While much of the industry and the media have focused on the pressure being put on forecourts and the motorway services sector by record high fuel prices, VAT rises and people’s increasing unwillingness to spend, Coffee Nation claims to have seen buoyant sales in this market. Chief executive Scott Martin says there’s no doubt that it’s a difficult climate and a challenging time for operators, but by being more innovative, creative and tenacious there is considerable scope for achieving and increasing sales. In spite of current market conditions, he believes hard times can actually be beneficial in forcing a re-examination of business practices.

As a company, the Coffee Nation strategy is clear and simple. The goals are to attract new customers to Coffee Nation sites across the UK; and incentivise existing, loyal customers to purchase its products more frequently.

"In the past 12 months, we have achieved continual month-on-month growth across the forecourt sector, with our sales in November 2010 up by as much as 40% on the year before," says Martin. "To achieve this we have implemented a site-support programme that has considered numerous aspects of the supply chain and looked at how we can improve our relationship with partners and consumers. This has included increasing point-of-sale advertising to educate new customers to Coffee Nation’s availability. We have also launched loyalty schemes and promotions to boost repeat custom and brand loyalty, and have been working with our partners to improve engagement with their regional operations teams and to integrate sales targets and marketing initiatives."

Martin says increased product sampling has paid dividends, both at specific sites and at targeted events and the importance of getting product into the consumer’s hands cannot be under-estimated: "By encouraging new customers to trial products and by increasing familiarity and confidence in these products, forecourt operators and suppliers can generate both new business and drive repeat purchase," he stresses.

"Rather than dwelling on how the market has become more challenging, I think suppliers and partners should focus on innovation and consider how you would launch a product in today’s climate. A fresh approach is needed.

"This is an opportunity to not just revisit a product’s unique selling point, but also the company’s culture and its approach to sales, marketing and customer service. By operating a ’back to basics’ mentality you can interrogate existing processes and reinvigorate the way in which you sell and market your products. The past two years have brought challenges to businesses across many sectors including the forecourt industry and maintaining let alone growing sales has been difficult. However, the forecourt sector is still a buoyant, profitable and ’in-demand’ market and this is unlikely to change. If we can alter conventional thinking about driving sales and achieving growth, then I’m sure new opportunities can be found and more ambitious targets can be set whether through product or market diversification, employing economies of scale, developing strategic partnerships or implementing more effective marketing.

"I for one think that operators within the forecourt sector are well placed to transform it from a challenging environment, into a prosperous one."

Top tips

l Back to basics reconsider your products, prices, packaging, promotion and your aspirations for the company

l Work with partners suppliers and partners all want to enhance sales too, so work together to create economies of scale, share efficiencies and develop mutually beneficial opportunities

l Creative pricing consider packaged deals and cross-product promotions, which can stimulate purchases and are an effective tool in a difficult trading environment

l Remember who your customer is find new ways to reach your customers; use market research, direct and digital marketing and social media to receive feedback and expectations from customers and valuable information on how trends and tastes are changing