Every now and then a new forecourt development emerges that raises the bar just a little bit higher. The launch of George Hammond plc’s reconstructed Dover South

operation in July marked just one of those moments. It features what is constantly referred to as the Spar ’store of the future’ a 2,900 sq ft (287sq m) format featuring a hot food area with Cuisine de France, Tim Horton’s, and Spar’s ’...to go’ format. And, according to John Ryeland soon to become joint managing director of the privately-owned, long-established shipping and retail company it could be the shape of things to come, not just for the forecourt convenience industry, but particularly for the group, as the development of three more sites is under way.

George Hammond operates eight forecourts. Dover South is a high-volume BP-branded site, located on the A20 approach to the Port of Dover, which the company has owned for many years. It serves the commuters, travellers, workers and residents in and around the ferry port. Development of the site has followed the industry trends from being totally focused on fuel volume in the early ’90s, to changing the balance to the shop side of the business in more recent years. That balance has moved on again, with the decision to develop the biggest store possible without falling foul of the Sunday Trading laws; as well as backing that up with a spacious, accommodating forecourt, with the best of the latest technology.

"You could say the project took three years to complete from the start of planning," confirms John, who is delighted with what has been achieved. "We had a deadline to be open for the peak period in the summer. It’s been like a military operation closing the site, operating from a Portakabin, carefully moving and storing equipment we were going to keep; all the building work, keeping to a schedule and so on. So the open day in July was a relief when it came but now we’ve got to run it!"The development began with the demolition and relocation of the company’s head office from the Dover South site. This was replaced with a comprehensive car wash and valeting facility which operates under the Aquatec brand.

The shop has more than doubled in size using every available bit of space. The front of the store was actually extended forward, eating slightly into the forecourt area. A completely new building was erected to house the toilets these had been removed in an earlier development of the store, which John now describes as a bad move. The new facilities are designed to be secure, but clean and accommodating.

The forecourt was completely re-pumped with Torex-supplied Petrotec pumps (Portuguese) equipped with Stage IIb, media, talking pumps, and integrated LPG. Adblue is available through a twin hose centre HGV pump from a bulk storage facility in the truck refuelling zone. There is LED under-canopy lighting a first UK installation by Torex.

The lights are described as low-maintenance, low-energy consumption (25% of former cost of metal Halides), which has given an estimated power saving of around £6,000 a year. The site also features two free-to-use ATMs, one of which will be the first ATM to dispense euros outside mainstream airports and railway stations.

As for the shop, a trip to some Eurospar sites in Northern Ireland, and Spar’s Battlefield development convinced John and current managing director Brian Madderson (he retires at the end of this month) to go ahead with the creation of a Spar store of the future, to include a mix of ’take me home’ and ’eat me now’ products from tinned and packet grocery to meals made on the spot and everything in between.

In the early planning stages it was decided that the key driver in the store would be the Spar branded ’...to go’ area. The result is an impressive offer more akin to that offered in the convenience palaces of Northern Ireland. Situated at the back of the store, the food-to-go area draws customers towards it through signage and ceiling design. The offer features a combination of serve-over, self-serve and eating area needed to cater for the varied customer the van driver to the holiday maker to the commuter. The extensive breakfast offer includes breakfast in a bap (branded a Spar Sizzler) or baguette, but with the ingredients cooked on a griddle in front of the customer. Emphasis after the morning rush switches to freshly cooked burgers and chicken products with the ability to ’have it your way’. The area also serves up lunch if you fancy chicken curry and rice or chilli con carne. It also operates a ’City Sub’ concept where customers choose the bread and fillings and watch it being made for them. All this is new territory for the traditional UK forecourt, and the first months are a huge learning curve for the company.

A self-serve Tim Horton’s coffee and doughnuts offer completes the ’...to go’ area, and is already serving 1,000 cups a week. The store uses six plasma screens in the store and one on each pump on the forecourt. The four above the food area advertise the menu on offer while the two above the counter advertise Spar promotions and special deals, as do the ones on the forecourt.

The whole system is run from one central computer on site and is all supplied by Indigo media.Another major addition to the store is the large fruit and veg section which, together with flowers, dominates the entrance to the store.

The overall shop range has increased by 1,400 products in all, including alcohol lines sales of which are apparently building at an impressive rate. Shop turnover is running at 20% up on pre-development year-on-year. Fuel volumes are 22% up. "These projects are not to be taken lightly, but with a mix of trepidation and excitement. We have certainly developed the making of a solid base for other opportunities in the group. Tips to anyone undertaking a similar project would be: take your time, don’t rush but do the research. We’re profitable, we’re making an investment in the future. We’ve had to raise our game. We’re competing with the likes of M&S and Tesco, so we have to develop our business accordingly."