Tonbridge (667): Opening
Waitrose Tonbridge opened on 19th November 2002. The following appeared in The Gazette at the time.
The ancient market town of Tonbridge in Kent has seen many changes. First the Saxons then the Normans made it their home. Now a brand new Waitrose has set up camp close to the town centre.
When it comes to location the new Waitrose branch at Tonbridge scores top marks. Just 100 metres from the High Street of a thriving historic town, yet with a car park directly off the ring road, it has all the advantages of being both in and out of the centre.
Location paid off when the shop opened on Tuesday morning and shoppers crowded in. “We far exceeded sales expectations for our first day and were overwhelmed by the amount of positive feedback from customers,” says Branch Manager Melvin MacDonald. “Many people expressed surprise at how spacious the branch was inside and how wide our assortment was. The Café was a big hit – busy from breakfast right through to the evening.”
The new design reflects local Kent architecture; its tall, central tower mirrors wharf buildings on the river Medway, which runs along one side of the branch. The opposite side of the structure has a series of dormer windows faced in weatherboard. These help the new building blend in with the High Street’s low rise architecture.
“The tower was designed both to look ‘Kentish’ and to provide a visual focal point for customers,” explains Alex Cheong-Took, Project Manager, Waitrose. “The two new style Waitrose signs on the tower can be seen from quite a distance and makes the shop difficult to miss.”
Unusually for a Waitrose branch, the shop has only one customer entrance and exit. This leads directly from the car park (owned and managed by Tonbridge and Malling Town Council). Once inside the branch, customers face a new look flower department with the bright arrangements standing tall in galvanised steel buckets on curved fixtures. To the right is the spacious fruit and vegetable department, using the latest fixturing while straight ahead are the 15 checkouts running from the entrance to the 92-seater Café.
The Café is the heart of the branch and sits next to the Meal Centre where the ‘theatre’ of food is in full swing with flames licking the back of the brightly tiles pizza oven while chickens and ducks crisp on the rotisserie. “This whole area provides a great focal point for the shop and all the Partners are geared up to make eating in the branch, or picking a take-away meal, an enjoyable experience.” says John Sandford-Mills, Department Manager, Customer Service.
Customers can choose from a wide selection of hot food dishes – from bacon and sausages at breakfast to curry later in the day – that can be eaten in the Café or taken home. The Café also serves an extensive range of teas, coffees and patisserie. The sandwich and snack selection includes Croque Monsieur and panini, which are served hot. Next to the hot food counter are the prepared meals designed for customers to take home. The range covers almost every national culinary style from pasta to sushi.
Customers who want something to drink with their meal need go no further than the inviting wine department with its dark wood floor and low ceiling. It contains a comprehensive assortment of wines, spirits and beers including the fine wines of the Inner Cellar selection. The wine department has a very distinctive look and feel and is designed to give customers space to browse quietly before they buy. The tasting counter will offer both wines and spirits for customers to try, and wine reference books are kept on the shelves behind the counter for customers to use.
The design of the service counters is a refinements of the new look first trialled earlier in the year at Kingston with more emphasis placed on interaction with customers. “All the preparation work on the meat and fish counters is done facing the customer at a workstation where every cut of the knife can be seen.” says Mr Sandford-Mills. “It is all part of the drive for better, more personal, service. This is something that Partners at Tonbridge are showing a great talent for already.”
Apart from a brief spell at Waitrose Brighton, Branch Manager Melvin MacDonald has been a Kent man for the last 10 years, managing both Allington Park and Longfield branches. “It‘s a great place to work – beautiful countryside but also good for business. The Waitrose name is already well known in Kent and this new large branch with so many splendid innovations, will draw in even more customers. There is a strong local community who will enjoy being able to use a town centre branch, but we are also trading in an area where people are prepared to travel to get the best produce, and being on the ring road will allow customers to reach us quickly and easily.” The new branch is located almost alongside a large and modern Sainsbury’s supermarket. “We are lacing strong competition from an established retailer but I see it as an opportunity to show customers what makes Waitrose so different. It is a challenge that my whole team is looking forward to tackling.”
Kent TN9 IRG