When Aldi opened in Seymour Grove, Old Trafford in July 1990 it was only the fifth UK store for the German retailer, which had been trading in this country for just three months. The much-loved local store is due to close today as Aldi moves to a 50% larger outlet at White City Retail Park, opening tomorrow, among a 300-metre stretch of rivals that includes Tesco Extra, M&S Foodhall, Iceland’s Food Warehouse, Home Bargains, and a proposed Lidl.
The closing 12,000 sq ft store was deemed too small for today’s range of 1,400 Aldi products and the new 19,000 sq ft White City Retail Park unit allows for wider aisles and a more comfortable shopping experience, the retailer said.
Labour councillors and MP Kate Green have attracted more than 500 signatures to a petition calling for the Conservative-controlled council and Transport for Greater Manchester to provide public transport to make the new store accessible for shoppers, many of whom are elderly and don’t drive, who had relied on the old store for nearly three decades. One local retailer on Seymour Grove, next to Trafford Bar tram stop, said: “The current Aldi is a basket shop whereas Aldi want people in cars making larger trolley shops. What they don’t realise is many people use this as a convenience store. It’s profitable and I think they should have kept it open as their version of an express or metro.”
When planning permission was granted for Aldi at White City in March 2017, Trafford’s planning committee was told by developer Derwent “Aldi are looking at this proposal as an additional store in a retail park location and…its approval and occupation will not affect the ongoing trading of the existing Aldi stores nearby.” Seymour Grove had recently been refurbished and another store opened at Stretford Mall, which will remain open.
An Aldi spokesperson said: “Where we have successful stores, as we have had in Stretford for many years, we occasionally look to open additional stores nearby to help customers in the area shop and save close to home.
“While that was our intention at the time of planning the new White City store, our estate has since evolved and stores such as the one at Seymour Grove, at 760 sq m [net trading area, equivalent to 8,100 sq ft, compared to 1,400 sq m or 15,000 sq ft net at White City], are no longer considered fit for purpose.
“In its place, we are opening a much larger store, with wider and brighter aisles and better, more frequently available parking, to ensure customers can make the most of our award-winning offer at their convenience.”
The group is expanding rapidly in the UK, adding 70 stores this year as it takes its UK total from 700 to 1,000 stores by 2022. Trafford Council owns the freehold on Aldi Seymour Grove where it granted Aldi a long leasehold. Letting agent Lamb & Swift has been instructed by Aldi to find a replacement, an offer is understood to have been made. Aldi is not welcoming food retailers and local rumours are B&M Bargains or a similar non-food discounter will open.
Keith Jones, associate at How Planning, advisor to Aldi, called the move next door to M&S Foodhall at White City “symptomatic” of the change in shopper behaviour, as people make more frequent visits for smaller purchases between multiple retailers rather than one big weekly or fortnightly shop to a single supermarket.
Forty thousand cars pass down Chester Road each day according to Derwent and many of them have at the wheel affluent commuters on their way to South Manchester towns such as Sale and Altrincham.
Derwent has spent £10m in the past five years redeveloping the park to create larger units and attract new occupiers. White City is allocated for non-food retail warehouses but piecemeal change-of-use planning applications have enabled M&S Foodhall to open 12,000 sq ft, in spring 2016, followed by Home Bargains’ 14,140 sq ft, permitted as non-food with ancillary food, and Iceland’s Food Warehouse of 12,335 sq ft.
Mark Aylward, of Aylward Planning, advises Derwent. He said: “White City has gone from being largely empty in poor condition to offering a real range of occupiers in a much-improved fabric.”
Before the spate of openings, the fearsome late owner of Derwent Group, Albert Gubay, who died in January 2016, fought to block the nearby Tesco Extra Stretford, lodging a competing planning application for a Sainsbury’s at White City. He forced a public inquiry and judicial review but a planning inspector and judges ruled the regeneration benefits of the Tesco Extra weighed in its favour. Tesco paid the cricket club £21m towards its redevelopment, led by Ask Developments, which resulted in regaining a place on the Ashes circuit.
Tesco Extra opened in November 2012 and was one of the last megastores before the big supermarket groups stopped major development and switched to smaller formats.
Retail agents and planners say the Tesco Extra was too large and does not trade well. Tomorrow, on the same day Aldi opens at White City, a parade of concessions – Dorothy Perkins, Evans, Burtons and Claire’s Accessories, is due to open inside Tesco Extra, the latest in a series of changes at the 80,000 sq ft store. Last month, Tesco reduced the area for food, replacing with homeware. A spokesman for Tesco said individual trading performance for stores was confidential and added the move was “part of a wider programme of transformation within our larger stores and aims to offer customers a range of leading brands and services under one roof.”
At the start of December, Tesco will close at Stretford Mall following the expiry of a planning clause with Trafford Council that it would remain for five years after the opening of Tesco Extra in Chester Road.
Over the road from Tesco Extra, Lidl has submitted a planning application for a 14,600 sq ft store with 119 parking spaces in the former PC World depot. Lidl has 670 stores and opened in the UK in 1994. The German rivals’ expansion to the South Manchester arterial route is part of a strategy to build UK market share. Aldi’s jumped to 6.8% from 6.2% a year ago; Lidl increased from 4.6% to 5.2%.
Net market share in Trafford may rise for Aldi after it opens tomorrow at White City but it appears unlikely all the custom will be able to transfer easily from Seymour Grove where the cramped old store of 1990 will be sorely missed.
The joint letting agents at White City Retail Park are Cheetham & Mortimer and Curson Sowerby Partners. Rapleys advises Lidl.