Great visit with Head of Franchise Martin Rogers to see the new Co-op franchise store at Leeds University Union. Only open for less than three months, it has already seen sales increase by 150% – a response to the excellent range and smart appearance of the shop and a recognition of shared values between the student body and the Co-op. Run by the Student Union with a mix of permanent and student staff, it benefits from a dynamic team led by Karen the Union’s Retail Director. With wide aisles and the greatest number of self scan terminals in our estate, the shop looks really attractive, and the footfall while I was there was impressive.
Before visiting I had thought of university franchise stores mainly in terms of their being an excellent way of recruiting young people to become members of the Co-op and to get them to understand the Co-op values difference.
However, what struck me forcibly on my visit is that these stores will also give us an opportunity to listen more clearly to the up-and-coming generation of shoppers, helping us to attune our ranges and sourcing approach to their needs. For example, the greater proportionate demand for vegan and vegetarian food can allow us to try new ways of presenting that offer; and their demands on issues like removing plastic bottles will challenge us to move faster in an environmentally sustainable direction. We already have a free water refilling service in this store, but have also introduced today a new range of water bottles made from recycled cardboard and plant-based plastics – Just Water.
I was also pleased to see that rather than the Costa coffee point that we have in many stores, the Student Union had insisted on a Fairtrade coffee point! A further benefit of this store is understanding better the needs of the Chinese ethnic community, as students from the Far East form a significant proportion of the Leeds student body.
All in all this felt like the start of a dynamic two-way partnership in Leeds. Co-op has much to offer them in terms of an appropriate range and professional experience, and already they are seeing greater footfall in their building as a result, whilst we in turn have much to learn from their focus on a youth clientele. Roll on many more franchise outlets in other universities!