Bloomsbury (207): Opening

Waitrose Bloomsbury opened on 20/7/2006.  The following appeared in the partnership’s in-house magazine, The Gazette, at the time.

“Waitrose Bloomsbury opened last Thursday and emotions – as well as temperatures were running high. For customers, there was the sheer relief of finally having a good-quality supermarket on their doorstep, while for Partners it was a case of keeping their fingers crossed, that the back-up generators temporarily supplying the branch with electricity would hold out.
The fact that the opening of the doors at 8.30am was greeted with a cheer by the crowd outside said it all: for Bloomsbury residents it was Christmas in July, regardless of the unorthodox power arrangements behind the scenes. As customer Suzannah admitted ‘ I’m virtually in tears, it’s spectacular, it’s huge – it has everything I could ever want. I am just walking up and down the aisles drooling’.

Jenny agreed, ‘It’s fantastic. We could not have asked for a better supermarket to open here, and it will make a huge difference to local people’ she said. ‘Hear, Hear’ interrupted another customer.
Of course, it is not unusual for Waitrose to evoke this sort of reaction from its customers, but at Bloomsbury, the sentiments were particularly heartfelt. The Brunswick, – the iconic 1960’s-style mixed -use shopping centre in which the branch is located – is approaching the end of a multi-million-pound refurbishment and the new Waitrose is the first of a tranche of retailers and restaurants that will shape its future: Others set to follow in the next few weeks include Hobbs, Space NK, French Connection, Starbucks and Carluccio’s.
Head of Selling Operations, Des, (Group F) describes this setting as one of the branch’s great strengths. ’It’s rare to find this much space with car parking in such a prime location’, he explains. As Bloomsbury’s size will also give it the edge, as at 23,500 square feet, it is now the largest Waitrose in Central London and will be used to trial some of the latest assortments and layouts.
‘It has been a complex project and the fact that we are open today is a tribute to teamwork of Partners from across the business, but particularly those in the Building Group, Merchandising, Selling and Marketing,’ he adds.
The other Group F shops and branches in this area have also been outstanding in their support. One Partner who can testify to that is Ian, who as Waitrose’s Construction Project Manager has a more intimate knowledge than most of the complexities of the branch. Part of the new shop was formerly another supermarket, but the main section was the open walkway which ran from the southern to the northern end of the mall. The Brunswick’s Grade II listing meant there were restrictions, but because the original planning permission included a covered area, Waitrose was able to occupy that space as long as it maintained access at both the front and the back of the shop. The selling floor’s ‘north light’ roof with six sloping windows is in keeping with the centre’s grade II status, which also explains why it, like all the other units in the centre cannot put any signage on the outside of its building. Instead, the Waitrose name is set behind glass above both entrances.

Diplomatically describing the project as ‘tough’, Ian points out that Bloomsbury’s inner-city location has made getting building materials and building equipment in and out of the site tricky, as was the fact that Waitrose was ’landlocked’ by developers working on all four sides. However, he has been cheered throughout by the’ very friendly’ attitude of local people. ‘They were really excited that we were going to open,’ he confirms ‘And the fact that the team I’ve been working with has been so up for it has made a big difference’.
Project Manager Chris led the onsite Merchandising team, which was driven by an awareness of Bloomsbury’s diverse customer base. This includes local residents, staff and students from the surrounding hospitals and university campuses, tourists and commuters. Working closely with Buying, we have focused on bringing the best of the Waitrose assortment to Bloomsbury,’ he explains. ‘What’s different? The cheese ‘dresser’, very popular at Belgravia, a new salad counter and the stylish new graphics on the wall behind the checkouts which are linked to the divisions current advertising campaigns. We have also worked hard that the key selling lines for Central London, have the right amount of space.’
Branch Manager Neil has transferred from Brent Cross and Bloomsbury is the 28th shop he has worked in during his 23 years with Waitrose. He predicts trade won’t ‘settle’ until the Autumn because of the impact of the school holidays on London shopping patterns.
‘Not only will we be serving several different types of customers, but we will be serving them at different times of the day,’ he points out. ‘Two thousand people pass through Russell square tube station, two minutes walk away in the morning rush hour and we also expect trade between noon and 2pm and then 5pm to 7pm on weekdays. However, we’ve got a great team here and recruitment has gone so well that although most if my 200 Partners are new, they don’t feel new!’
Neil concludes, ‘We’ve got a journey ahead of us, especially as the development is not complete, but we’re looking forward to helping the Brunswick establish itself. Our message is: we are not a specialist food shop but a food shop for specialists.’ “

Edited Excerpt from The Gazette 29.07.06, Vol 88, No 26.


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