout, issued the opening programme and liaised with local authorities over car-park controls and road signage. My priority was to make sure that Billericay matched the Waitrose blueprint.’ Debbie was the Waitrose architect responsible for the design of the new branch. ‘As the shop was being built on an existing high street site, my priority was to avoid designing a building that looked like a big bulky supermarket’ she explains. ‘It had to blend in with the rest of the street, so I designed it to look like two smaller buildings by giving it two roofs – one clay and the other slate.’
The window design also helps to ‘break up’ the front elevation as does the contrast of the buttermilk- coloured render and stone pilaster (flattened columns) the latter links into the free-standing columns that support the canopy at the back of the branch.
‘I think the new branch looks really good both inside and outside, and the comments I’ve heard have all been positive.’ says Debbie.
Edited Excerpt from The Gazette Vol 80 No 44. 5.12.1998.