Everything 117 Did, 223 Will Do Better
Waitrose Berkhamsted moved up in the world on Tuesday [Dec 1996] when the branch re-located.
Take a boat along the Hertfordshire stretch of the Grand Union Canal and you’ll see lots of sights; one that is definitely worth a second glance is the new Waitrose at Berkhamsted which on Tuesday re-located on Tuesday from its High Street premises to a striking new waterside location in St John’s Well Lane.
The new branch probably won’t have many new customers mooring their barge on the bank and popping in, but shoppers arriving by more conventional means will have more than 500 car parking spaces (280 of which are Waitrose-controlled) to choose from. Add to this a shop floor that has more than doubled in size, extended assortments, an eye-catching range of fresh food service counters and a coffee shop and you can see why the new branch is making waves.
Waitrose has had a presence in the Hertfordshire town since 1960, when the Partnership ran four small shops, offering counter service, credit and delivery. These were transformed into a Waitrose supermarket in 1969. In 1984 the branch increased its selling area by more than 50% when it was extended into an adjacent building. This week’s move is therefore its third incarnation in the town.
Branch Manager, Chris, is just one of the team of partners responsible for ensuring that branch 117’s transformation into 223 has been a smooth one. He joined the Partnership as a trainee in 1975 and has held his current position since 1991. His enthusiasm for the new branch is almost tangible.
‘Waitrose Berkhamsted lies at the heart of Partnership territory, with John Lewis Milton Keynes to the north, Trewins to the south and several other Waitrose branches within easy reach.’ he says.
‘Branch 117 was very heavily shopped, but its size put restrictions on the assortment it could carry, and its parking facilities were limited, so it was vital that we moved to a larger building if we were to protect our interest in the town. A relocation had been discussed for several years and Waitrose development fought hard to secure this site for us. The move will bring back the vibrance and vitality to this side of the town, attracting customers not only to Waitrose but to the smaller shops in the nearby High Street too.’
Maintaining the old shop’s high standards and assortment until its closure last Sunday whilst also preparing the new branch for opening on Tuesday presented Chris and his Partners with a special challenge. ‘ In that respect a relocation can be tougher than a new branch opening’ he says ‘ I helped to identify the training and staffing needs of both branches for this period six months ago, and the hard work put in by Department Managers and Section Managers in administration and organisation has been invaluable in ensuring that everything went as planned. ‘The logistics of the operation have been complex with branches such as Reading, South Harrow and Chesham helping out with checkout, service counter and coffee shop training for both new and existing Partners. The move has meant a big change in many of our lives but Partners have been incredibly flexible and been looking forward to getting into the new branch. They are determined to make customers as welcome here as they did in the High Street. Everything that 117 did 223 will do better.’ A quick tour of the shop confirms the truth of Chris’ words. The spacious glass-panelled entrance lobby provides a taste of things to come, inviting customers through on to the light and airy shop floor. To the left is the customer service desk flanked by shelves of newspapers and magazines, while to right, fresh flowers and house plants are attractively arranged in a splash of colour and scent. Straight ahead lies the expanse of the fresh fruit and vegetable section with its impressive assortment of both exotic and more familiar lines, while the back wall of the shop is home to an array of fresh food service counters, including hot food with its hot rotisserie chickens. As at Bromley South the branch’s non-food assortment features a new range of underwear for men, women and children, as well as a selection of babywear items.
If this is all too much to absorb in one go, customers can relax with a hot drink and light snack in the attractive coffee shop, next to the patisserie counter. ‘Try and buy’ coffee beans are available from one of the striking copper-coloured coffee silos. The customer toilets and baby changing facilities are also located in this area of the shop, next to the checkouts.
Waitrose Berkhamsted will be open from 8.30am – 8pm, Monday- Thursday; 8.30am – 9pm on Friday; 8.30am to 8.30pm on Saturday and 10am – 4pm on Sunday. Parking is available next to the shop and is free to Waitrose customers for the first two hours.
Overseeing the closure of the old branch has been the responsibility of Steve, Department manager Fresh Foods, Waitrose Abingdon and Simon, Section manager Fruit and vegetables, Waitrose Chesham, who arrived at Berkhamsted three weeks ago. ‘ It has been a very fine balancing act maintaining enough of an assortment to keep customers happy whilst running down stocks on the warehouse.’ explains Steve.
Mike, Assistant Section Manager, Fruit and Vegetables, was one of the team of ASM’s who helped run the old branch while the Department and Section Managers prepared 223 for opening. ‘ I was really looking forward to the move, particularly as the spacious Fruit and Vegetable section will allow us to display the produce more attractively ‘ he says.
“We are now able to carry the complete Waitrose assortment and most of the Dry Goods lines have doubled in size”, says Neil, Department Manager, Dry Goods. ‘I’m keen that all the new Partners should feel part of the team as quickly as possible – since arriving, most have worked in a variety of sections to enable them to meet lots of other Partners. We also held informal welcome evenings followed by induction days at Trewins.”
‘It’s great that Berkhamsted finally has its new shop and I think customers will love it.’ says Coleen, Customer Services Assistant, who has moved from Checkouts to the branch’s new Customer Service desk after a period of training at Waitrose South Harrow.’ I think the pace will be very fast, particularly in the run up to Christmas.’
Clare, Supermarket Assistant, coffee shop/patisserie is one of the branch’s 110 new Partners. “I was working for another retail chain in Watford, but already knew about the Partnership as my mother works at Waitrose St Albans and my step-father is at John Barnes. I decide to apply for Berkhamsted as I wanted a job that would be more of a challenge and with better career prospects.”
Mick, Supermarket Assistant, Meat and Fish has seen lots of changes in his 26 years at Waitrose Berkhamsted. “When I started , Waitrose was a very small shop; then it was extended and now it has moved into this lovely new building.”
“Our old branch was a very friendly one and we will be aiming to make both partners and customers feel just as welcome here”, says Val, Customer Service Assistant.
Designing a building that would house a state-of-the-art supermarket yet blend seamlessly in with its surroundings was the responsibility of Gino, Waitrose Architect. He researched the vernacular style of Berkhamsted architecture before committing his ideas to the drawing board.
‘Many of the town’s buildings date from the late 19th century and are constructed from yellow brick with contrasting red brick and arch features and quoins (corner detailing) so creating a shop that would be visually sympathetic to this environment was a challenge.’ he says.
The building consists of a two-storey amenity block, containing the warehouse, offices and Partners’ Dining Room (with a view over the Grand Union Canal and the River Bulbourne) and the larger single storey shop floor area. ‘The total area covered by the roof is huge so to minimise its impact, I designed three pitched roof features, each ridged by a louvered unit and two turrets.’ says Gino. ‘These break up the roof line and add interest to the building’
The large selling area’s front and side elevations were animated through careful detailing of the columns – the latter’s stone-capped heads contrasting with the granite and brickwork below. The gable ends at eaves line level with their transparent trusses, add another dimension add another dimension to the shop and, appropriately are edged in Partnership green. Wrought ironwork on the PDR balcony and the car park’s elegant lighting (chosen by Fred Sherman, Electrical Engineer) has been painted in the same distinctive colour.
The site of the new Waitrose and its car park has also undergone extensive landscaping. The adjacent River Bulbourne was almost stagnant, but work has been carried out to build up its banks and constrict the river in order to accentuate its flow, thus increasing the levels of oxygen in the water, ‘We are planning a number of natural species of wildflower and river plants on the banks which we hope will encourage butterflies and other wildlife,’ says Gino. ‘We have also put in more than 5,000 bulbs and re-instated the public footpath, whose winding course is designed to reflect the image of flowing water.’
As a finishing touch, two genuine lock-gate arms, made of solid oak and weighing more than a tonne each will be fitted to enhance the site further.
Edited except from The Gazette, Vol 78 no 45, 07.12.96.