One of Shell’s newest dealer sites, the Winford Road Garage on the outskirts of Bristol, has come a long way since 1967 when it opened as a local vehicle service centre employing just three people.

In due course a filling station and car sales operation were added to the business. And today the small - but perfectly formed - forecourt serves an affluent rural community, which is why general manager Justin Taylor believes switching to the Shell brand, with its high-profile focus on premium fuels, was a perfect move for the family-owned business.

The change, which marked the end of an 18-year relationship with Esso, was part of a programme of major redevelopment that has been completed in time for the site’s 40th birthday this month.

Over the past two years the shop has been transformed into a fully-fledged convenience store via a £90,000 conversion to Spar, while the forecourt boasts a new jet wash, car vac and an extra fuel tank. The bright new Shell branding has completed a smart-looking forcourt package.

"We signed to Shell last August," explains Justin, who two years ago returned to the business that was set up by his father Geoff.

"Shell just seemed to be far keener and more proactive than Esso were and I think that’s borne out at the moment with their media coverage - you can’t be confused with what Shell is trying to achieve with its fuels. Esso’s marketing, in comparison, has been extremely placid. It’s difficult to work out exactly what the plan is and where Esso is trying to take the brand."

The site is located in the picturesque Chew Valley, just over a hill from the edge of the city, in an area that has become known as Bristol’s ’stockbroker belt’, which is why Justin firmly believes there is local demand for premium fuels.

"The volumes on V-Power are already starting to move up. It’s surprising the number of people who are beginning to recognise the difference in fuels and who will go for a premium grade because of the perceived difference it makes," he says.

Winford Road sold 3.5m litres of fuel in total last year, and Justin believes volumes will grow with Shell.

Such is his confidence in the premium fuels offer that Justin says he is willing to invest in the changes in infrastructure needed to accommodate V-Power diesel once it’s available to the dealer market. "The fuel mix is changing towards diesel and being located where we are, we have a good percentage of high-spec diesel-vehicle customers so I think there’s definitely room for an extra grade," he says.

The site’s 1,250sq ft Spar store has also been developed with a more discerning clientele in mind.

Whereas the old, unbranded store sold mainly snacks, confectionery and a few pies, the new one, in which Spar wholesaler Appleby Westward co-invested, has an alcohol licence, Cuisine De France bakery and a strong delicatessen-style chilled offer with products such as cooked meats, smoked salmon, and cheeses that are sourced locally.

"This area has changed dramatically over the past 10-15 years," explains Justin. "It is now more affluent than it was, so you’ve got to reflect that in what you sell. It’s fair to say that our chilled range is not an archetypal Spar offer."

He has now spotted an opportunity to add fresh fruit and vegetables to the offer: "The field directly opposite us was bought by the local market garden last year. It supplies a couple of local grocers and runs a box scheme, so I’m hoping to get something sorted with it. It will certainly score highly in terms of food miles," he quips.

The Winford Road shop’s transition to a full convenience offer has been a learning curve for everyone involved, but it’s been a vital move in securing the site’s future as a forecourt.

Most people working on the site had come from a car sales and service background which is why, when the shop was developed, Justin returned to the family business. He had plenty of retailing experience from a 16-year career working for the Great Mills and Focus DIY chains.

"My background was in retail, albeit a different kind of retail - I’ve moved from selling cans of paint, which take a very long time to go out of date, to working with a lot of perishable goods," he says.

"My father was heading for 65; the shop was coming on line so it was time for my return. I had helped out with the business when I was growing up, but really had very little to do with it for 16 years. Many of the staff have been here a very long time and probably thought that I knew far more than I actually did, because I was Geoff’s son."

Justin says the family knew they needed to do more than just give the shop a lick of paint. "It was out of date and since fuel retailing on its own is now extremely hard work to make money from, we knew we had to piggy-back it with a proper retail offer if we were going to continue."

The old shop was just over half the size of the new one and, according to Justin, the space wasn’t well utilised: "We’d just added bits here and there over the years and moved things around. We needed to start again with an empty space."

Since the conversion, shop sales have more than doubled and currently stand at around £12,500 a week, with a target of £18,000. The upmarket chilled offer alone now accounts for around 10% of shop sales. Justin says: "Before the conversion, our sales were very transient, we attracted mainly people on the move. Now we’re also attracting a number of customers who’ll come in and spend a reasonable amount on a basket full of food. More women come in than previously, which is also an encouraging indicator."

With the latest transformation of the business complete, the site will officially mark its 40tt birthday with a community open day in June. And in-keeping with the differentiated fuel offer, the guest of honour will be a Shell Formula One Ferrari.


=== The shell package ===

There are currently 259 Shell dealers, with 2006 said to have been a very successful year for recruitment.

Tony Langley, Shell’s UK dealer manager, says: "We had more dealer conversions last year than in any of the previous six years. We’re really excited about our dealer business and are very interested in looking at good quality sites for conversion."

The Shell dealer package is now Platts-based, rather than margin share, and Langley believes it’s a very competitive deal, supported by the differentiated fuels offer and Plus Points loyalty scheme.