Tenterden (201): Opening

Tenterden (201): Opening

Waitrose Tenterden opened on 4th December 1990. The following appeared in The Gazette at the time.

“Waitrose opens in Tenterden

Inhabitants of the small market town of Tenterden, Kent, were peering eagerly through the windows of the new Waitrose and chatting to Partners weeks before its opening day on Tuesday 4 December [1990].

The store may be tucked away from the main shopping street at the end of a small precinct of quality shops, but it is fully visible from the adjoining rear car park, the biggest in Tenterden with 263 parking paces. But pedestrians will approach Waitrose via the small shopping lane. With an attractive and recently installed ironwork arch across the entrance, Sayers Lane has a distinctly old-fashioned Victorian ambience.

The Waitrose building combines several features unique to the Kent landscape, including sections of sloping layers of white hoarding, reminiscent of an oast-house or traditional cottage, and also a clock tower.

“Tenterden has a large number of 17th and 18th century buildings,” says Mr Mike Fenn, the Partnership architect who designed the shop. But the site itself used to be a bus garage, and the delivery vehicles approach the store from the high street along the old bus lane, which Mr Fenn has managed to arrange so that the ground nearest the weatherboarded cottages alongside is an open planted area.

Similarly, although the developer’s original plan involved a two-storey car park at the back, the Partnership’s design avoids this by using a basement level to extend a ground level car park.

“It’s a real pleasure to work in a building which is so modern, yet which blends into a historic town so well,” said Mr Paul Carr, department manager of dry goods. And branch manager Mr David Bills added: ”It’s very pleasant to start work in a brand new ’state of the art’ store. For instance, the clock on the tower may look old-fashioned, but it is operated by pushing buttons on hi-tech equipment.”

One of the main challenges of Waitrose Tenterden will be attracting customers from outlying villages. “A great deal of our catchment area is made up of country villages without quality supermarkets,” said Mr Bills. “We expect many customers to be driving about 20 miles or more to shop here. So our large car park is vital.” A Partner for 20 years, Mr Bills was previously branch manager at Staines and Horley and is now presiding over his first Waitrose opening.

Mr Bills added: “It is amazing how many people looked in through the windows before the opening, to see how we were getting on. It seemed as though the whole town couldn’t wait for those doors to open.”

Mr Paul Carr explained that the land now occupied by the store used to be an empty bus garage. Today, Partners in the dining room look out onto a pleasant rural scene of allotments, fields, a few houses (with roofs the colour of Waitrose brick) and beyond that, rolling hills.

“At first some Tenterden people were worried at the prospect of a new store opening here,” said Mr Carr.”We explained that we were a supermarket, not a superstore, and that it would soon be apparent that we sold quality goods, just like many of the smaller businesses in the area.”

Mr Simon Paxton, who is a part-time assistant at Waitrose while completing a college course, says that good service will draw even more customers. ”I think people expect good service in this area, and they will find it at Waitrose,” he said.

Mrs Judy Bratton, sales assistant, worked at a bakers ‘before joining the Partnership at Tenterden.“ I was a bit apprehensive about starting work here, because I’m used to working in a small business,” she said. “But I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find people so friendly here.”

Mr Don Thompson, assistant section manager, Warehouse, told me: ”A lot of companies claim to be genuinely friendly, but the Partnership is the first one I’ve come across to actually succeed.” Mr Thompson has worked in another branch with his warehouse manager, Mr Franco Martignetti. ”Knowing each other beforehand probably helped us work faster together in the rush before opening,” said Mr Thompson.

Mr Martignetti told me: “The worst time for warehouse Partners is about three weeks before the opening, when you are shifting all the stock. On the week of the opening, things should be settling down a lot; then it is the sales Partners’ turn to be rushed off their feet.”

Waitrose Tenterden has the usual range of service counters and shelves full of tempting food, and is one of just a handful of branches to have a ”bake-off” facility at the patisserie, where bread is served fresh from the oven.

Mrs June Birch, a former John Lewis Partner, says she now prefers the bustle of Waitrose life to department store work. “There’s a lot of individual responsibility at Waitrose,” she said. “At the department stores you have staff managers and registrars to help with problems, but here you’ve got to do all those jobs yourself.”

A meeting for section managers before opening proved successful for management Partners at Tenterden. ”You need to get to know your team,” said Mrs Birch. “The three-day meeting was an opportunity to watch your section managers in action, and to assess their personalities. You get to know their management styles – and you learn that it’s not only extroverts who are good managers, but quieter people are just as effective in different ways.”

Mrs Sharon Finch, section manager, Administration, worked in a Portakabin for several weeks before the opening day, sifting through applications and interviewing potential Partners.” There were over 800 enquiries about 160 posts,” she told me. ”And after carrying out about 750 interviews, I can now say I know an awful lot of people in Tenterden!

The management team

Branch Manager Mr David Bills

Department Managers
Fresh Foods Mrs June Birch
Dry Goods Mr Paul Carr

Section Managers
Administration Mrs Sharon Finch
Checkouts Miss Kay Farnell
Delicatessen/Patisserie/Cheese Mr Andrew Young
Fruit and Vegetables Mr Keith Hillyard
Grocery/Non—food/Wine Mr Steven Priestley
Meat and Fish Mr Gary Jenkins
Office Miss Teresa Gould
Provisions Mr Mark Rice
Warehouse Mr Franco Martignetti

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