(Please see UPDATE at end)
OK folks, today was the big day when Sainsbury's came to Nairn - yippee!
I decided to go along late-ish in the morning, possibly not one of my more brilliant ideas, because of course by that time the decent-sized car park was completely full- after driving round a couple of times I decided to cut my losses and drive out - in the the event I drove back into town and around the building where I live, then back up to the supermarket. After 'kerb-crawling' around the car park for a second time I was able to wait for a family about to leave and get into their spot. Success!
The trolleys are the kind where you have to put a £1 (or a €1) coin in the slot - fair enough, lots of supermarkets do that now, although Tesco doesn't. The petrol station seems conveniently-positioned and although I didn't use it today (my tank is almost full at present), I have no doubt I will use it very frequently in weeks/months to come.
Anyway, on to the 'shopping experience'. I'll write a few words at the end about some trends I've noticed at many supermarkets over the past few years, but for the present I'll write about Sainsbury's Nairn specifically. A pretty conventional lay-out, with open ducting and pipework visible above your head - a bit like Asda or Homebase with its 'warehouse' feel), unlike Tesco where the ceiling is enclosed with a false-ceiling. However, the lighting at Sainsbury's is bright, without being in any way 'harsh', so quite pleasant. To the left there was a counter/kiosk (presumably for the tobacco addicts amongst us - I didn't really look), with newspapers on a walk-around rack nearby, including the local 'rag' The Nairnshire Telegraph (a weekly publication), then to the left an aisle of magazines including 'Attitude' I was pleasantly surprised to see (the sub-header for this blog will enlarge on why this is important for me); I used to buy this from the big Tesco outlet in Inverness, although I don't think their Forres outlet stocks it - however, I now get it by subscription as it costs less that way. but it it still very pleasing to see it stocked in a local store - the Co-op in the town of course never did; if it is still stocked here when my current subscription expires I may choose to purchase it locally, even at greater cost, to express my pleasure at this welcome change.
The fairly usual lay-out continued at the left with aisles of women's, children's and men's clothing, then household goods and some small electrical household items. Not as extensive, of course, as in the larger Inverness Tesco, but much more than in the Forres branch of that chain - I'd say the store in Nairn is about 1/3 bigger that its Forres 'cousin'. It was in this area that I made my first purchases - although I really don't need more towels, they had some really attractive colours on offer so I had myself a large bath sheet and a matching bath-mat in a particularly bright colour which was labelled 'teal' - a sort of very deep turquoise.
Actually I had done a pretty big shop a couple of days ago in Tesco at Forres so didn't 'need' to buy too much, but I had a good look at the meat and fish counters and bought something from both and a few items from the salad vegetable area - all seems of nice quality and attractively-presented. Prior to my visit I had a good look through my jars of dried herbs - I have quite a large selection at home, but I expect like most people some get used fairly infrequently so have been in my herb/spice racks for 'some time' and I thought they probably needed 'updating' - doing this gave me a chance to check the range on offer at Sainsbury's and I'd say it is pretty good, although I noticed a few gaps - in any case I got two of the three I was looking for (the missing one was the classic 'fines herbes' mix which I always use in omelettes) and an extra one because it seemed a good price, although the existing jar I have is almost full and pretty new, but I use it quite a lot.
I enjoyed having a look at the display of sherries - I drink this quite a lot - very unusually for a supermarket there were two different kinds of own-brand Amontillado, a 'pale dry' and a 'medium' version; as I usually only see the 'medium' locally I decided to give the 'pale dry' version a whirl and I had a glass a short time ago and can report it is pretty good. I also got a bottle of their fino, although I haven't tried it yet. In addition I got a couple of reds - an 'own label' Claret from Bordeaux (i.e. France) and a Merlot (not 'own label') from Carcassonne in Provence (i.e. also in France). Big supermarkets do have skilled wine-buyers so I have no doubt both will provide a good glass, well worth the relatively modest prices paid.
Again, as with the towels, I didn't really need more eggs, but I use a lot so bought some of their 'free range' as this is what I always buy.
The staff seemed pretty 'on the ball', and I did ask one for some help in the salad area, and although he didn't know the answer himself he was very pleasant and immediately went off to find out from someone who did and was back in a few moments directing me to the right shelf area and he led me there. So full marks for that. A couple of other staff also asked me how I was getting on, one seemed to be a more 'senior' person given his different attire. Obviously the whole place was very busy, as lots of people were 'milling around' getting to grips with the layout, but overall I was pretty impressed by the general 'body language' of staff, busy yes - but never abrupt or harrassed-looking. The Tesco in Inverness (and indeed in Forres, also in Eastbourne in a very large store, as well as in Perth, all of which I have shopped in recently) always seems to me to have staff who look 'busy and harrassed' and more senior people who tend to stride around and barge past paying customers, doing whatever they are doing (i.e. maintaining their positions in the 'corporate chain', somehwat self-importantly). Tesco is obviously a big, successful supermarket chain, which provides decent quality at a relatively-decent price, but it is all pretty 'soul-less' and one never feels particuarly 'valued'. I'd have to say that on its opening day the Nairn Sainsbury's, even though very busy, provided a rather more 'civilised' shopping experience. Interestingly, and carrying on this 'theme', I'd have to say that Asda in all its stores I have ever visited seems to have particularly friendly, helpful and well-trained staff, even though it is usually regarded as a 'value' brand, if not exactly 'low cost' in the Lidl or Aldi mould.
Pricing. I'd say Sainsbury's here is generally a little more expensive than Tesco, but certainly much better value than our local Co-op, but on the other hand as I don't need to drive 12 miles (to Forres) or 15 miles (to Inverness) to shop there, or spend the petrol doing so, there is no contest! Sainsbury's here seems to have a sufficiently large range of goods on offer to make it perfectly well able to cater for most of my weekly shopping needs, even if I may still make the trips to Inverness, Forres or Elgin occasionally. I cannot say I will never darken the door of the Co-op in Nairn ever again, but if I do it will certainly not be very often, unless I wish also to visit one of the shops in the High Street. That's the reality and I daresay I'm not going to be specially unusual in that blunt analysis.
Now, and finally, to return to the general layout matters I referred to near the beginning of this article. Entrances - why do most large supermarkets now have 'foyers' tacked on to the front of their premises with pretty restricted areas for traffic to flow in and out of the store?! Sainsbury's is just like Tesco in this respect. I expect it has to do with 'security' to make it easier for shop security staff to apprehend pilferers from making-off with merchandise without paying for it, and I can hardly blame them for that. However, for whatever reason, and probably to do with deep matters of human psychology, people tend to 'loiter' at these entrance, or in the 'foyers', and generally make it an obstacle course to get in or out of the place! This applies to Sainsbury's, Tesco, Morrisons and to Asda - the four UK-based superkarkets I have recent experience of (we will never, unfortunately, have a Waitrose in this area, I expect, but I can dream, can't I?), I'm sure there are better ways of organising things. And of course there are - any branch of Lidl, the 'low cost' German supermarket chain I have ever visited (in the UK or Spain) has a segregated entrance and exit - whatever other faults that brand has (and there are a number), neither the entrance nor the exit is ever an obstacle course!
To end this extended review on an overwhelmingly positive note, however, I must record that the new Sainsbury's in Nairn will be of huge benefit to Nairn residents and indeed those from the surrounding area - I am completely certain that many of the shoppers I saw at the store today came from well outside Nairn, probably from a radius such as Elgin, Grantown-on-Spey and Inverness or perhaps further. I have no doubt that things will settle down in a few days and whilst it is likely that people from the towns and areas nearby will continue to visit our new Sainsbury's in Nairn, from time to time (and with a bit of luck some of the other retail outlets in Nairn, too, if the latter are wise and 'embrace' this new magnet to our town, rather than continue the negative mantra that typifies this rather inward-looking little town - yes, this is as positive as I can bring myself to be as a reaction to some of the attitudes here, sorry, one of which I listened to with barely-suppressed irritation from a fellow Nairn resident, like myself an 'incomer' although one who has lived here much longer than me, even if she hails from a much farther-distant part of the UK than I do, when relating my experiences today after my first Sainsbury's visit). So a big 'thumbs up' to Sainsbury's!! Welcome!
PS/ Having just read the 'pap' that passes for comment in another Nairn blog, I must report I forgot to mention the issue of Gaelic signage - it is very irritating that the Gaelic versions are printed above the English in many of the major signs near the entrance, no doubt to appeal to the local 'Gaelic mafia' contingent, so one (and undoubtedly most customers, too) has to do a double-take to understand what the sign is saying, but after my initial irritation with this 'pandering' to the sensibilities of a [very] small minority, it is pleasing to report that once one proceeds into the shop this nonsense is quietly fortgotten and the language that the vast bulk of customers have as their first language, English, reigns supreme! I am of course Scottish and very proud and happy to be so, but I am primarily British and my first language is English, just like most people here in Nairn and elsewhere in Scotland and of course throughout the UK. I have no objection to catering for minority languages, for that is what Gaelic is, indeed I am very happy that effrots are made to accommodate it, but I really do object to it being giving precedence over the language of the vast majority of people even in what is laughably called 'Gaeldom' - although I can well appreciate the delicate path that Sainsbury's has had to tread to establish its presence here. Now, having got that off my chest, let me reiterate how happy I am to see Sainsbury's here in Nairn.
UPDATE: (Friday 05AUG11 20.01 BST) I posted a comment in one of the other Nairn blogs (My Nairn, relevant article here) earlier today and quote it here for completeness: "I had my second visit this morning – it was easy to park this time, although there were still quite a few people. Altogether very pleasant. I seem to recall the lack of an in-store cafe/restaurant was part of the planning conditions, perhaps to try and protect the numerous low-cost tea-shops and restaurants in town. Personally I shall still have to go to Inverness (Tesco or Boots) for a few items Sainsbury’s don’t stock, but for almost all my needs it will suffice and I will in any case be going in the direction of Inverness every so often, so it is no hardship."