Bel & Brio is one of the newest innovations to enter Barangaroo’s new dining district. It is a store unlike any other. Its mix of fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), as well as the finest imported delicacies, is contrasted with the restaurant, wine cellar (with 59-page wine list) that all share the same floor space. From the outside, Bel & Brio could be mistaken for many things, a grocer, a restaurant, a delicatessen, a gift shop and a convenience store. In fact, it takes all these forms at once, under one roof.
Having just reached its first anniversary of trading, C&I spoke to general manager Read Simon, to explain just what this business is, and what it is that makes Bel & Brio so successful and unique.
Regardless of which of the two entrances is used, it is instantly obvious that there is something quite unique about Bel & Brio’s operation. Upon entering the store side, the first thing the customer sees is a green clawfoot bath-tub filled with chocolate. It sits right inside the doorway and, during C&I’s visit was overflowing with over 6000 pieces of Italian Baci chocolate. While the bath was originally purchased for a Mother’s Day promotion, it is now used to display and promote anything that might excite the customer’s attention.
Beyond this are refrigerated and ambient shelves, laden with ready-to-go meals, fine cheeses, gourmet cakes, fresh raw produce and your usual range of dry groceries. It is both a food-lover’s paradise and a quick-stop ‘corner-store’ for those on their lunch break who need something delicious, but quick and easy.
Being surrounded by office buildings, GM Read Simon is aware that the store’s location is very important and that speed and convenience play a massive role in the store’s success. He said the self-serve checkouts were implemented for this very reason.
“The idea behind the self-serve checkouts is, we have about 40,000 office workers here and people have limited time for lunch so they will come, grab everything they want and just scan it and get out of there, instead of waiting to be served,” he said.
Range and review
When it comes to product ranging decisions, it seems as though the process is simple. If it sells it gets rotated and brought back into stock on the shelves, and if it doesn’t, it’s deleted and not ranged again.
“What we end up doing, whether it sells or doesn’t sell, we change it. If it sells so well, we’ll bring it back quicker, if it doesn’t sell well enough then we get rid of it and we don’t bring it back in. We still bring some products back because consumer tastes change, their flavours change based on the seasons and based on certain times of the year,” he said.
“If you’re having more foot-flow in the mornings and you’re selling different types of things where you put it in the store, so where you plan-o-gram is also very, very important. So we tend to move our underperforming products throughout the store to find the right location.”
Mr Simon said that the specialty goods and the food items that are unique to the store are often sourced overseas.
“We spend a bit of time on the internet, and we spend a bit of time contacting the suppliers overseas, mostly in Italy,” he said.
The store also relies on parallel importing for a lot of its goods, so it’s a trial and error process when it came to importing goods.
“At the end of the day we have about five suppliers that buy from overseas,” he said.
“We’re not restricted; we’re not run by corporates.”
It was noted that the business model works for a few reasons.
“We’re in business to make money and consumers want what they want. So we’re not going to stop them, and the suppliers can’t sell it any cheaper.”
The logo for the store and restaurant is a rider on a French Penny Farthing bicycle, an iconic image that represents Bel & Brio’s European influence.
The Penny Farthing was chosen for its representation of the European culture, as it was designed by a French man and it fits right in with the flow and size of the store.
“The Penny Farthing’s main features when it was designed were timber, black metal and brass and our whole store fit out is made of timber, black metal and brass. And the blue is Australia’s ocean so what we try to do is to bring the European look and feel to Australian waters hence the reason of the colour blue,” a spokesman said.
The atmosphere and a unique approach to lighting also play a key part in the distinctiveness of the store, as they are key elements to any gourmet grocer.
“When we designed the whole business, especially the marketplace we did a lot of research into consumer behaviour and obviously design and what we needed to do. It cost us so much more money but we put LED lights on every single shelf so we could then choose what we then brighten a bit more, what’s on 60% lighting, what on 100% lighting, what’s on 30% lighting. And so it controls the flow of walking through the aisles and then at the same time making what we want to stick out, to stick out.”
From the farm
The team behind Bel & Brio believe that one the key features to the businesses success is their own farm in the NSW Central Coast town of Kulnura, as it joins the two parts of the business through vegetables and herbs.
At the moment there is a 50/50 split between food that is produced on the farm and bought from the market.
“We have a 50-acre property and we have 4500 hens that produce enough eggs for us and we also have our vegetables and herbs that grow there, so we store those in a market place and it’s what we use in our kitchen,” the spokesman said.
“You can come and shop, you can have a coffee, you can have dinner, you can have the best wine in Australia. You could have the best whisky from whatever range, whatever region. Our aim is to create the best of everything in its field.”
So is Bel & Brio a model that could be rolled out across the country? Perhaps not. It’s a business tailored to its time and place. The lesson that the rest of the industry might learn from Bel &Brio is this: in this age of the internet and one size fits all, it is vital to for progressive retailers to engage the customer with a unique but constantly changing and adventurous shopping experience.