Brackenvale Retail Centre has always been a large site by anyone’s standards but now it’s "bigger and better than ever", according to manager Sam Hawkes, who collected the latest in a string of accolades at the Forecourt Trader Awards 2006.

Situated on a busy commuter route near Carryduff, around seven miles from Belfast city centre, site owner the Conway Group invested £500,000 in a major refit early last year to celebrate its 10th year in business.

Another 2,500sq ft has been added to the Spar shop - which now covers 6,500sq ft - along with new shelving and refrigeration and two extra till points. The extensive food-to-go department also has all new equipment, including a state-of-the art Bewley’s coffee dock, a hot-food cabinet, three Cuisine De France bread stands and two deli counters.

The refurbishment included bright new imagery throughout. And on top of all this, the site has more recently added an off licence.

"We’re growing and business is growing all the time," says Hawkes. "Our recent refit was a way of thanking all our loyal customers by giving them a more attractive environment in which to shop."

Brackenvale is no stranger to the Forecourt Trader awards and Hawkes was part of the team that won the top title in 2001. He’s been at the site since it started trading in June 1996, starting out working on the shop floor before becoming manager three years ago.

"It’s fabulous to keep getting these awards," he says. "It’s good teamwork that makes Brackenvale so successful."

The site is operated by Merit Retail, a division of the Conway Group, which also owns another forecourt and a c-store in Northern Ireland.

With the customer count standing at around 21,000 a week, the 67 staff at Brackenvale strive to provide a first-rate service, supported by an ongoing training programme.

The site is open 24 hours-a-day, including Christmas Day, which is always busy.

Shoppers are spoilt for choice, with the extended store stocking some 16,000 lines, including specialist ranges you wouldn’t usually expect to see in a forecourt c-store such as organic, gluten-free and meat-free. "We try to source the things our customers want and to make ourselves a bit different," explains Hawkes.

Other services include a post office and national lottery terminal. There’s even an Indian restaurant and a McDonald’s franchise on the same site, and in the summer months a garden centre further boosts the offer.

The forecourt, which is Texaco-branded, has equally impressive facilities, along with a dedicated assistant to give motorists a hand. There are 40 pumps, doing around 100,000 litres of fuel a week, as well as a car wash, two jet-wash bays, a vacuum and a dog wash, making it no surprise that the site also won the award for Best Forecourt Facilities.


=== Main route: Independent with 10 sites or more ===

Motor Fuel Group’s BP Charnwood site in Loughborough is about to be converted back to the Connect and Wild Bean format as part of BP’s new franchise arrangement.

Already a very busy and lucrative site, managing director Sailesh ’Sej’ Sejpal expects the return of the Wild Bean Café;, with its eye-catching signage package, to boost volumes to 8.5m litres a year. Current volumes are around 7.5m to 8m litres.

The bright and spacious 24-hour site is close to the M1 motorway and attracts a lot of HGV business.

It has been run by Heena Patel for the past six years, who said she was "gobsmacked" to win both this award and a second for Best Crisps & Snacks Outlet. Once again, teamwork is the key to its success, and Heena herself also likes to keep a close eye on merchandising within the shop, saying she’s "very hands on".


=== Main route: oil company/supermarket owned & managed ===

Good presentation and excellent customer service are what makes United Co-op Crosshills a winning site, according to manager Emma Gaunt. "We’ve got a good team here. Everyone pulls together and is very conscientious," she says.

The busy 24-hour site is just off the main A59, linking Skipton to the Yorkshire Dales, and attracts a mix of customers from nearby residential and industrial areas, as well as passing tourists and HGV drivers. It was recently refurbished and boasts new pumps and shop fixtures and a newly-installed ’bean-to-cup’ coffee machine.

The c-store generates sales of around £22,000-a-week and includes a bakery, offering hot food-to-go and freshly-made baguettes, as well as alcohol and a small range of fresh meat and vegetables.