THIS is not just any deli counter – just ask David Chisholm. This is the M&S deli counter at the Gyle, the first in Scotland, and he is in charge of the foodie treats it’s offering as the 106,000sq ft store ups its game in the retail wars to keep and attract new custom.
According to the company’s chief executive Marc Bolland, when it comes to food, M&S needs to stop being branded as a supermarket and instead be regarded as a food specialist.
As a result, deli counters last seen in M&S stores in the late 1990s have made a return – along with in-store bakeries – giving the food halls a more organic farmers’ market appeal.
But it’s just one part of a major revamp that the 20-year-old Gyle store has undergone. The whole shop has been reconfigured to offer more housewares, improved fashion shopping, an extended cafe and a new and improved food hall.
The refurbishment, which will be completed for opening day on Thursday – and which has created 30 new jobs – is part of a nationwide revamp of all M&S stores ordered by Bolland to make them easier to navigate and be more inspiring, with the hope of boosting sales by the billions.
Certainly, the revamped Food Hall will attract more foodies thanks in the main to the deli, which can prepare fresh spaghetti or fusilli from the huge pasta-making machine (the exact recipe differs depending on the weather) as well as offer lasagne with sheets of pasta so fine they are shipped in from Valpolicella in Italy and a ragu, which has been cooked for three hours.
Then there’s the huge on-the-bone hams, fishcakes with Lochmuir salmon and cheeses from around the world, including a Roquefort ripened in French caves and a Burreta, a hollowed-out mozzarella, the centre filled with cream and Parmesan shavings. There’s also a rotisserie – and the Ultimate Sausage Roll.
“We have been open a few months and we’re always busy,” says David. “We’ve already been compared to Harrods, which is a fantastic compliment. We offer something really different. Customers can come and see their fresh pasta being made –we’ll soon also be making it for the cafe – and we have fresh sauces made to go with it.
“Similarly, we make up the fresh salads – roast potato and fennel is a favourite for our lunchtime customers – and all our Aberdeen Angus meat is 28 days aged so it melts in the mouth. Our rotisserie also offers chicken halved or quartered, so we can cater for a single person as easily as a family.”
David bursts with enthusiasm as he discusses pasta, olives, artichokes, salamis...
“I’ve been to a few of the M&S delis down south, and I can safely say this is the best,” he grins.
Meanwhile, over at the bakery (the aroma will lead you there) inspiration has been taken from farmers’ markets, with more than 30 different types of bread available, including sourdough, as well as sweet treats from pastries to choc-chip shortbread.
Head baker Bruce Burgess says: “We stretch the dough on site and bake everything here. Customers can watch loaves rising in the ovens. We try to be as authentic as possible, and use French flour in the French baguettes.”
The revamp means that entering the store from the car park no longer takes you directly to the Food Hall, instead you hit menswear. However, a quick right turn leads to the food – the whole range having been increased with the addition of around 400 new food and drink items. As well as menswear being moved, homewares has been enlarged and now includes interactive browsing screens to allow customers to select their own duvets and pillows, especially tailored to their own requirements.
There’s also an M&S Bank on site, and ladies’ clothes have been sorted into brand sections.
A new Beauty Bar will be unveiled this week, which will include some of the world’s leading brands, and two cafes have become one – but one with 230 seats and a new line in breakfasts.
The whole revamp will be launched to customers on Thursday by store manager Aaron Spicer at an official ribbon-cutting ceremony, and the day will include an in-store DJ, personal shoppers, fashion stylist and chef demonstrations.
Store manager Aaron says: “The store has evolved greatly in the past 20 years and we’re delighted to showcase the latest exciting changes.
“Everything has been designed with the customer in mind, from the spacious cafe, with plenty of seating, to the new deli, which offers foods from across the world.
“The improvements continue into fashion and home, with the latest key looks highlighted to inspire customers as they shop.
“It’s been a lot of hard work to deliver our new-look store, but our customers have been incredibly supportive.
“We’re looking forward to welcoming shoppers to the store and joining in our opening day celebrations.”