Considering: A repositioned Waitrose, one revamp & the new Hove branch

16 April 2014…..Waitrose is repositioning itself to appeal to time-poor and domestically unskilled people who are about ready meals and food bling, whilst still being on top of food developments and trends having a serious moment (such as Lionel Poilane-style sourdough bread and vegan ice creams).  Free coffee has been introduced to cynically lure new people in. 

The magazine

Last year Waitrose shockingly dumped the expert and trusted Delia Smith from its house magazine in favour of a royal bridesmaid whose post-wedding, spin-off book was an embarrassment.   Waitrose dumbed the magazine down to a shallow level at the same time that it took on the socialite doing her entertainment food thing.   Is it having an identity crisis?  A mid-life crisis? 
The good news is, they realise the magazine dumb-down went too far and the April issue has real heft.  When this was remarked on, one of the head office suits at the Neville Road opening day admitted they had “recently given it a makeover”.  Recommend getting a copy before the month is out.  It is v. good.

The Western Road Branch revamp

The Western Road, Brighton, branch was unnervingly revamped at the end of 2013 leaving its longstanding and loyal customers shellshocked and, since then, now shunning it.  The revamp destroyed all that was good about the branch, replacing it with bad lighting, complicated stacks in shadow, floor-level product access and availability issues, treasured product lines de-listed, and a jumbled, unfathomable layout that means it is impossible to work out or remember where things are shelved.
Why was the free coffee point put close to fresh flowers, fruit and vegetables – where its overpowering smell increases as the day goes on so you cannot smell the flowers or the fruit and veg?  All is coffee, tension and very bad design in there now.  The over-large customer service counter is positioned by the front door where there is no longer a weather-shielding inner door which in winter makes for a very, very cold area there which extends into the flowers, coffee, fruit & veg and checkout areas. 
On opening day at Neville Road, a woman shocked the observing head office suits by telling them her Waitrose devotee friends don’t use Western Road any more; they drive to Burgess Hill or Worthing to use the Waitrose branches there.  Jaws dropped.
The whole tortured rethink of the last year or so is not confined to Western Road.  Other Sussex branches are changing too.  It wasn’t a broken offer before the tinkering; it was a winner.  Now it is full of cracks,  holes and awkwardness.
Treasured product lines, previously only available at Waitrose, and relied upon by longstanding customers were  unceremoniously dropped over the last year or so in favour of a series of new and novelty products which seemed almost manically to be sequentially trialled and  dumped.  Product insecurity and availability began to make shopping at Waitrose more than a bit challenging. 
The actual Waitrose USP has always been about respect and consideration for suppliers, customers and staff alike wih an emphatic policy of supporting British food producers; and its extensive cheese selection used to showcase several varieties of uncut Cheddars for those who take their cheese seriously.  Perhaps still do but less obviously so. Waitrose pioneered the stocking of environmentally friendlier organic fruits and vegetable two decades ago when no other supermarket cared or dared to keep them.   Now they have pruned back the range very hard indeed.  No more organic shiitake mushrooms, for instance.  A USP to be proud of has been shamelessly assaulted and kicked into touch.
They catered to the pernickety and adventurous who cook from scratch and like to raise their game.  This is changing.  They catered to the pernickety and knowledgeable who separate their washes into colour, whites, delicates and use speciality products for each.  Biologicals eat silk.  Now it is hard to find a handwashing product for it at Waitrose and that is about lowering standards.  Dumbing down.  They dropped gentle Dreft for machine-washing  colours.  Still have Filetti for washing baby things and delicate fabrics that don’t mind bleach.  I expect that will not escape the products cull as it is a bit special, with softening agents in it.  Years ago they trialled a Brazilian soap powder made with coconut oil.  It was stupendous.  And expensive and worth every penny and they dropped it.  Memorable. 
When saveHOVE supporters were asked to comment, all those who replied to the email echoed the above, one after the other – except for the minority of two respondents who see Waitrose as an expensive place for the rich to shop and disapprove of it.  The revamp is done and dusted and the place looks unfixable.  It is very sad.  It is upsetting to feel driven out, to then also give up the security, familiarity and continuity that longstanding customers and staff have had with one another that made shopping there an efficient pleasure….before.

The Neville Road takeover of the Co-op Superstore

The good news is people can go to Neville Road to get back some of why they were Waitrose customers in the first place. Even with those weirdly rammed and complicated product stacks for bottles and tins, it is great.  On the opening day visit, I did not need to ask where anything was.  Logical layout, and wide aisles.  An atmosphere that soothes, relaxes and puts you in a good mood.  That is good design doing its stuff. 
Will it suffer the same empty-shelf stock control problem that Western Road does?  Not on opening day it didn’t.  The problem is caused by the new stacks which have too many shallow shelves which carry too little of any one product.  People doing a storecupboard shop will take all six of what is there leaving a hole that the Western Road branch fails to fill.  Extra stock is not kept on the premises with which to do it. And the same fate may easily  befall the Neville Road branch because they are reliant on  constant shelf-filling by staff to keep up. 
When there are too many shelves of no depth, products get stranded at the inaccessible back down at the bottom when the high-viz ones on the outside edge get taken.  When this design problem was drawn to the attention of the visiting suits on opening day they said this:  and brace yourselves for it.  Staff all have knee pads to whip out to get down and pull things forward from the back (in their card trays).  So be on notice.  You are expected to find and call on a member of staff to get the product you cannot reach, using their knee pads to get down to reach deep into these often just inches high shelves.  How often would people bother?  They are confident that staff will keep shelves filled so this is not often needed. 
On a recent visit to Western Road, a woman put her free coffee into her large woven rush bag on the floor where it tipped over and leaked through the suck-hole.  She picked up the bag and scuttled down the aisle trailing coffee all the way, laughing uproariously with her friend.  She lied that she had told staff it was there and left the shop with just her coffee and sopping wet rush bag.  When a member of staff WAS summoned and asked about coffee spills, she made a telling remark.  “I spend more time cleaning it up than I do filling the shelves”.  You cannot have coffee in one hand, carry a basket or push a trolley with the other and shop properly without the risk of spilling coffee on the floor, on another customer, over the shelves.  Does Waitrose care? No.  The visiting suits proudly declared they had dispensed 52m cups of the free stuff.
Customers with cars:  a major, major problem at Neville Road
Something that will be off-putting for very many is vehicle access, parking and egress at Neville Road.  Those would-be customers driving south to get to it, who might have been expected to really welcome and pile into Neville Road, thereby helping to reduce traffic down to the Tesco shed or Western Road Waitrose, are unable to get in.  The amount of parking space is very tiny compared with Western Road.  Arriving vehicles trail back to the junction in Neville Road as they queue in the road to even enter the site, let alone get in to find a parking space.  On opening day I arrived about 1pm by taxi and all was open.  On leaving at 4pm: gridlock, and a need to quickly get shopping up to Neville Road in order to head off the taxi so it would not try to go in, get stuck in the queue and be forced into the site.  I would have been stuck on being eventually collected, with the meter running for a VERY long time, and unable to exit.  It is open from 7:30am until 9pm so going along either end of the day may make for easier access. There will be a lot of customers from nearby streets and from City Park behind it, which has 2,000 people working in its offices.
An issue of serious concern which Waitrose is hopefully aware of is the second Spanish bilingual primary school planning application for the Hove Park Scrub Nursery in The Droveway.  Waitrose deliveries will  come down the Droveway into the back area.  And one reason for withdrawal of the first application was the officer’s intention to refuse it.  As with the Waitrose takeover of the Co-op, traffic, parking, access and road safety issues were huge.  As Waitrose was a like for like replacement supermarket, there was no planning application issue on that score.  The huge increase in traffic being drawn to Waitrose does, however, make the school application a total no-no threatening existing users of that area around the Woodland Drive/Neville Road junction.
A word of advice:  from May, Neville Road will  be able to offer a delivery service.  Arrive by bus, bicycle or on foot, shop, and get it delivered.  Leave the car at home.  Hopefully it won’t suffer the same booking problems Western Road has.  Waitrose prioritises delivery for online customers.  Personal shoppers are relegated to what is left of the slots.  The charge is £5 if spending under £50 and £3 if spending over £50.
Quite where the free coffee is at Neville Road was not apparent on the first-day visit, so there were not too many juggling it or  sloshing it down the aisles.  There is a coffee shop just inside the entrance – which might extend the length of time people stay, both in the building and in the car park too, which will not help its parking problem.  This will hit the profitability of the branch.
What is the stock situation like?
Looking closely at product emphases,  one gets a little uneasy.  They put a poor selection of cut flowers on a small wall area between the outer and inner entrance doors.  They recognise this as a mistake which they will alter.  Pot plants had the opposite wall and an island area inside the shop.  Elsewhere, two tiny shelves for light bulbs (de-emphasised product) sit beside a wide, floor to ceiling section full of candles and room scent diffusers (bigged-up bling).  The northern-most corner houses the bakery area with islands of cupcakes and pastries prominently displayed.  That area is a bit eccentric actually.  Feels weird.  In the corner is a small, cramped, display of artisan breads – some horribly overbaked –  including roundels of Poilane-style sourdough.  The sliced, packaged quarters of these are stocked, as at Western Road, but nowhere near this display where you can buy the bread as you would cheese from a deli counter – cut and sold by weight. The heavily seeded sourdough wheat and rye is lovely (gut friendly and nutrient-rich). 
Also at the back on the other side is the extensive range of wines, beers and spirits.  And a stool height long table where one can sit with a platter of food and a glass of wine.  The proximity to passing trolleys and the stacks area is a little strange and this offer feels a bit contrived.  I sampled the (nice) vegetarian platter of mozzarella balls, marinated cherry tomatoes, artichokes and olives with hunks of sourdough bread, dipping oil/balsamic vinegar and the Romanian pinot noir (£7.50).  The wine was thin and sharp to the point of rough.  Like Beaujolais.  The experience of eating (with the trolley of shopping alongside) in that setting was unnatural.  Weird in fact.  Maybe if the table had been full of people….but it was not.  It does not really work and the two staff providing the platter and wine seemed baffled and uneasy too.
On opening day, bunched watercress was available, over where they sell fish, something that used to be in Western Road without fail and now never is.  The long aisle of frozen goods dedicates half of one side to a huge variety of frozen desserts, ice creams and frozen yoghurts.  From organic to vegan and allergy conscious,  from both familiar and obscure brands – it is a little emporium of calorific greed to. die. for.  But don’t get comfortable as a load of it is almost certain to be discontinued just as you get used to seeing it there and trusting it to stay.  Because that is where Waitrose is coming from right now. Rely only on change from them. 
The Ethical USP
One thing not changing is its ethical employment stance.  It is not a shareholding multinational.  It is owned by John Lewis Partnership profit-sharing partners who are involved in how the business is run.  That is special.  Neville Road is run by a team of 230 partners, including former Co-op employees and 150 new members of staff.  The branch manager is Nick Mort.  
For whatever reason, Waitrose is in a wobble moment and questioning who or what it should be.  It should also be careful of alienating its core, longstanding customer base whose loyalty is beginning to waver.
The actual Waitrose USP has always been about appreciation and respect for food producers, customers and staff, an emphatic support for British suppliers (the meat especially, apparently), supply of ingredients for those who are old-fashioned cook-from-scratch pernickety or adventurous, the best and widest selection of cheeses and breads and yes, gourmet and speciality products. Check out the wall of ice creams at Neville Road! – See more at: http://www.brightonandhovenews.org/2014/04/15/what-do-hove-shoppers-make-of-their-new-waitrose/28827/comment-page-1#comment-97610

The actual Waitrose USP has always been about appreciation and respect for food producers, customers and staff, an emphatic support for British suppliers (the meat especially, apparently), supply of ingredients for those who are old-fashioned cook-from-scratch pernickety or adventurous, the best and widest selection of cheeses and breads and yes, gourmet and speciality products. Check out the wall of ice creams at Neville Road!

Until recently it stocked an amazing range of specialist cleaning products for those who know how to look after their natural fibre clothing and like things to last and still look good. Biological, for instance, eats silk and bleach does silk no favours. Is that customer base dwindling? A whole swathe of them dumped. The old Waitrose would have educated the customers into buying it. Is it snobbery to have domestic skills and knowledge and wish to buy products that cater to using it? It’s just practical and sensible. Waitrose knows younger people can’t be bothered and so its moving on now, repositioning itself to serve them more than its traditional customer. Turning its back on the traditional customer base it seems to some.

Its ethical employment practices are something to be proud of and most employees are profit-sharing partners. That at least is not changing. It pioneered stocking organic fruit and vegetables and stuck with it even when nobody was prepared to pay the extra for it two decades ago. Sadly it has now dumped much of its fresh organic range.

– See more at: http://www.brightonandhovenews.org/2014/04/15/what-do-hove-shoppers-make-of-their-new-waitrose/28827/comment-page-1#comment-97610

The actual Waitrose USP has always been about appreciation and respect for food producers, customers and staff, an emphatic support for British suppliers (the meat especially, apparently), supply of ingredients for those who are old-fashioned cook-from-scratch pernickety or adventurous, the best and widest selection of cheeses and breads and yes, gourmet and speciality products. Check out the wall of ice creams at Neville Road!

Until recently it stocked an amazing range of specialist cleaning products for those who know how to look after their natural fibre clothing and like things to last and still look good. Biological, for instance, eats silk and bleach does silk no favours. Is that customer base dwindling? A whole swathe of them dumped. The old Waitrose would have educated the customers into buying it. Is it snobbery to have domestic skills and knowledge and wish to buy products that cater to using it? It’s just practical and sensible. Waitrose knows younger people can’t be bothered and so its moving on now, repositioning itself to serve them more than its traditional customer. Turning its back on the traditional customer base it seems to some.

Its ethical employment practices are something to be proud of and most employees are profit-sharing partners. That at least is not changing. It pioneered stocking organic fruit and vegetables and stuck with it even when nobody was prepared to pay the extra for it two decades ago. Sadly it has now dumped much of its fresh organic range.

– See more at: http://www.brightonandhovenews.org/2014/04/15/what-do-hove-shoppers-make-of-their-new-waitrose/28827/comment-page-1#comment-9761

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About saveHOVE

Concerned with planning, development and the conservation of historic Hove, we actively seek to prevent inappropriate, negligent and abusive redevelopments!
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