HOME WORKERS: WHAT'S IN STORE
The latest part of our feature looking into off-pitch operations on a matchday at Stamford Bridge focuses on the club's Megastore…
It is probably only a small percentage of fans attending a game at Stamford Bridge who have not passed through the doors of the Chelsea Megastore at some point or other. New visitors may be looking for a piece of merchandise as a souvenir of their visit, while others, perhaps more frequent visitors, will head inside with a clear idea of the item they would like to purchase.
Matchday is of course the busiest time for the club shop, and Megastore manager Robbie Branch tells the official Chelsea website about the work which goes in ahead of a game.
'For a weekend match, we have some staff that are here from first thing in the morning, around 8.30am, and they work all the way through until the end,' he explains. 'Then we have the part-time staff, the ones who are at college and university, some of them will be here at midday and others will arrive just before the main rush.
'For a midweek game, there are supporters hanging around the stadium all day, but the majority of the crowds start coming in from roughly 5pm, so we need to make sure we're fully staffed to look after them.
'Every till in the shop is open, plus the mobile units outside, so we have to prepare all the floats in the cash office for them. We need to make sure we've got enough stock so we don't sell out of certain items. We have a warehouse in Camberley in Surrey which fully replenishes us in the week leading up to a game, but in a week such as this one, when we have two home games in the space of three days, it doesn't give us much time to recover in between.'
As manager, Branch's matchday responsibilities are varied, but the onus is on giving the supporters a smooth shopping experience.
'I need to make sure we're fully staffed, so I have to keep an eye on sickness and lateness. I make sure there's plenty of stock and at this time of year we have a lot of discounts and promotions, so I need to be on top of all those things as well.
'On a matchday it gets very busy and supporters don't want to be queuing for ages. They want to be able to come in here and find what they want with no problems and, above all else, they want good service. We move things around in order to refresh the store, and what they want might not be in the same place as they've seen it previously, so we have to make sure they know where everything is.'
With around 40,000 spectators heading to Stamford Bridge on the day of a game, the individual profile of customers differs significantly; for some, it's the first - and possibly only - time they'll visit the stadium, while for others, season ticket holders and members in particular, a trip to SW6 is a regular occurrence.
While those fans heading into the Megastore have the opportunity to snap up anything from training kits to pyjamas, one item above all else continues to be the big seller.
'At Christmas there are a lot of gifts, but generally on a matchday the most popular items are replica shirts, with many fans having names and numbers printed,' says Branch.
'For European games, supporters will come in to get the specialised European-style printing, plus the kit the players train in is different to Premier League games. For that reason, on a Champions League night everything is geared towards the European merchandise, and then the following morning we have to change it back to the way it normally is, with all the Premier League items.
'You can get everything in store regardless of the competition but it's just more prominent depending on the type of fixture.'
While the hours building up to kick-off are extremely busy, staff are afforded a break during the match itself when, on police advice, the store closes, before re-opening immediately after the final whistle sounds. The police would rather have fans either inside the stadium or out on the road.
The shop staff can watch the game on a live feed before they open up again after kick off.
Today's game against Crystal Palace is only the second occasion this season on which we've played at home on a Saturday at 3pm, historically the traditional kick-off time.
With that in mind, and with Christmas just around the corner, an extremely busy day is anticipated.
'The weekend game is always busier as it's a proper shopping day,' says Branch. 'We sell a lot after the game on a Saturday, whereas for a midweek game, even though we open after the game at around 9.45pm or 10pm, they only have around half an hour in store. On a Saturday, we'll re-open at 4.45pm all the way through until 6pm or 6.30pm so it's a lot busier.
'The kick-off time plays a part in how busy we are. The classic Saturday 3pm is usually our biggest day, Sunday at 4pm is busy but people like to have a lie-in or spend the day with their family and after the game they don't like to hang around because they have work or school the next day, so that all plays a part.'