LOCATION: Just off the A1, at the junction with the A192 to Morpeth, is the Penny Petroleum-owned Grand Stand Service Station. Last year it was refurbished and the off licence, now promoted with the theme 'Penny Black', was extended and won the Forecourt Trader of the Year Award for the best site with a licence to sell alcohol.
FORECOURT: The forecourt and shop area are spacious. To the far right is a separate equine clinic and extending behind, but connected to the shop, are the Penny Country Store and Fairmoor Centre.
The four islands of pumps were all in good order and refuelling trade was steady. Fuel prices were competitive.
Customer parking is easy, as the forecourt, country store and Fairmoor Centre each had separate designated parking spaces.
Forecourt services include Calor Gas, an airline and water but surprisingly despite the space, no car wash facility. There is a charity 'clothing & shoes' collection bin.
To the front of the shop is an ATM with a transaction charge of £1.85 and a display of domestic and barbecue fuels, bottled water, newspapers and flowers.
On the perimeter fence is a large Londis banner promoting 'Half Price Wines' and there are display boards for 'Get Fresh' Tchibo coffee-to-go and My Hermes Parcel Shop.
SHOP: The shop has the Fairmoor Londis fascia. It's a well-merchandised store. To the left of the entrance and towards the till area is the Tchibo coffee bar and a microwave for customer use. The food-to-go range was limited and could possibly be expanded to include hot food to go beyond the hot dog offering and use of the microwave.
Cabinet space designated to the successful Cook range seemed to be generating good sales as was a range of locally produced 'home made' frozen foods under the Shahi brand. Fresh products were limited to a few basics but there was a very good range of local products. Many were supported by free consumer leaflets.
The award-winning Penny Black wine cellar is stunning. The black décor, fixtures, fittings and lighting are very effective. It offers a great range of wines and beers including many local brands. All were well merchandised and descriptive shelf labelling was helpful. The one negative was that too many of the wines on promotion were sold out.
Obviously the offers are working but there must have been a good number of disappointed customers like me that could not buy the promoted wines.
Surprisingly, given the abundant space available, the shop does not have a customer toilet. But, a notice on a 'Staff only' door allows its use. That's good, but the facility needs a good tidy up and clean.
PROGNOSIS: This is an intriguing set-up, a forecourt and shop co-located with a country store and an arts and crafts centre. And all part of the expanding Penny Petroleum business.
Owner David Penny has built a significant portfolio of sites in Scotland and the north of England and is ambitious for further growth. He is reported as trying to develop an unusual business model that seeks to offer eclectic businesses on the forecourts. He appears to be succeeding at the Fairmoor site.
DIAGNOSIS: Basic essentials for meeting shopper expectations remain range, friendly staff and good customer service, a well organised and clean shop, and services and support for the local community. The Grand Stand Service Station meets most of these.
PRESCRIPTION: The forecourt has no car wash facility so perhaps an opportunity to have a 'hand wash' service?
Change the ATM from a charge system to 'free to use'.
Upgrade the staff toilet facility used by customers. Better still develop one dedicated to shoppers.
Further development of the fresh and locally produced ranges will help the shop keep up with trends.
Social media would be a good way of informing customers about promotions and activities at the Grand Stand forecourt and shop.
The issue of promotions being out of stock needs addressing and the development of tastings and a Penny Black wine club should further benefit this area.