Yesterday morning, I had the privilege of walking through the doors of Tesco Prestwich. Perhaps it was the fact that it was a bright sunny day and already warm that was putting me and the store staff in a good mood, or perhaps it was the smell of freshly installed wood.
Yes, Prestwich has been refreshed. For those of you who don't know the store, it has been as grim as the M60 which it overlooks for as long as I can remember. With its location, it used to have one of the broadest geographical spread of Clubcard users in the country and so could be seen as a bellwether store who Tesco.
The refit has literally just finished and store staff were still putting up the signs to proclaim this when I entered. But they were all smiling - I kept looking to see if there was a camera crew filming the latest motivational video as it's not something you see enough of in Tesco, or any other grocer, these days.
As with the Refresh My Superstore programme about 8-10 years ago, the refits are not really radical, but just a subtle updating and some TLC for tired old stores. Prestwich now boasts the usual excess of wood, but also a stunning entrance foyer with a clear Food To Go and Tobacco area, acres of space for the shoppers and a great view into the produce department. Of course, it's only a matter of time before that space gets filled with pallets but we'll all enjoy it while we can.
One of the subtle elements of the refits is the communication. Posters proclaiming things like "Thanks For Not Changing Your Store While We Changed Ours" hit good notes with shoppers, and having a big sexy foyer display with a photo of one of the store's own managers on it really does personalise the experience and place the store back in the community.
Most retailers and retail-geeks will know the package for the refits now and there's no evolution of note in Prestwich, but as Carrefour showed with their stalled "Planet" programme, it's one thing to land a great trial but rolling out can be harder. I've worked on a roll-out with Tesco - 150 Metro refits in 18 months - and its tough, so I can appreciate just what Tesco are doing with this current programme. What must be worrying their competitors is that it seems to be a reawakening of the "machine" - and key to the machine, as always, are its people. And people seem to be making a difference again.
As a walked around Prestwich, I got the same buzz off the staff as I did when I visited Hertford and Barking stores not long after their refits. A real sense of pride is creeping back into Tesco - there's been a few years of negativity flooding through the business with increased centralisation, a new generation of store managers trained to implement rather than trade and, crucially, shops that are opened and left to fall apart. A few miles away from Prestwich lies a former concept store in Irlam and there's great evidence of what happens when you don't regularly revisit and update your shops. A refit gives the staff something to believe in - working in shops is hard, always has been, so you need a good environment to work in and a shop that your proud to be a part of.
But will this be enough? It will certainly stop more shoppers leaving to other retailers, and word of mouth is still powerful and could bring back some lapsed Tesco shoppers. Of course, there's a growing "big must be bad" cabal fueling an "Anyone-but-Tesco" mentality and better shops alone will not fix that, if anything. However, its a very good start and the gusto with which Tesco are tackling their stores must be causing worries in Leeds, Bradford and Holborn.