Sainsbury’s has raised its game in non-food with the relaunch of its Sydenham store. John Ryan reports

Sydenham is a place in southeast London that few beyond its relatively flexible boundaries, depending on whether you admit to living in Catford or not, would make much effort to visit. This is mainly because there isn’t a lot there other than seemingly endless roads of near-identical Victorian and turn-of-the-century housing.

Not, therefore, the sort of place that springs to mind as heading the UK league for anything. Yet, strangely, it ranks as the biggest store in terms of sales for Sainsbury’s, largely thanks to a revamp completed at the end of last month that has seen a 90,000 sq ft (8,360 sq m) former Savacentre transformed.

In keeping with its hypermarket status, therefore, the store was always one of Sainsbury’s biggest. But as well as leading in sales, it is now the largest in the retailer’s portfolio and represents its latest thinking in format development and its ongoing aim of convincing shoppers that it is a non-food/general merchandise (GM) destination. Non-food in fact occupies about a third of the store space and stepping through the spruced-up front door, with its glitzy futuristic canopy, it is the first thing that the shopper will encounter.

Yet although the GM offer is obvious, this does not prevent shoppers from seeing that the bulk of this shop is about food – with a very clear sightline to the left straight into the fresh fruit and veg section. Sainsbury’s commercial director Neil Sachdev says: “This [store] is about clear, simple lines and making it easy and possible for customers to get round.

“You can put loads of signage up and tell people where everything is, or you can let the product do the job. This [the latter] is what the team has been working towards.” The team referred to by Sachdev is a tight one, comprising an internal taskforce that is divided between format development and store design, as well as two London design consultancies, Dalziel + Pow and Twelve Studio.

The choice of Twelve Studio is unsurprising as Sainsbury’s has been working with the design agency on its graphics packages more or less since it was created, following the demise of The Nest in 2007. Less expected, perhaps, is the choice of Dalziel + Pow. In spite of its creative director, the eponymous David Dalziel, rising up the rankings in this year’s Retail Week Power List, the agency is best known for its work in fashion.

Elements of surprise

But there’s the point. The food offer at Sainsbury’s Sydenham has a number of newer elements, but it is the GM and clothing area that takes the high ground – and that is predominantly where Dalziel + Pow’s involvement is at its most obvious. And in this store, much of the initial concept work carried out by D+P has been delivered by Twelve Studio, according to Sainsbury’s head of format development Paul O’Hara.

The first thing that will strike shoppers is Tu Home. Tu has been the Sainsbury’s private label brand for its clothing since 2004, but extending it into homewares is a fresh departure. And, to mark the occasion, a logo featuring the word contained within a house-shaped icon has been created.

It has been applied to new packaging designed for the Tu Home collection, which runs to 1,700 new SKUs that have been sent to this store and one other, the recently revamped Oldbury branch near Birmingham.

The unit on display at the front of this area features Tu Home accessories – vases, photo-frames and suchlike. The merchandise on display is startlingly low-priced, with most items selling for less than£5. O’Hara says, however, that although the prices are distinctly affordable, the display has been created to cater for Sydenham’s would-be upwardly mobile home-decorators. “There are no shelf-edge labels, in order to create a more aspirational feeling,” he says. Instead, the price for each product is printed in bold black numbers on the packaging itself.

Sachdev says that the mid-floor piece of equipment, which gives shelf space to the accessories range, is a “standard bit of kit” and that this is a store-wide trait. This means that, while equipment heights and colour schemes are varied within the GM area, in order to help shoppers see through the space and create a sense of variety, the basic principles are the same throughout.

There are four category areas within Tu Home: bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen and living accessories; the intention being to provide “fashion for the home”, according to O’Hara. And one of the devices that has been used throughout this part of the shop, and elsewhere, is a series of different-sized open-sided boxes that contain mood-setting graphics. Sachdev says that when he was first shown this, his initial reaction was that it would prove too costly to implement. But it has been done, adding punch to the revamped graphics found more generally across the store.

Beyond Tu Home lurks the more everyday Sainsbury’s GM offer, but things have changed here as well. The CD and DVD offer, for instance, is demarcated by a vertical yellow line on each piece of equipment, set against a brown background. And, at the end of each fixture, in the best tradition of promotional supermarket retailing, there are offers. But here they are accompanied by lifestyle graphics.

Watch this space

Unlike many supermarkets and fashion-turned-homewares outfits, however, there is room to move in Sainsbury’s Sydenham. O’Hara says that equipment and vital per-sq-ft selling opportunities have been sacrificed in order to achieve this. The result is that two shopping trolleys can be wheeled side by side through the aisles without a feeling of overcrowding.

Arriving at the back of the shop, there is a wall of TVs and a digital photography department. For those prepared to splash out, there is the chance to spend up to£500 on a camera or£900 on a flatscreen TV. At these prices, this is not a store that will just be about impulse purchases and O’Hara says that this is a place where shoppers will come for a whole afternoon’s browsing.

Much of the rest of the branch is Sainsbury’s standard, particularly the two-thirds of the space dedicated to selling food, with small design alterations indicating that the juggernaut continues to move forward.

The equipment standardisation is in keeping with Sachdev and his team’s money-saving agenda. “Sydenham is an extension and a refit at the same time,” he says. “The question for us is how we reduce the cost of the build.” He says London Colney, in Hertfordshire, was the first store to get a new look for its GM offer last year, but that Sydenham represents a considerable advance on this in terms of cost saving, as well as design. He adds that the short- to medium-term plan is to reduce the cost of design and build by “15 to 20 per cent” and that, with new-build stores, this could be as high as 25 per cent.

Some of the savings will also be made by reductions in energy consumption. This is being done using a number of different methods, whether by retrieval of the cold air that spills from the chiller units or letting greater amounts of natural daylight into the store, reducing the dependence on ambient lighting systems.

Sachdev says that there are plans in place to revisit the London Colney store and revamp it based on what has been done at Sydenham. A further nine stores are set to receive the treatment this year, but whether they will match this outlet’s performance remains to be seen. Sydenham used to rank pretty highly in the UK shoplifting stakes (could I have my bike back, please?), but with the unveiling of this remodelled giant of the Sainsbury’s universe, it has real cause for suburban civic pride.