In April, Sainsbury’s Merton store will celebrate its second anniversary. The occasion is likely to pass unnoticed by most, but those with sharp eyes and longish memories may remember how the store looked when it reopened.
This used to be a Savacentre, a supersized format that Sainsbury’s had been trying to ditch for some years. The conversion of the vast space into a large superstore, therefore, involved shrinking the footplate and turning the shop from a cavernous barn into something more manageable.
And it worked. Warm, friendly graphics demarcated the various areas around the new store and wide aisles ensured that dodging the salad dodgers as they pushed their overladen trolleys was not too much of a trial. There were even novelties such as marine molluscs contained in a glass box at the fish counter, which were continuously bathed in jets of water as they awaited Continental wannabes seeking to reproduce moules mariniere.
All in all, Sainsbury’s appeared to have made the supermarket shopping trip less of a chore and rather more interesting than most customers would have been used to.
We were also promised that the space that had been closed down to create this smaller food and non-food emporium would be rented out to other retailers to create an arcade of fashion shops. After picking up your groceries, you would be able to snap up modish clothes from the likes of New Look or maybe Next.
Trouble is, two years on, none of these have opened and shoppers will have to wait until May to wander around the new Marks & Spencer following the deal that Sainsbury’s finally managed to strike. In the supermarket itself, there is also much to wonder at. A few of the original graphics have been retained along the back wall, but the long run of checkouts at the front is characterised by an absolute lack of character.
Where there were graphics featuring happy, smiley faces, there is now an enormous, bare white wall. We are, in fact, not far away from the look and feel of the Savacentre that this shop replaced.
It’s almost as if Sainsbury’s has washed its hands of Merton shoppers and decided that the best thing to do is move on and do better things elsewhere.
This makes the contrast between what is on show here and what can be seen in locations such as London Colney and Maidenhead even starker. It’s one thing creating a show-stopper, another maintaining it.