The grocer’s store in Croydon presents a compelling mix of fresh food and visual merchandising.

Fiveways is in greater Croydon and, as the name would imply, is where five roads meet in a complex matrix of lanes and traffic lights.

The retail aspect of this junction is almost entirely confined to large, edge-of-town sheds, or at least it was until last week when Morrisons opened a 37,000 sq ft branch in what was once a Homebase.

When this was a DIY outlet it was a somewhat tired-looking building that had been overlooked as far as in-store investment was concerned. Yet following a 20-week makeover, what has emerged from the chrysalis is a state-of-the-art large supermarket that takes it from workaday shed to retail landmark in one fell swoop.

In part, this has to do with a wood-clad exterior and a large clock. The wood-cladding is confined to the area immediately beneath the canopy that runs along the outside of the store, but it’s an eye-catching detail without looking ‘woodtastic’ in the way that the refurbished Sainsbury’s about half a mile north along the Purley Way does.

There is also a large clock above the entrance. On opening day at 9am on July 22, the clock was perfectly
accurate. Every minute following this however it became less so as the clock had in fact been stopped at 09.00 for some time - a shortcoming admitted to by the management. This fact notwithstanding, little more than half an hour after opening the car park was rammed and queues of cars filled with shoppers eager to take a look at the store were waiting patiently on the hottest day of the year.

And walking through the doors beneath the clock, pausing briefly to admire the atrium, they would not have been disappointed by the initial vista. More than anything, the impression was the same as that created by Tesco at its ‘Super Convenience’ store in Chelmsford - this shop is about bringing the fresh offer into sharp focus. In fairness, something of the kind has been done in about 140 Morrisons stores to date, but the scale of the Croydon operation, with a mid-shop fresh fruit and vegetable offer and the Market Street offer running down one side of the perimeter wall, impresses.

Impressive presentation

Like some of the other larger new and refurbished stores, this one has a ‘mister’ table close to the front, providing instant theatre with its fine spray cloud that keeps the upscale vegetables looking the part. This, however, is a relatively minor part of the whole and in the mid-shop it is the visual merchandising that keeps the attention where it should be.

Practically, this translates, for example, as a large table offering multiple varieties of apple displayed without wrapping in a sloping arrangement. Six different kinds of apples were offered while on an adjacent table there were more apples, but this time pre-packed in poly bags. This was not surprising as most supermarket operators will be quick to say that, in spite of their best efforts, it is less straightforward to sell unpackaged rather than pre-packaged fruit. Full marks go to Morrisons for making a decent fist of the au naturel presentation.

The front of the fresh area is of course dominated by a deal-based table filled with strawberries, pineapples and
melons. And from here shoppers can work their way down through the length of the mid-shop, arriving at the butcher and fishmonger counters at the back of the store.

Before doing so, however, the chances are good that they will have inspected the Market Street offer along the right-hand perimeter wall, where anything from bespoke pizzas to cheeses from the deli counter are on offer. And at the front and set off in an area of its own is a flower shop.

A nice touch is siting a unit with Champagne next to this, saving romantics the need to hike across the shop to get the necessary.

The Parmesan effect

Morrisons brand development director Sonia Whiteley-Guest says: “What you see in Croydon is a trial. The way in which we have branded our Market Street is what makes it different. There are new counters and we’re trying to see what individuality we can bring to them.”

The visual merchandising in each of the faux shop-in-shops is worth noting, as is the fact that everything on display is prepared in-house, according to area manager Neil Turner.

Wherever the shopper looks there are touches that add to the in-store experience. There is even a full-size parmesan cheese with small packaged pieces around it, displayed on a small nest of two wooden tables. Turner says that this has been spectacularly successful elsewhere and takes around £2,000 a week where it is in place.

Beyond the fresh section, things become a little more standard both in terms of the way in which the space is organised - long aisles - and the offer itself. The wine area is likely to appeal, however. Wines are merchandised by price, rather than country of origin and mid-shop wooden pallets give the enterprise an artisanal feel.

On the opposite side of the shop, at the rear, is the Cake Shop, which features a sparkling cake sign and the bakery, which has a very substantial offer of different breads, many of which are baked on site.

Competitor visit

All in all, the fresh part of this store is new and even the visitors from Tesco’s team who had come to check things
out on opening day were clearly impressed, if not a little worried. The ambient goods and general merchandise do let things down a little, however, as they look a little Morrisons supermarket standard.

That said, there is much to commend about this store and if all of the grocer’s shops looked like this one then its market share might rise - it is at least as good as its local competitors and is in step with the move towards fresh and ‘bought today’ that seems to be sweeping the sector.

Whiteley-Guest refers to chief executive Dalton Philips’ assertion that “we will always be about experience, not functionality”. On the evidence of the fresh part of this store, it would be hard to argue with that.

Morrisons, Croydon

Size 37,000 sq ft

Formerly A Homebase store

Status Trial store

Emphasis Fresh and Market Street

Standout area The mid-shop fresh space