A new Co-op convenience store opened 5 minutes from my home in Melksham recently. On launch day, I took the opportunity to take a look. Talking to Tina Wilson, store manager and the area manager, I was struck by the similarities between the Co-op store operation and the independent channel, as well as some of the differences.

1. Security is planned into the store

The front of the store is protected by bollards to prevent ram raiders crashing through the glass shop-front. Just inside the store, motorised shutters add a further layer of protection. There is an HD CCTV system that covers the store and the off-sales floor areas are protected by a steel plated heavy-duty door, which has a keypad entry system.

2. Shop trading hours

Open from 7am to 11pm 7 days a week, the Co-op store is staffed by the manager and a team of 20 employees who mostly work part-time.

3. Store layout

The east Melksham store is around 2,000 square feet, with a similar range of refrigeration and ambient to Vim Odedra’s recently redeveloped store. The store is designed to minimise energy usage, with doors on most of the chill cabinets and LED lighting. Floor covering is a hardwearing resin. The store has a 3 position counter as well as two self-service tills.

4. Hot Drinks and Food-to-Go

A Costa Express machine is prominent at the front of the store, standing beside a hot food display unit. The Co-op also has the usual convenience store fare of sandwiches, pies and salads located elsewhere.

5. Meal Deals

The store offers several different meal deals, covering lunch and dinner.

6. Launch day

The store opened at 7am and a group of children from the neighbouring primary school cut the ribbon at 10am. Before this, the children and their teacher were given a tour of the store by Wilson. Compared to Jai Singh’s store launch, with his street party and ribbon cutting by the Lord Mayor of Sheffield, this was a low key event.

7. Opening support

Anyone who has managed a store development will know the amount of challenges that have to be dealt with. The Co-op provides store managers with an ‘opening buddy’ during the weeks before and after launch day. Tanya, the manager of the Co-op store in Chippenham, acted as Tina’s buddy.

8. Deliveries

New Co-op stores get three months of daily deliveries, which is later reduced to Monday to Saturday for fresh & chilled, and three days a week for ambient. This store is supplied by the Co-op’s Avonmouth RDC.

9. Ordering

Ambient products are ordered 48 hours prior to delivery, while fresh & chilled products are ordered 36 hours beforehand. Being a multiple business, some of the store supplies will be “pushed” to stores by the head office team. This, of course, is similar to the service many independent retailers receive.

10. Range development

A store launch range is always an informed best guess using all the available knowledge of the expected customer profile for the location. While most products will be right, there will be some slow selling lines included. The Co-op uses a process of constant review to manage the challenge. There is a particular focus on the fresh and chilled ranges.

11. Staff

The team employed at the new store have been working for the Co-op for some time in one of the town’s other stores. It was very apparent that they all knew what they were doing and that many of them knew the customers shopping on the opening day. This was a delight to see and clearly bodes well for the success of the store.

Attending a multiple store launch gave a fascinating insight into the many areas of similarity that independent stores have with a national chain. If you have the opportunity to experience a new store opening as I did, make the most of it. Go along and see what ideas you can take back to your own store to improve your customer experience.