Doing your homework is key in so many of the things we do and something John Stevenson, managing director of Stevensons Forecourts, did plenty of before deciding on the design of his new-to-industry Stevenson of Oxbridge site in Northallerton, north Yorkshire. The site was previously used as a tyre-fitting garage. "We spent many hours looking at different key design elements such as the canopy and shop structure, and with the help of a very clever image producer we looked at something like 20 canopy designs and shop front aesthetics before making our decision," says John.
"In my opinion the canopy element of a forecourt is one that I would always try and make a statement with, if possible. Fortunately the planners really wanted a contemporary looking site, which made our design a little more fun. We had around 15 visual images produced all showing different canopy designs before we settled on this one. We approached everything with an ’it has to be practical’ and ’everything is possible’ attitude. Some of the canopy designs were ruled out purely because pigeons could and would probably nest under them. We decided on having a curved canopy manufactured at a considerably higher cost than a standard canopy to make the site a real eye-catching focal point, but we also added to its contemporary look by not having fuel branding on it, which the planners really liked. The site is surrounded by houses and you are upon the site before you see it anyway, so canopy branding would have given little benefit.
"I think the canopy we opted for cost circa £18k which is more than a standard canopy but which I think was money well spent."
The site was a traditional bricks and mortar build and to break up some of the potential blandness, they added cedar wood to the front elevation and a high curtain walling glass frontage.
Beyond the big design elements, John says the site had to be practical to manage volume. High-speed pumps with buttons to double the speed again have helped keep the forecourt flowing and by adding Ad Blue to an island customers can fill their vehicles with diesel and Ad Blue without the need to move.
John says they worked hard to reduce the site’s carbon footprint by making everything as efficient as possible. "Overheads are always rising so making the site as efficient as possible was an easy decision. We invested an extra £10k in refrigeration to get what I am told is one of the most efficient systems on the market and also around £20k on solar power; we should have recouped the extra cost of these within five years. All of this plus LED lighting and energy-efficient glass and air conditioning have given us an EPC rating of A9, which apparently is very good and not seen on many buildings, especially forecourts."
Martin Steggles, managing director of Global-MSI says that although the design of forecourts has changed over the years it remains critically important. "As well as the design of the forecourt and fuel infrastructure, maximising sales floor area in the building and providing as much vehicle parking as possible are key considerations."
He says clients will normally employ an architect to create planning drawings, so they normally have a good idea of what they require before the Global-MSI design team provides the structural and detailed design later in the process.
"Global-MSI has provided forecourt structures for many years and is therefore well positioned to offer advice and further inspiration when needed," says Steggles.
He adds that maximising sales floor space seems to be the main priority so much so that they are increasingly seeing plans for two-storey forecourt sales buildings.
With regard to environmental concerns, he says: "Many clients now require air tests to be carried out after the buildings are constructed. Air tightness testing is a recognised method of measuring the extent to which air is lost through leaks caused by gaps in the building fabric. The benefits of air-tight buildings include lower running costs and reduced carbon emissions."
As for challenges thrown up during projects, Steggles says that provided they receive timely information at design stage, most potential issues can be resolved prior to starting construction. "Then it is usually only the weather that can slow down progress. As Global-MSI operates right across the British Isles there is a fair chance that somewhere it will be windy and wet as it was during construction of a project on the Isle of Skye in 2019."
Nick Daffern, MD at modular retail specialist Rapid Retail, believes design lies at the heart of creating a successful forecourt environment; one which provides a safe, friendly and welcoming experience for customers.
"There needs to be a level of flexibility that enables forecourt operators to make the maximum use of the space they have available and to deploy changes and enhancements at speed. A design that is distinct, visually eye-catching and will be enticing to passing trade, while being operationally efficient, is also essential. And of course, cost-effectiveness, to ensure they achieve the highest return on investment," he explains.
"Environmental concerns are becoming more important in the UK, but Europe continues to lead the way on this front. For example, in France the modular shop units we supply are typically required to have solar power and battery storage as standard. These additional features do come at a marginal additional cost but it is something UK retailers are starting to ask about."
One area of growth for Rapid Retail is in pop-up shops also known as portable or modular retail units that Daffern says offer a flexible and highly affordable solution. "They are robust, can be designed to exactly mimic the look and feel of a high street store, are quick to build and install and can make use of any available space. So it’s no surprise that interest continues to grow in these options, for example from Euro Garages to Co-Op, Spar and Roadchef to Tesco.
"Last summer we provided a Greggs retail unit for Euro Garages measuring 12m x 7m, which was one of the largest pop-up shops Rapid Retail has ever produced. It looks great and its installation marked the start of a partnership we hope will run for many years," says Daffern.
He explains that pop-up shops generally require planning permission, except in certain cases where they are only being used for a short time, such as a temporary deployment while a permanent store is being refurbished. Daffern says operators should always check if permission is required prior to submitting an application.
Euro Garages’ Rapid installation
Last May Rapid Retail announced a new partnership with Euro Garages’ parent company EG Group, which launched with the installation of a large new pop-up Greggs shop at Kinmel Park West Services in North Wales.
Rapid Retail designed, built and installed the bespoke Greggs modular unit in under eight weeks, with further installations for the group, now in the pipeline.
The retail unit has been branded and fitted out in line with existing bricks and mortar Greggs stores. Measuring 12m x 7m, the unit is one of the largest pop-up shops Rapid Retail has ever produced. It features wood-effect non-slip vinyl flooring, wall- mounted displays and built-in refrigeration.
David Myers, UK development director, EG Group, comments: "We’re really pleased with the new retail unit. It looks fantastic and delivers on our commitment to providing premium retail convenience for our customers.
"Modular retail units are the perfect solution for us; they can be customised to our brand partners’ requirements allowing us to maximise the external space we have available on our sites. Fundamentally modular also enables us to minimise trading disruption. They are not only cost-effective but look great and can be quickly deployed, which helps our pipeline planning across the EG Group portfolio."
Nick Daffern, MD, Rapid Retail, says: "The popularity of this type of modular retail unit continues to grow, not only on the forecourt but for use in shopping centre car parks, train station platforms, sports grounds and other high footfall locations."