Sainsbury’s Kent flagship shows that big stores can still be manageable

Sainsbury’s wheeled out its operating board to show off its flagship store at Crayford in Kent to a few of us journos today. Crayford is one of those funny places which is neither really London nor the home counties, not the most preposessing of places on a gloomy Thursday morning, but the store really stands out and is a step forward for the business.

One of the biggest challenges facing supermarkets today is how to make big stores manageable. As retailers like Carrefour have been finding, shoppers are increasingly turned off by sprawling barns that are big for the sake of it. But Sainsbury’s in Crayford makes a 100,000 sq ft space really quite manageable. That’s in part by the use of a mezzanine, on which sits the fashion offer and cafe, but also a lightness of touch and effective merchandising and navigation which succeeds in making the store a much more welcoming space than some of the other giant hypermarkets I’ve been into.

The store is an extension of a smaller store into an adjoining Homebase, doubling the size of the store, and most of the new space has gone to accommodate Sainsbury’s growing non-food offer. The attraction of extensions to Sainsbury’s are obvious - it gets more space for non-food but the additional running costs are low, as the non-food product generally goes through the same tills as food. Not everything was perfect - there were still probably more gaps on the shelves than JS would like, while staff assembling online orders were everywhere, one of the more irritating features of modern-day grocery shopping. Nevertheless, it’s a good store.

Justin King wasn’t there so it gave an opportunity for Sainsbury’s other key executives, who tend to remain in his shadow, to be in the limelight. They’re a seemingly complementary range of characters, ranging from the cerebral non-food boss Luke Jensen to the trader-in-chief Mike Coupe and down to earth former-FD Darren Shapland, now spearheading the group’s development into new opportunities.

We’ll be doing more on Sainsbury’s in next week’s issue, while if you want to see more of the store, subscribers can read John Ryan’s review from its opening last Autumn here. I’ll also blog tomorrow on some of the stores on the nearby retail park.