The Southern Co-operative’s new store in Freshwater on the Isle of Wight shows how supermarkets can make an impact on a budget.
Board the ferry at Lymington Pier and half an hour later you’ll find yourself in Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight. Heading west past punning signs that read ‘Isle of Fright’ (advertising Halloween events) and ‘Wight Trash’ (next to a rubbish dump) and a few minutes later you’re in the Freshwater ribbon development, home to two branches of the Southern Co-op.
The shops equate to just under a third of the island’s Co-op store provision and, while one of the Freshwater branches is a fairly workaday convenience shop, at the other end of the village is the retailer’s biggest Isle of Wight branch – and it is brand new.
At 14,000 sq ft, the shop is an awkward size, in format terms, falling somewhere between a convenience store and a full-line supermarket. But almost everything that could be required is available, rather than simply top-ups and snacks.
And it caters well for the local population, according to Southern Co-operative head of trading formats and implementation Steve Tremlett, who points out that the area is “more retired than families”.
As such, supermarket shopping several times a week is, apparently, normal, except in the summer when the road outside the store is crammed with caravans and holidaymakers.
The branch is a relocation. Previously, it was housed in a site about 200 metres away on the opposite side of the road and it measured 7,800 sq ft.
Close to doubling in size in a relatively modestly sized village is a significant undertaking. However, the nearest big supermarket alternative is in Newport, 15 minutes drive away.
That makes it remote for a small supermarket and, even allowing for a nearby Sainsbury’s convenience store, affords the shop a prominence that might not normally be the case for a similarly sized operation.
Tremlett says that the decision to move was an easy one: “The problem with the old store was that it had just 54 car parking spaces.”
Point of difference
Moving from intent to opening the store has taken around three years, in part owing to planning wrangles – the branch is built on a marsh so fairly lengthy preparatory work was required.
Once a large box had been built, Brighton-based design consultancy CDW was appointed to do the creative work on the store interior.
CDW won the job following a beauty parade of proposals and the fact that the firm is based on the South Coast helped in the process, since keeping a local supply base is a central pillar of the Southern Co-op’s commercial approach.
“There’s always this question of how do you differentiate one Co-op from another.
“A point of difference for us is our local or regional sense, rather than just being part of the Co-op,” says Tremlett.
That means that on entering the store, which features an attractive sloping, glazed frontage, the first things that the shopper will probably notice are a coffee area to the right of the main door and a lot of ‘fresh’, comprised of wood-look fixtures.
Tremlett makes the point that the space used for the fresh area in this store is considerably above what might normally be required. “Forty per cent of the square footage is given to fresh with around 30% of the shelf space,” he says.
That means the store has a very roomy layout, allowing shoppers to view the highlighted specialities that are on display.
As for the specialities from the Isle of Wight, Tremlett leaves no room for doubt: “There are two things that the island is really famous for: garlic and tomatoes.”
With this in mind, two of the mid-shop fixtures are single category displays with multiple varieties of tomatoes on one and garlic – smoked, bottled and fresh – on the other.
Between these, stringent efforts have clearly been made to create fixtures that foster the sense of a market, but which do not break the bank in terms of cost.
Being local is a big emphasis for the Co-op and although only around 5% of the 10,000 SKUs in this store are from local suppliers, the locations in which they are displayed – gondola ends and suchlike – leave the visitor with the impression that it is considerably more than this.
Beyond the fresh area there is a meat counter that has a graphic above it stating: ‘Fresh from the island’.
It was staffed on the day of visiting, but it looked for all the world like the sort of thing shoppers might find in one of the latest fit-outs at Waitrose and had a distinctly aspirational feel.
Then there is the bakery department, which follows the perimeter along the right-hand side of the back wall.
It features a series of overhead graphics – including the somewhat curious ‘A moment to yourself’ accompanied by a sketch of a bloomer loaf – doing much to inform and create the requisite bakery feel.
The ambient merchandise part of the store is, in many ways, standard stuff, but the equipment trims do follow the lead set by the fresh area in terms of fabrication and material use.
On selected shelves in these aisles there are yellow magnifying glasses, meaning that shoppers can read the labelling and information on products without having to hunt around for their glasses. It’s a simple touch, but something that others do not do.
Finally, the wine department, at the back on the left-hand side of the shop, is also worth a mention, if only because the relatively modestly priced offer is given substance and authority by a combination of welded metal and printed cardboard. The idea of a wine cellar-cum-merchant is effectively conveyed.
When asked about rolling out what has been done in Freshwater, Tremlett says that the focus is now on taking elements of what has been done and applying them to smaller stores.
For the moment, this is a one of a kind and as a store that sets its cap at a very specific and local population, it looks the part and has clearly been undertaken on a tight budget, which should serve the retailer well going forward.
Co-op, Freshwater, Isle of Wight
Size 14,000 sq ft
Store nature Relocation
Store ambience Local
Standout feature The fresh area