The Fusion supermarket that opened today (8 June) in Sai Kung seeks to minimise check-out queues with new technology, according to Finance Director Gavin Black. Gavin, who lives above Anthony’s Ranch with his new Beijing bride and her 10-year-old son, is finance boss for 283 supermarkets in the AS Watson Group.
“We aim to have only one person in front of you at check-out,” he said. “We are not there yet, but should be by next year realistically.” The new supermarket, on the first floor of Sai Kung Gardens where Wellcome used to be, has a bank of eight self-service check-out machines plus four express and three ordinary check-outs with staff. “You have the choice not to queue. ‘Ambassadors’ stand next to the self check-outs to help people trying them out.”
The yellow rain storm signal was up as the Fusion opened. The stairs were wet and slippery. We mentioned to Gavin a remark by alert reader Graham Eckersley about whether Wellcome had been sued by elderly people falling on the stairs. Had AS Watson talked to the landlord about putting in an escalator or lift? Gavin said property development was handled by another department, but he would ask. He got staff to work placing anti-slip mats at the top of the wet stairs.
BUZZ asked what is the difference between ParknShop and Fusion and can Sai Kung sustain two Fusions close to each other plus the ParknShop. Also were they proud of kicking Wellcome out of town except for their small store at Lakeside Gardens. Gavin said Fusion has done very well in Sai Kung. The demographics fit its model. He said products in Fusion and ParknShop are 80 per cent the same and 20 per cent different. Fusion has more Western products. He said it is a misconception that Fusion is pricier than ParknShop. The same product has the same price in each store.
Gavin explained how Fusion came to take over the Sai Kung Gardens site. The landlord invited all supermarket chains to bid for the 17,000 sq ft space — Aeon, U-Select, ParknShop and Wellcome. ParknShop won. We said we understood the rent was now $900,000 a month. Gavin said no, this was far too low, but would not state the exact amount. He believes Wellcome will be back, perhaps in the ex-Japan Homes Store’s site and the empty shops next to it.
Florists should take note. Fusion is studying sub-leasing to a florist offering flowers and plants. Downstairs in what used to be a wine shop there are now vending machines with drinks and toys. Gavin said they are looking at installing hot-rice machines as well. For the first time an electronic Moneyback machine has been set up in the new Fusion. It tells customers how much value they have accumulated under the loyalty scheme (5 points gives you $1) and enables benefit links (Esso, Asia Miles) and sharing your points with relatives, helpers or charities. Ray Ng has been named Store Manager in charge of 80 full-time and part-time staff.
What is the AS Watson Group — which claims to be the world’s largest health and beauty chain — doing about protecting the environment? Gavin said there is a Corporate Social Responsibility Committee at the group level and one each for the businesses. “We have targets for reduction of materials we use and that our suppliers use.” He said they are working to five-year plans to cut down use of plastics and paper, shifting to biodegradable types, energy and carbon output. On food waste, he said the supermarkets work with Food Angel, the charity that provides six million meals a year to poor people in Hong Kong. “Superman” Li Ka-shing, controlling shareholder of AS Watson, has visited Food Angel and donated to it. Gavin said he sees “Superman” once a year at the Chairman’s Christmas drinks party for senior executives.
What product displays are new at Sai Kung’s just-opened Fusion? Counters for siumei, bbq meats, fresh pork, organic fresh fruits and vegetables (What does this mean? “Plant foods grown without chemicals and sourced from all over the world”) and fish from sustainable sources, i.e. they are not over-farmed.