Milk, bread, yoga

Yoga at Tesco Watford? I’d rather have a massage at Wing Yip, writes ELIT ROWLAND

Tesco’s new Watford store has generated a lot excitement, but the concept of offering community services to customers is nothing new to the independent channel.

The dedicated ‘community area’ at the Watford site offers shoppers yoga and cookery classes. That’s nice. But when you go to Wing Yip’s business centre in Croydon, you can have a cookery lesson, a Thai massage and a haircut. In fact, you can even book a holiday.

And it doesn’t end there. The wholesaler’s Birmingham branch even recently opened its depot floor to the Chinese Community Centre, which screened customers for hepatitis B. “It’s a really prominent disease in the Oriental community, so we offer all our customers a free screening,” explains Wing Yip director Brian Yip.
It’s not just wholesalers that are looking after their customers’ wellbeing – innovative retailers have been doing it for a while.

Better Wholesaling’s sister-title Retail Express recently spoke to Win Morgan of Morgan’s Newsagents and Post Office, South Wales, who said that they’ve been running community services for eight years.

“We’ve helped many elderly people become computer-literate. We’ve run computer classes and digital photography sessions. We also run a police surgery twice a month.”

Coffee break presents opportunities

Another popular feature of Tesco’s Watford branch is the Harris + Hoole coffee shop. But serving quality coffee to customers is also nothing new to wholesale: JJ Food Service has been offering Lavazza coffee served by trained depot staff since the start of the year.

Coffee areas are often popular ‘hang outs’ for customers visiting cash & carries, presenting an opportunity for more wholesalers to do the same. At Wing Yip’s Birmingham branch, the coffee area is so busy that staff put out 15 chairs at a time for shoppers to sit down and chat.

“We’re considering making it more of a ‘feature’ in the future,” explains Yip.
But it’s not just coffee being offered to shoppers at the new Tesco site: a Giraffe restaurant and Euphorium bakery also tempt the hungry to spend more money.

The future of convenience

  • C-STORE PUBS: Retailers will become licensed to sell alcohol on site – Spar is already working with Subway and Costa, so could on-trade be the next step?
  • DENTAL SERVICE: Shops in rural locations could offer dentists, available once a week, driving traffic to the store and helping to drive return on investment.
  • A GP: A doctor’s surgery can feature on another day. Wing Yip already invites local charities in-depot to raise awareness of health issues.

Similarly, Wing Yip restaurants offer customers a choice of Chinese, Vietnamese or Japanese cuisines. For shoppers short on time, there’s a buffet restaurant, as well as a Chinese bakery.
Offering community services is an effective way for any business to get closer to its customers, so it’s no surprise that the big retailers are catching on. But some of the sharpest operators say there’s more to come.

The managing director of Spar, Debbie Robinson, says that the lines between foodservice, grocery and on-trade will continue to blur in convenience retailing in the future.

“I can see a scenario where a convenience store could get a licence, have a seating area and sell alcohol in the evening. Our work with Subway and Costa is already bringing retail and foodservice together. The next stages are inevitable.”

But the opportunities are not just confined to grocery, explains Robinson. “Healthcare is also interesting – you could have a consulting room in rural locations that could be a dental room one day of the week, a medical service the next. It’s all about using the space and getting the best return on investment.”

We didn’t notice a dental service or doctor’s consulting room at the Watford site, but like Morgan’s police surgery and Wing Yip’s health screenings, could they be the next step?


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