Brent Cross: Opening

Waitrose Brent Cross opened on 2/3/1976.  The following appeared in The Gazette at that time.

” ‘Where is Waitrose and when does it open?’ Asked a lady hurrying down the main mall of the Brent Cross Shopping Centre at 9.50am on Tuesday. She was relieved to hear it was only a few yards down a side mall and she had 10 minutes to get there, but she still bustled along to join a group of forty people already gathered outside the supermarket. With local schools on half term holiday, many were mothers with children. The youngsters were more interested in the animal shaped climbing frames that have been installed in the mall outside Waitrose, but their mothers were eager to get into the shop.
When the doors were opened more than sixty people poured in, most through the main entrance on the mall, but some by the side entrance that opens directly on to the car park. In about sixty seconds, the first customer was coming through the checkouts – a young lad with a Mars bar.
The mall of the centre was thronging with people and by 11am, the eastern end of the car park, nearest Waitrose was full and spaces were hard to find on the large northern section. People appeared to have come just to look at ‘the newest shopping centre in Europe’ rather than do any serious shopping. In Waitrose, initial transactions were mainly a few items in a shopping basket. But from early comments, customers liked their first view of the new supermarket. ‘What a lovely shop,’ said one lady, ‘so clean-looking,’ ‘Plenty of space to move around in’ added another. The self-selection wine bar and the fruit and vegetable section found favour with a number of customers and one young family spent several agonising minutes deciding which fresh cream cakes to choose from the tempting display in a refrigerated cabinet at one end of the delicatessen counter.
Waitrose is the only supermarket in the Brent Cross shopping centre although Marks and Spencer and Fenwick’s department store both have food halls. It is the 57th Waitrose branch and the second largest with 15,000 square feet and selling space and will like the rest of the shopping centre trade for 6 days a week. It is open from 10am to 8pm on weekdays and from 8.30 am to 4.30pm on Saturdays.
Trading time alone totals 58 hours a week but staff coverage will be needed for nearer to 80 hours at 13 hours a day. As usual in Waitrose deliveries will start early in the morning and instead of evening shelf fillers, the branch has an early morning team working from 7am to 10am to stock the shelves before the branch opens. This brings an added complication – shelf filling will co-inside with the early morning cleaning of the shop.

The staffing requirement involving 230 full and part-time staff, including 60 weekend juniors was worked out by Waitrose senior staff manager Miss Smith and a staff manager Mrs Hull. The complicated shift system has four different rotas for full time staff alone. The average full time working week is 38 hours and all except the dining room partners work two late nights a week.
The dining room needs its own rota system; it has to be in operation to serve breakfasts for the early morning staff, coffee, lunch and tea during the day and cooked snacks for those on the late shift, all provided by one cook, two assistant cooks and three catering assistants.
To ensure adequate management coverage for all operational hours the branch has three assistant branch managers instead of one to whom section managers are initially responsible. Each assistant branch manager has the specific responsibility for particular sections. Mr Liveras for meat, frozen food, checkouts and office; Mrs Roche for provisions, fruit and vegetables and delicatessen and Mr Williamson for grocery, non-food and wines. But as they operate on a four day shift system, their responsibilities will overlap. The working week of some section managers and assistant section managers is also planned in tis way. The branch manager and his deputy however work a five-day week.
The staff includes 11 packers who work at the checkouts on Thursdays and Fridays and doormen who are available at all times to help customers take their shopping to their cars. There will be trolley collection points in the car park for customers who wheel their own shopping to their cars in Waitrose trolleys. As the car park is extensive, holding 3,500 cars the trolleys will be hauled back to the branch by a small ‘cab’ pulling a trailer specially designed to hold 24 trolleys.
The Brent Cross branch stocks the normal Waitrose assortment but has frozen foods as a separate section with its own section manager. A row of freezer cabinets 60 foot long extends across the width of the branch. Ice cream and poultry are included in the section which has some new lines in frozen foods as well as larger packs of items in the standard Waitrose assortment.
The large freezer storage room built specially in the warehouse is fitted with the only suitable racking available – the type used for blood banks in hospitals. Partners may have to work in the room for up to an hour, stacking goods and special insulated anoraks are provided for their use. The medical department will be watching closely to see whether any other protective clothing is needed.

The compressors that run the branch’s refrigeration produce heat as a by-product and at Brent Cross this is being put to use in a heat reclaim system by the use of specially designed equipment with thermostatically controlled vents. Normally the warm air in a compressor room is extracted outside by fans.

In the colder weather when the shop requires more heat, the outside vents will close and inside vents will open to draw into the equipment the warm air from the plant room. It will pass over a heat battery to be heated to the required temperature, then distributed round the building in the same way. So instead of heating cold air from outside, as normally happens, this system uses air that is already partly warmed. It does not meet all the heating requirements of the branch but makes sufficient contribution for only four gas boilers to be needed instead of five.
Waitrose Brent Cross also has the benefit of other newly developed equipment. In the meat preparation room, a packing machine which is almost completely automatic packs the meat that is sold on trays. Only one operator is needed, and he or she wraps the transparent film round the tray of meat and lays it on the machine; from there it is entirely on its own. It passes along a hot belt which seals the film underneath, then goes through a shrink tunnel which shrink wraps the film. The machine is pre-set for the type of meat being packed and the package travels along a conveyor to be weighed, the ticket is automatically printed and stuck on, and the meat travels off the machine into a container at the end. The machine was evaluated at Waitrose Slough and Brent Cross is the first Waitrose to have it installed.
The meat preparation room is also trying out a new type of cutting bench. On wheels with a removable white nylon top, it is much smaller and more practical than the conventional large wooden benches. It is also more hygienic as the top can be removed and scrubbed in the sink.
Brent Cross is the second branch to have a style of checkout which is new to Waitrose. The cashier faces in to the shop and the customer unloads the goods herself on to a moving belt. The rear part of the checkout can be divided to allow two customers to pack their shopping at the same time. The checkouts also have lights as well as bells by which the cashier can attract the attention of the checkout manager.
Newly developed electronic cash registers are another first for this Waitrose branch. They simplify branch paperwork, doing away with the cashing up summary altogether, and not only add up a customer’s purchases but, when told how much money the customer is tendering, they show the cashier how much change to give. Partnership discount can be worked out on them, and this means that Partner customers must tell the cashier they require discount BEFORE she finishes ringing up their transaction.

These new cash registers required slight changes in cashier training. Normally cashiers are taught how to use a till and then go to an existing branch to work on a check out for a time. But because no branch has these tills, the arrangement has to be reversed for Brent Cross. The cashiers were recruited as early as possible, and some have been working in other Waitrose branches for up to twelve weeks. They were taught to use the new cash registers when they arrived at Brent Cross.
Most of the Waitrose Brent Cross Partners started work in the branch in the week beginning 16th February. They include some Partners who transferred from John Barnes Foodhall, but most of the rank and file are new to the Partnership. The management team of sixteen first got together at a two-day conference at Odney, in January, the first time such a conference has been held for the opening of a supermarket. Much of the time was spent discussing the operation of the branch in its unusual trading hours, but the conference was so successful that similar events may be arranged for future Waitrose openings.
‘It provided an opportunity to get to know one another and find a working relationship’
says the Branch manager Mr Witkin. ‘We were a team before we arrived at the branch.’
The whole branch team was well settled in this week. ‘How nice to meet staff who know where everything is.’ Said one customer on Tuesday morning. The number of customers was steady throughout the day, including some who purchased their week’s shopping and others who bought little and just looked. For a new branch in a new shopping centre where nobody knew really what to expect on the first day, business was summed up by the deputy manager Mr Walker as ‘pretty favourable’.”

Edited excerpt from The Gazette 6th March 1976, Vol 58 No 5.

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