Store: BHS Food Store
Been a while since this first store BHS Food Store opened back in March, but the concept is worth revisiting here since Sir Philip Green seems to be making good on his pledge to roll this concept out in a meaningful way. My local BHS has started hiring for a food store manager, with my guess being that it will take the space currently occupied by the instore coffee shop. With Harrow now home to Starbucks, Costa (x 2), Esquires, several indies and the quite wonderful Dunkin’ Donuts, the BHS coffee shop has become, err, rather tranquil and one suspects that a food store might be a more lucrative and beneficial use of space.
The fate of BHS has been the centre of a fair degree of speculation. Part of the Arcadia empire, the chain has been struggling of late. In its most recently filed accounts, it made significant losses on dwindling revenues and speculation suggests that the business might be up for sale, with a South African entrepreneur frequently touted as a possible bidder. The deployment of food stores, by no means new for BHS, is a way of using unproductive space and hopefully generating higher footfall. As demonstrated by M&S, however, decent grocery footfall by no means guarantees improved fashion sales, so the jury might still be out on that particular piece of logic.
Anyway, March 2014 saw BHS open its first company-operated instore food departments in two stores (Staines & Warrington). As noted, this was not exactly virgin territory for BHS, having trialled food departments before: in the 1990s it opened around a dozen Iceland grocery concessions, but these were phased out shortly thereafter.
This time around, the stores are owned by BHS but powered by Booker’s Premier division in terms of delivered wholesale and, judging by the amount of Premier personnel on the ground on opening day, a fair bit of input into store design and merchandising. Going to a store on opening day is always a bit of a red herring in terms of reaching any sensible conclusions, as everything is typically in a state of perfection, but I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised.
The 3,450 sq ft food store is located on the ground floor of the BHS department store in The Elmsleigh Centre, Staines. It has two entrances – one through the BHS store itself and another to the car-park / bus station wilderness to the rear. The visit itself was rather good fun. Shoppers seemed to be outnumbered by journalists and analysts, most of whom were running round taking photos to the consternation of a PR that one suspects was more used to dealing with fashion journos than a bunch of grocery geeks.
The décor and layout of the store were rather well done, with clearly demarcated areas for seasonal (Easter at the time), grocery, meat, produce, frozen, news & magazines, food-to-go, dairy, wine, beer, bakery and a ‘pound zone’. Wall and overhead signage meant that the store was a relative breeze to navigate, with only the centre of the store a slight mystery in terms of lay-out.
The much-vaunted pricing (with rumours, since quashed, that Sir Philip was aiming to be 10% cheaper than Tesco) was helped by a variety of promotional pallets, lots of £1 price points and a healthy sprinkling of hefty deals, while Booker’s private label portfolio was used well, with Euro Shopper and Happy Shopper providing keenly-priced alternatives to brands throughout.
In terms of ranging, the store was pretty good. Sure, you might not be able to lay on a lavish middle-class dinner party after a visit, but the store provides a more than credible destination for a top-up or convenience trip. Produce was done with no small measure of efficiency – the hanging fruit display was actually rather nifty – with chilled categories also well ranged and presented. The chilled soft drinks, beer and wine displays were extensive and were complemented by a number of decent multi-buys and round pricing, with a similarly convincing combination of breadth and value across most other categories too.
The food-to-go area was very good indeed. With hot and chilled snacks, vast range of soft drinks, coffee machine and ice-cream cabinet, the store provided an excellent lunchtime destination. Customer service was strong, with the three checkouts (also home to spirits, tobacco and lottery) cheerfully and efficiently processing shoppers.
Sir Philip Green has said that the first batch of stores have performed well and have generated positive footfall benefits for BHS’ general merchandise ranges. With a potential of around 140 food stores, there is no reason to see why this concept will not be appearing on high streets and in shopping centres across the country.
Store design: 7
Customer service: 7
Private label: 7
Total score: 35