Milan Study Tour

Milan study tour

SLR joined an ACS-organised study tour to Milan last month to learn from our Italian retailing cousins and see first-hand how the convenience and grocery retailing industries are coping with change on the continent.

There are very few things that a local retailer can do that are more productive than spending time in other stores. Nothing beats seeing how others are approaching the challenges of running a store in 2018 and – while it can be difficult to justify time out of the business – it is invariably worth the effort. Particularly if the stores you plan to visit are in the stunning Italian city of Milan.

SLR was lucky enough to be invited to join a brief study tour to the historic city organised by the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) last month and it proved to be a remarkably insightful trip. To be more precise, the trip was organised by ACS Commercial Director Paul Chamberlain as a recce for an official ACS study tour to Milan later this year. Nonetheless, the trip offered the opportunity to visit over a dozen stores in a short space of time and get a real flavour for how food retailing is progressing in the city.

Several well-known retailing figures including Coventry Nisa retailer and ACS Board member Paul Cheema were also on the trip. As was former Nisa CEO and Co-op COO Neil Turton alongside a number of suppliers.

Even from just a couple of days in Milan, it’s fair to say that the standard of retailing is surprisingly high. Yes, it’s a completely different market to the UK with a lot more sunshine and a lot more focus on fresh fruit and veg and chilled produce in particular, but there were nonetheless plenty of lessons to be taken from the trip and shared with you. It was a particularly enlightening experience to visit the various stores with Paul Cheema, a top-notch retailer with an infectious passion and drive for turning great ideas he finds into reality in his own store.

By the end of the first day’s tour Paul had been so taken with all the beguiling and inviting fresh fruit and veg stands outside so many of the city’s stores that he had his brother replicate the idea outside his own store in Coventry – that same day. From a nice idea at midday, Paul and his brother had turned it into a reality by 5pm with a five-metre display in place outside the store, fully stocked and up for sale!

An overview of the study tour

Depending upon how you look at it, our planning for the order of the store visits was back to front as the first store we visited early on the Thursday morning – a sort of four-floor food and drink department store called Eataly – was possibly the most impressive food store I’d ever seen. Think Whole Foods and Fortnum and Mason combined, but better. Much better.

Not only was the store fitted out and designed to the very highest standards, the range of products available was simply phenomenal and the merchandising was sublime. Most of the entire ground floor is given over to fresh fruit and veg while there are separate entire floors dedicated to fish, fresh and cured meats and wine. There’s also at least one restaurant on every floor and what was most surprising of all, given the sheer size of the store and the eye-watering pricing model, was the fact that on a Thursday morning around 9am it was absolutely packed with shoppers and diners.

Tables outside the store also allowed shoppers to grab breakfast or lunch in the Milanese sun or simply sip an espresso or glass of wine. The entire experience is a joyful one for the shopper.

After such an impressive start it was always going to be difficult to maintain the standard but to be fair to Paul Chamberlain, he had managed to find another 10 or 11 stores that, while not quite to Eataly standard, were still show-stoppers in their own right. From a small 1,500sq ft store beneath an office block to an entire store dedicated to CBD cannabis-derived products, from a typical supermarket to world-class ice cream shop, we saw some genuinely stunning examples of how retailing is done differently in Milan. Not completely differently, but differently enough to be able to fill a good few pages of a notepad with ideas to bring home.

So here is a collection of photos from the trip to share some of the experiences and hopefully offer some ideas that may be of some use in your own stores.


An emporium of excellence…


This mid-range supermarket is a world away from a standard UK multiple…

Express Eat & Shop

This small c-store under an office block stocks an exceptional range of premium lines…

The best of the rest

Milan also threw a few curveballs in our direction…