Exclusive pictures: a first look inside the new Tesco Extra at Gateshead’s Trinity Square
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It might not open for another three days (at 8am on Thursday 23 May), but last Friday I was delighted to be the first blogger or journalist to officially get a tour of Gateshead’s new Tesco Extra, centrepiece of the town’s £150m Trinity Square development.
Embargoed until this morning, I can now share my photographs and insights from that visit – and it’s worth the wait! The store is not only huge, but also incorporates some of Tesco’s very latest thinking regarding store interiors and customer experience. The store was clearly still a work in progress at the time of my visit, but was complete enough to get a real sense of what it will be like to shop in.
With Tesco scaling back its plans for massive Extra stores, the 103,000sq ft Gateshead shop – which has been developed, along with the rest of Trinity Square, by Tesco’s regeneration arm, Spenhill – is in all probability one of the last supermarket projects of this size that we’ll see in the UK.
It’s not surprising, really: online shopping and the growth of ‘click and collect’ is reducing the amount of space that supermarkets need to devote to non-food lines, such as entertainment and electricals; real growth in food sales is increasingly hard to come by in the present challenging economic climate; and the big supermarkets’ estates are now so extensive that new developments risk cannabilising their own existing stores anyway.
So, all the better that Gateshead’s plans were developed and progressed when they were, as such a scheme might not have got off the ground in today’s changed landscape.
What of the store, then? Well, many shoppers are likely to enter it via the 750-space undercroft car park, accessed via Lambton Street. Though Tesco Extra signage is prominent here, the car park effectively serves the entire Trinity Square scheme.
All on one level, the car park is literally as big as it could possibly be, stretching into all the corners of the development site and giving a real sense of the scheme’s scale. This sense of openness, together with the unusually high ceiling and white surfaces throughout, ensures that the car park feels bright and safe. The car park also affords rear access to the new Trinity Square health centre, with its own dedicated parking area.
Parking will be free of charge to Tesco shoppers with a £5 qualifying spend, but there will be mechanisms in place to ensure that the maximum stay is three hours, and that the spaces are not taken by local workers (or, from September next year, students) rather than shoppers. As you would expect, trollies will be able to be collected and returned here.
From the car park, shoppers enter into an atrium with lifts, stairs and travelators leading up to the store level. At Gateshead Council’s insistence, the atrium is defined as a ‘public’ space rather than a Tesco space, so will be clear of any Tesco point of sale. From the store level, shoppers can either enter the Tesco store or step out into the development’s central public space – Trinity Square – which Costa and the new Vue cinema (when it opens) face onto.
Once in the store, shoppers will notice several things. First, its sheer size: at 103,000 sq ft over a single level, the shop is more than three times bigger than the old 30,000 sq ft superstore that it replaced, and is comparable to the long-established Kingston Park store in Newcastle (Kingston Park is bigger on paper, but its c.130,000 sq ft includes the café mezzanine and the row of separate retail units behind the tills).
Second, where the old Gateshead Tesco had a strange layout and felt generally cramped, I was struck by the spaciousness of the new store – aisles are wide, and the space is light and bright, partly thanks to the bank of windows facing the square. There is plenty of natural light – and comfy seating – in the instore café too (a facility not offered in the old store), which is run by an external operator and affords great views over the High Street.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, is the appealing look and feel of the store. I’ve been honest before in criticising what I’ve described as Tesco’s “cold and soulless” stores, but the Gateshead shop has taken on board many of the ideas first seen in last year’s Hertford store trial.
In parts of the store, for example, lower units have been used to preserve sight lines, while the extensive use of wooden-style features introduced in Hertford – both for cladding and display – is repeated throughout.
Similarly, the friendlier tone of voice seen at Hertford is reflected here too, particularly along the extensive bank of counters, with food imagery that wouldn’t look out of place in Waitrose, and faux-blackboard signage that successfully conveys a less corporate feel.
Occasionally, however, there’s still room for a little more attention to detail. For example, the attractive effect of using wooden boxes and blackboard-style signage to show off the freshly baked rolls is let down slightly by the standard – and rather garish – yellow shelf-edge labels. Though there’s obviously a need to signpost offers and deals, perhaps a more subtle solution could be found that’s more in keeping with these new-style softer fixtures?
Just as wood is a prominent theme in the fresh food sections of the store, there’s plenty of it in the beers, wines and spirits section, too. Complemented by a rich purple backdrop, the overall effect is to convey a quality feel, and to create an alcohol section that really stands out from the rest of the store.
Just as there is much to admire about the store’s grocery areas, there is also plenty worth seeing in non-food. As I noted before, changing shopping habits mean that the space devoted to ranges such as electricals and entertainment is noticably less than would have been the case in a Tesco Extra five or ten years ago; by the same token, however, the Click & Collect counter is much more prominent.
Even now, though, the store offers a better range of electrical and entertainment products than can be obtained anywhere else in Gateshead town centre – other than, perhaps, at the established Argos store – and there’s also a dedicated ‘Phone Shop’ area nearby, a concept that I believe has only been introduced in a few stores to date.
In fashion, too, the new Gateshead Tesco Extra impresses. Where Tesco’s clothing brand, F&F, was shoved into a small corner of the old store, it’s centrestage now, occupying a dedicated space of around 10,000 sq ft in the middle of the store, next to the tills (pictured at the top of this blog).
Prominent F&F signage, and the use of distinctive flooring and fittings, ensure that not only does the F&F section feel like a shop within a shop, but that’s it very visible from all over the store, too – thanks to those improved sightlines that I mentioned before.
Within F&F, however, it’s easy to forget that you’re in the middle of a supermarket, thanks to the department store-style look and feel, complete with fitting rooms and a dedicated checkout.
These features should encourage Trinity Square visitors to check out F&F even if they don’t need to do a full Tesco shop, and the use of dedicated F&F-branded bags will ensure that customers can exit the store without getting collared by security!
Just beyond F&F, the department store feel extends to the cosmetics, too, where the quality of display is much higher than you might normally expect to find in a supermarket. In effect, it reflects the fact that Gateshead Tesco Extra is, to all intents and purposes, a department store in the very heart of the town centre – albeit one with a very extensive food hall.
Finally, as well as The Phone Shop, the store features several other useful services that complement its food and non-food offer: a pharmacy counter, a Tesco-operated optician’s, and a Timpson concession.
So there we have it – Gateshead’s new Tesco Extra. It’s certainly immeasurably better than the store that it replaced, in terms of range, services and store environment, and even when it’s packed with customers it’s easy to imagine it being a pleasant store to shop in – something that could never be said of the old store or, for that matter, a lot of other Tescos.
And yes, while wooden cladding, lovely imagery and softer signage might sound like gimmicks, they really do add a sense of warmth that has traditionally been missing from the Tesco shopping experience.
Talking to the enthusiastic staff instore on Friday, and via Twitter as well, it’s clear that they are delighted with the new shop – and I suspect that the shoppers of Gateshead will be, too.
Many thanks to Tesco for inviting me into the store, and for taking the time to give me a detailed tour.
My retail consultancy business, CannyInsights.com, provides bespoke place- and sector-specific market intelligence, including detailed coverage of the North East. It also works with retailers nationwide to improve their stores, customer communications and market knowledge. For more information, visit www.cannyinsights.com, drop me an email, or give me a call on (0191) 461 0361.