Leeds Co-op moved out of the suburbs and into new territory last summer with the opening of its first City Store format. The 2,500sq ft store on West Point in Leeds city centre may be the society's 22nd food store but this store is surrounded by office buildings that house some of the biggest employers in the area.
Above the store is an apartment block with 350 dwellings, about three-quarters of which are occupied, and there's a café next door. Turnover has already increased by 15% to about £33,000 a week since it opened five months ago. "We've called it City Store to differentiate it from our other stores," explains Alan Gill, chief executive of Leeds Co-op. "There were lots of restrictions on planning for the fascia so Co-op signs are in the inside window."
The operation was reviewed at the end of last year and the range has been tweaked to give shoppers more of what they want. "We've been surprised by the amount of traditional ambient grocery goods being sold," says Gill. "People are doing their shopping and then jumping on the bus to their place out of town, or they live upstairs. So more fresh food has been added, particularly packed produce, with more fruit and salads for eating on the hoof."
The store stocks about 1,500 lines, and 20% of these are Fairtrade including all own-label coffee and chocolate. Locally sourced foods feature heavily, too - so much so that a display stand is dedicated to Fairtrade and Yorkshire products, and more Yorkshire products are in the chiller - everything from soups to black pudding. "The product mix is more premium than our standard food stores so people are trading up," explains Gill.
With so many large companies close to the City Store, Leeds Co-op does a roaring trade in Champagne, and it has just launched a credit card scheme for businesses. "Whenever they do a deal or are entertaining clients, they want to buy Champagne at the nearest store," says Gill. "Companies can now register for the credit card, agree a credit limit and there's a minimum spend per month. It means they can also get whatever they need for the office and not have to worry about petty cash - it's much more convenient."
The city has become something of a magnet for big business - and Leeds Co-op has made its move just at the right time, before the competition muscles in. The City Store is situated opposite the site for the Luminere building. It will be the tallest skyscraper in Leeds and thought to be two feet higher than the one in Manchester. It's due to open in five years' time.
Says Gill: "It's being built by the developers who did our building, so I wanted them to put a clause in the contract to say no other food retailer would be allowed in the new building, but they wouldn't do it. So we might get something like a Sainsbury's Local as competition."
The thought of competition only serves to fuel Leeds Co-op's expansion plans, though, and it is now looking at other sites in the centre. "Three are new sites and the fourth is an existing store," explains Gill. "One is similar to West Point as it's on the ground floor of a new block of flats, with 3,000sq ft selling space, and we hope to open that in February. The second used to be a non-food shop in The Light shopping complex, which has a hotel, cinema and gym, and is slightly larger at 5,500sq ft. We are still negotiating terms but expect it to open in April. We have also been approached by developers who are converting some offices into flats, as the ground floor of this will be retail. We hope to do them all in six months.
"The city centre is badly represented by c-stores," adds Gill. "There's a 20,000sq ft Morrisons and a M&S Simply Food, but there's nothing like a Sainsbury Local or Tesco Express. Manchester is our nearest comparison, and that has a Sainsbury Local, Tesco Express, Somerfield Market Fresh and M&S. For us, it's about getting there first and I'd like to get a cluster of City Stores, if we can get the right sites at the right rent. We need to beat the likes of Sainsbury and Tesco as it's only a matter of time until they get here."