Bon Marche Stores are a part of the OK Zimbabwe Limited Group which  includes OK Stores and OK Mart Stores. The Group currently has 50 OK Supermarkets, 8 Bon Marche Stores and 7 OK Mart Stores spread across Zimbabwe. Bon Marche Stores are concentrated in Harare with branches in select low density suburbs including Avondale, Belgravia, Chisipite, Borrowdale, Borrowdale Brooke, Eastlea, Mount Pleasant and Westgate. ‘Bon Marche’ is a French phrase that roughly translates as ‘it’s a good deal’ or ‘a bargain’. OK Zimbabwe Limited has a long history in Zimbabwe. Their fifirst store opened in First Street in Harare (then Salisbury) in 1942 and they’ve continued to grow ever since to become one of the leading retail outlets in the country. OK Zimbabwe Limited is now listed on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange.

Recently OK Zimbabwe Limited has embarked on a project to renovate and improve all their existing stores and the Avondale branch was selected as the flagship for Bon Marche’s upgrades. The Avondale branch first opened in the 1970s and was last renovated in 2012, so the interior had become a little dated and it was due for a facelift. OK Zimbabwe Ltd had a brief to enlarge the supermarket and bring its image up to regional and international standards and this task was led by Architect Tsungayi Nyatsanza.

They also wanted the new store to make a statement within the Avondale Shopping Centre proclaiming itself as a cut above the rest of the surrounding shops. The old structure was originally split in two with a diagonally angled front on the right-hand side. The open space created by the angled shop fronts was taken up by parking bays. The design team’s solution was to create a single unified façade extending the whole width of the building and incorporating the parking space into the interior of the store. Parking in the Shopping Centre is generally a bit congested but tends to free up once the banks close at 3.00 pm and the majority of the other shops close at 5.00 pm. Bon Marche is usually busiest after 5.00 pm when shoppers call in after work on their way home so sacrificing a few parking bays was not a huge problem.

Straightening up the front added 460 square metres of interior space as well as modernising and updating the exterior. The flfloor level of the shop is considerably higher than the parking area so ramps lead up to the forecourt and entrance and a trolley bay has been incorporated on the left side, behind a planter box. The most significant change to the façade is the dramatic new roof line which sweeps up from the old roof height on the right to double height on the left hand side. The new roof section is higher than the surrounding structures so it makes a strong visual statement and helps to make the building stand out. There’s extensive glazing between the old wall height and the new rooflfline which also gives the shop front a much more contemporary look.

The exterior colour palette is a muted khaki/green on the walls with a dark charcoal grey Chromadek parapet above the glazing. The parapet creates a strong background for the big, bright green Bon Marche logo. There are two large entrance/exit openings which can be closed with roller shutter doors in the evenings and on the far right is a smaller dedicated entrance for the Liquor Store. The liquor department can also be accessed from inside the shop The additional space at the front of the shop means that the tills could be moved forward freeing up more shelving and display capacity.

There are now 12 tills – up from the original 8 – so customers don’t have to wait in a queue and customer service is improved. The liquor section has its own till which also relieves pressure on the general supermarket tills. Apart from the tills the new space incorporates additional gondola shelving as well as the fresh fruit and vegetable section. The natural light from the high glass windows, or vertical skylights, helps to make the fruit and veg look particularly attractive and accentuates the bright colours of the produce. It set the tone for the rest of the shop emphasising wholesome freshness and goodness. The new section doesn’t have a suspended ceiling, instead the full height of the roof can be seen adding to a more spacious and open feel. Steel beams can be seen below the

Alububble insulation and the air-conditioning ducting is exposed which gives it a more modern, industrial look. The roof has been designed and engineered so that there are no supporting pillars keeping the new space totally open and adaptable. The older section has supporting pillars which limits the way the shelves can be laid out. Light grey, non slip, heavy duty porcelain tiles have been used throughout the shop helping to link the old and the new sections. Following OK Zimbabwe fifinishes specifification, and with the guidance of Architect Nyatsanza, in the original part of the store dark grey ceiling tiles were installed which actually makes the ceiling recede and look higher than it really is. In the original part of the store the layout has not been radically changed – the Bakery, Deli and Butchery counters still run along the back wall but new counters, shopfifitting, signage and branding modernises their overall look. These three sections have been pushed a little forward into the shop to create more space within these departments so that they can cater for the expected higher customer turnover The additional space gained by the front extension has meant that Bon Marche has been able to expand their DIY hardware department now branded as ‘Farm It, Build It’.

It has a good range of general garden and hardware stock and gives an introduction to the wider range of farming and building products which are available at their sister outlet OKmart Mega Stores.

In addition Bon Marche has been able to enlarge their House and Home department with a wider ran                                                          ge of appliances and home accessories, including an outdoor and camping section. OK Operations requested ablution facilities for all future renovations to Bon Marche stores space which sets them apart from other supermarkets. Just an extra facility for customers’ convenience and comfort. The beverage section’s fridges back onto the fridges for the liquor department. It saves on cooling equipment and also helps cordon off the liquor store from the general shop.

The liquor department is much bigger and now offers a wider range of wines and other top quality products. Generally, in all departments, the extra space has allowed Bon Marche to expand their product choices. They’ve kept all the old products and added new ranges – mostly for more upmarket and exclusive products.

Work on the renovations started in mid-2020 with the official opening of the new and improved store taking place in December 2021. Work on the project was slowed down by the Covid-19 pandemic and also because of the fact that the store didn’t close while the renovations were taking place. During opening hours workers could only perform the less disruptive tasks while noisy and dusty work would have to take place at night after the store had closed. The project had to be done in carefully planned phases to minimise disturbance and inconvenience for shoppers.

Nyatsanza Architects designed the renovations and extensions with Sirston Consultants acting as the engineers and project managers. The main contractor was Manifest Contractors, while Creative Systems supplied and fitted the aluminium and glass windows, the ceilings and the shopfitting, and the roof was installed by City Fabricators with materials supplied by Africa Steel. The project was important not only for the Avondale store but also to create a template and a brand image for future renovations of Bon Marche’s other outlets. The renovations and improvements are also likely to inspire other property owners in the Shopping Centre to consider upgrading their own premises.

Bon Marche Avondale is open from 7.30 am to 8.00 pm seven days a week, so drop in for a great range of products at bargain prices.

text by Michael Nott 

photos by Structure and Design

plans by Nyatsanza Architects

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