Having just spent many days and many thousands of miles driving around the country judging this year’s Forecourt Trader of the Year Awards and on many occasions being mightily impressed it’s rather disappointing to read aspects of Palmer and Harvey’s latest report on the forecourt sector (see News Extra, page 10).

The leading wholesaler in the forecourt sector has commissioned extensive research in conjunction with shopper research specialist Him, which reveals that consumer perception of UK forecourts is "not an especially positive one".

The UK, it seems, is also lagging behind in the design stakes in comparison with some rather stunning examples from Europe take a look at the cover for one!

Well obviously I’ve been visiting some of the best UK sites, and sadly, I know they are the exception, rather than the rule. But while many retailers will complain that they’re being unfairly judged the market is incredibly tough, and it’s hard to justify some of these extremely fancy developments it is unfortunately also true that a clean, modern well-run site with all the facilities is more likely to pull in the crowds than a slightly grotty one.

But it really isn’t all just about spending mega-millions on a new development. Basic cleaning and tidying a constant and tedious ritual I know really does go a long way. There’s nothing more off-putting than a feeling of grubbiness (especially in the little boy’s room!), and you just don’t feel like hanging around perusing what’s on offer. But it’s also true that even a new development doesn’t guarantee success. It needs to be run properly. For example, in the food-to-go category I’ve seen many sites which look good in photographs, but on arrival even at lunchtime have nothing more than a couple of lonely dried-up pastry products on show in an extensive and modern foodservice area, which looks closed, save for a rather unengaging member of staff lurking in the area. What is the point of that?