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Waitrose re-structure to close six of its struggling stores

Published:  09 February, 2017

Upmarket grocer Waitrose has announced a major re-structure of its stores and management teams in a move to "flexible branch team working".

It has emerged that the grocer will be closing six of its struggling stores, potentially affecting 700 jobs across the country.

At the same time, plans are in place to open stores in new locations and improving existing stores instead by adding cafes, wine bars and sushi counters.

Rising food costs and customers switching to cut-price rivals has contributed to the decision, which could present an opportunity for smaller suppliers to fill the gap in the areas earmarked for closures.

"Waitrose's decision brings huge opportunity for smaller suppliers and retailers in these areas to capitalise on the gap in the market for a higher-end local grocery offering," Aamar Aslam, CEO of Funding Invoice, said.

"Independent retailers must continue to look for the opportunities presented to them by their larger counterparts, and meet the increasing consumer demand for local produce in a local store.

"This gives small businesses a fantastic opportunity to break into the mainstream grocery market and increase both inbound footfall and sales. Whilst access to finance can undoubtedly be a barrier to growth in these situations, small suppliers must look to finance partners to assist with funding the gap in the grocery market left by large stores closing down."

Waitrose is also intending to remove the role of department manager in its 350 stores, to move towards a "more flexible branch team working across the whole shop rather than dividing teams into specific sections".

Over the course of three years, most of the 486 department managers will become deputy store managers and staff reduction will take place gradually through retirement, "natural turnover" and voluntary redundancies.

Waitrose retail director Ben Stimson said: "We'd always try hard to avoid closing branches, but we review how our branches are doing commercially and respond where we have to. We'll be consulting with our [staff] on these proposed closures and will give them all the support they need."

The stores earmarked for closure are in Hertford, Staines, Leek, Huntingdon, Cardiff Queen Street and Palmers Green in north London.

However, Rob Collins, the managing director of Waitrose who took over from Mark Price last year, plans to open eight new Waitrose stores this year.

Two have already opened in Leatherhead and Faringdon, while stores in Haywards Heath, Banbury, Bromsgrove, Finchley, Addlestone and Winchmore Hill are to follow.

The company said the new stores would create 600 jobs.