Asda has opened its first batch of high street stores following its Netto purchase. John Ryan reports on the Dudley store and how it has already become a hit with local shoppers.
Approximate cost of conversion £500,000
Opened June 20
Location High Street, Dudley
Format Value/supermarket hybrid
Standout feature The whole store
It’s a little over a year since Asda paid £778m for Danish discounter Netto’s UK business. During that time there has been speculation about what the new mini Asda stores, averaging about 8,000 sq ft and resulting from the rebranding and remodelling of the Netto estate, would look like.
Well, since the back end of last month we know, as a brace of Netto conversions welcomed their first shoppers. With locations so far ranging from Gateshead to Worksop, Wakefield to the Birmingham suburb of Sheldon, the spread is from the West Midlands to the Northeast, but this is an Asda format that is set to appear across the country before the year draws to an end.
Among the first batch of new stores is the Dudley branch, on which £500,000 has reportedly been spent to complete the change from Netto to Asda. This branch is at the top of the high street in the heart of this Black Country town and is, at first glance, a utilitarian structure. There’s nothing wrong with this, as the avowed purpose of these stores is to offer local Asda customers the chance to do a weekly food shop without recourse to the hike that may be involved to reach the nearest superstore.
From the outside, there is something rather fortress-like about it with the windows that face the semi-derelict Dudley High Street blanked out and the entrance surmounted by a tower with a gabled roof.
Its position at the top of a hill adds to this feeling, and the bright green Asda Supermarket logo that has been placed across the upper portion of the tower is a beacon for shoppers approaching from any direction.
This may be bordering on the large convenience store in terms of size, but the large car park that surrounds two-thirds of the store indicates that this is about more than ‘grab and go’ top-up shopping.
After exiting your car, getting into this store has more of the corner shop about it than supermarket. A single automatic door provides ingress, with a similar arrangement for those who have completed their shopping. Once inside, however, this is familiar small supermarket territory.
To the left there are the usual bank of checkouts with a couple of self-scan tills that were actually being used on the lunchtime of visiting last week. Put this on a bigger scale and it would be easy to imagine that you are in a full-size Asda superstore.
The point about this shop is that there is a lot more to it than taking a traditional Asda and compacting it until it fits the available space. As in all good supermarkets, however, the initial offer is fresh.
This means that while this store may be about convenience, the emphasis is upon health with graphics plastered across all of the initial gondolas and perimeter modules telling shoppers how their five-a-day regime breaks down into each piece of fruit or vegetable. The graphics themselves are noteworthy for their upscale photography and execution. The intent is to ensure that Dudley shoppers keep healthy and put some of these items in their trolleys before heading off to the aisles where the more processed comestibles are on display.
And on the assumption that this has been done, it is easy to find your way around this store as large overhead magenta background signage points the way to the various parts of the shop, ranging from ‘Bakery’ and the ever-appealing ‘Hot Chicken,’ to ‘Cooked Meats’ and ‘Beers’.
In fairness, finding your way around a space this size shouldn’t be too much of a problem, but it is helpful nonetheless.
There is also the matter of the range. A shopper comments: “You should have seen this place when it was a Netto, there must be more than 2,000 extra lines in here now. There’s no comparison.”
As this is about a weekly shop, it is not surprising that all food categories are covered, albeit not in the same depth as is the case in a larger store. What is interesting, however, is the additions that have been made to this. At the front of the store, the ‘food to go’ area contains the expected fizzy drinks and sandwiches, but the greetings card area, for instance, deep within one of the aisles, is an unpredictably comprehensive offer and if you want cooking pans, they’re here too.
This then is a small store that is a lot more than a place in which to pick up a snack or a pre-prepared ready meal. It bears a lot more in common with a standard edge-of-town supermarket than a corner shop and given the competition in Dudley, it is something of a local star.
Good to be green
You also do not expect this form of retailing to be waving the eco flag. Yet the perimeter that forms one side of the final aisle is freezerland and all of the upright cabinets incorporate the latest LED low voltage lighting.
Asda has taken many of the elements found in its larger stores and modified them to make them work at this scale. The outcome is a new format that doesn’t really feel like it is. The nearest large supermarket is the Tesco, around a mile distant, and as such, this Asda will have a large pull given its size.
For those making the journey, most routine things are possible in this pleasantly modern small supermarket. At the time of Asda’s Netto purchase, a few eyebrows were raised about whether the retailer was coming to the in-town convenience market a little late in the day, allowing for the massive inroads already made by Tesco and Sainsbury’s.
Perhaps this is true, but Asda has provided shoppers with something different and in secondary or tertiary locations such as this, it is well placed to succeed with its combination of value retailing coupled with everyday supermarketing. The only question is what do you call this: local, convenience or supermarket? It is in fact all three and how it is treated will depend on the individual’s shopping journey.