Recently I was fortunate enough to have ten days holiday in France.
To get to our destination (Dordogne) we drove from the Midlands via the euro tunnel and two stop overs and then do the same (different stop overs) on our return.
Sad as it may seem I cannot help to look at towns, petrol stations, travel hubs and many other places of interest through my LDC work eyes!
With an aspiration that LDC might one day be international then hopefully some of what I see might become LDC reality.
Folkestone to Calais
Contrary to recent press reports the trip from Folkestone to Calais was incident free and I was very impressed with the Euro Tunnel set up from check-in to terminal facilities (even those who have a Tesla have a special place – see picture) and then exit onto the motorways on each side of the Channel.
With the £ at €1.40 then the numbers were in my favour which makes for a nice change. The first thing I noticed is that diesel in the french supermarkets I could fill up the car for €1.08 a litre of diesel which is £0.77 a litre equivalent, a saving of over £0.40 a litre which is massive (main road stations were much more expensive at €1.25 litre).
Poor weather did not dampen our spirits for our first market outing which should give great confidence to all of this market supporters in the UK and something which was a major recommendation of the Portas Review.
One thing I learnt quickly is that often market prices were sometimes double that of the normal shops whereas my flawed perception was that it would be the other way round – so beware that piece of Camembert might be 50% less in the shop up the road or even more in the local Carrefour.
Having spent time in many small Dordogne villages and towns I reached the conclusion that empty shops was not a big issue and certainly not in August but as we visited larger places such as Bourges then I started to see a different picture but also similarities to the UK.
The mix of traditional mediaeval high streets with new shopping areas and significant retail warehousing on the roads out of town. More linear than retail park as in the UK but in general very big units and a significant F&B offer both as restaurants and drive thru. As a very rough guess from my walking the streets of Bourges then I would say that c.15% of the main street shops were vacant withe the modern precinct 95% occupied and having much larger floor plates and home to international fashion brands (e.g. Zara), homewares (Habitat) and also a number of chain restaurants.
Finally, the one real difference to the UK was the number of Le Clerc dark stores with drive thru collection points. I was not there long enough to try it out but what was also interesting is that in a town near to Calais I saw a Le Clerc superstore, a Le Clerc petrol station and then across the car park a Le Clerc drive thru – all in one relatively small town.
I have no idea what the take up of this service is but is this something that will be replicated in the UK especially if delivery costs rise to £15 a trip? The picture below also shows that these dark stores are also the distribution hubs for the delivery business so serving two purposes as once and with co-location to a normal store limiting the logistics challenges.
Decathalon and Intersport
So all in all whilst I had a lovely holiday it was also very interesting to see French retail first hand and also to visit the out-of-town offer and see the new Decathalon format store as well as an older format store as they look to expand in the UK.
Bourges in many ways is quite unique in that there is a Decathalon and an Intersport (their main competitor) on opposite sides of the road which I understand is a rare occurrence. Both big stores but very different in layout and their approach to brands with Decathalon more own brand focussed and Intersport more all brands focussed.
In clothing terms not massively different to Sports Direct but also having more outdoor sports offer such as Cotswold with a few fishing rods and saddles thrown into the mix. Decathalon was a much cleaner, open and appealing store with clearly marked staff who were very welcoming and coped well with my school boy french.
Both were keenly priced but Decathalon was very much more sports focussed than just dress as a sportsman!
The Decathalon store also had good adoption of technology but I have to confess that in my short time there I did not see anyone using it but that is no different to the visitor terminals at St Pancras station which I could say the same about.