International Stores Show Off Good Service, Good Taste

LONDON -- The Future of Convenience and Petroleum Retailing conference, sponsored here by Insight and NACS, got off to a rousing start with tours of innovative small format stores in Ireland and the United Kingdom Monday. Doing good and tasting good seemed to be the theme of the tour as most of the stores visited were leading examples of serving local community needs and offering the freshest available product.

The tours continued Tuesday with visits to c-stores at the St. Pancras railroad station in London and stores in other parts of the city.

At the St. Pancras station, tour-goers were treated to a look at two Marks & Spenser Simply Food stores -- one a small c-store and the other a larger store that included a department for M&S branded apparel, general merchandise and gift items.

Also at the station, delegates visited Sourced Market, an independent c-store that aims to replicate the ambience and food selection of an open-air market.

In the north London area called Maide Vale, the tour visited a Tesco Express allied with an Esso fuel forecourt. This store, in an upper income area of the city, sells more fuel and food than any other Tesco Express alliance store. More like a small grocery store than a c-store, this Tesco Express has a relatively high average ticket of 5.7 pounds.

Then, the tour moved on to Crouch End, described by some as the most competitive food retailing area of the U.K. Within a few blocks, there are numerous food retailers including Tesco Express, M&S Simply Food, Waitrose's c-store concept and Budgens, among others.

The Waitrose store represents the relatively new c-store division of the U.K.'s sixth larger grocer. Like its supermarket parent, Waitrose's c-store gets high marks from customers for its fresh food and modern look, with low fixtures and an emphasis on its front-of-the-store serviced food departments. The store does 190,000 to 200,000 pounds in sales per week and its average ticket is an eye-opening 10.60 pounds.

Budgens is located just a few doors away from the Waitrose. It is a franchise owned by Andrew Thornton. This store illustrated how an independent with a clarity of vision can differentiate itself and compete against the chains. Thornton told the group that he focuses on three things: first, locally sourced and specialty food; second, community; and third, the environment and sustainability.

Thornton's Budgens features what he calls the world's first store with a roof top garden that provides vegetables for sale at the store.

"It's the most local source you can get," said Thornton as he treated tour-goers to lunch on the roof top, which he calls Food from the Sky.

The Future of Convenience and Petroleum Conference continues Wednesday and Thursday with presentations at the British Library by a powerful lineup of speakers, including Dr. Gordon Campbell, CEO of SPAR International, Anthony Wysome, CEO of Waitrose Convenience, Hank Armour, CEO of NACS, Joe Barrett, director, Applegreen Ireland, and Convenience Store News' own editor-in-chief, Don Longo.

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