LOCATION: It has been some time since I visited a large site with a shop operated by a national multiple and where, perhaps, the local team has little strategic autonomy its task being to run the enterprise effectively as dictated by head office.
The Wisley BP/M&S Simply Food service station is situated on the south bound carriageway on the A3, just before Guildford.
FORECOURT: The site is officially signed some miles ahead and gives a pictorial indication of services available but not yet comparing fuel prices at upcoming service stations. Get closer and the BP-branded pole is visible, fuel prices are illuminated and there’s no need to drive on to find more competitive prices as these are spot on. During my visit all of the pumps were in use most of the time that’s six islands and three diesel-only lines. Phew, that’s a lot of fuel being pumped.
The site is shared with a Little Chef and the whole area was heaving. Parking is a challenge. Although there are lots of spaces, they were all occupied most of the time and there was a long line of HGVs parked on the slip road back onto the A3. With such a high volume of vehicles refuelling, inevitably the site is well used and there is some litter around.
The long shop front has an ATM that is free to use and a wide range of products to stimulate sales. Plenty of winter-oriented products were on sale including screen wash, anti-freeze and canisters of de-icer.
SHOP: The long shop fascia is corporate green with the distinctive M&S Simply Food logo.
Like the forecourt, the shop too was heaving. At the entrance is the lottery play station, a large display of flowers and the start of a great number of chillers. But, many potential shoppers were heading directly to the customer toilets.
The shop is crammed full of items for sale all display cabinets fully stocked, lots of free-standing floor display units, wire display baskets, hanging strips and way out of reach of most customers tins of biscuits on top of cabinets.
The hot food and drink offerings are branded Wild Bean Café and by the serve-over counter was a small clean table and seating area ready for use. Despite the busyness of the shop, this area was quite slow with few customers. I remain convinced that this would all be better if branded M&S.
Multibuy offers abound with lots of shelf talkers inviting shoppers to apply for the new Sparks card.
My visit was around lunchtime and most of the customers in the shop seemed just to be paying for fuel, some had grabbed a few items but none were doing a reasonable shop. There was a long line of customers at the tills.
Both my wife and I were very surprised and disappointed in the state of the customer toilets. Both urgently required a deep clean. The many toilet roll inners on the floor was a sure sign of a lack of care and attention.
PROGNOSIS: Since BP and Marks and Spencer started their partnership some 10 years ago, there are now around 200 joint BP and M&S Simply forecourts.
BP seems to have overcome the problem of not giving Nectar points to M&S Simply Food shoppers who now have the opportunity to participate in the Sparks scheme.
The assumption must be that BP and M&S will continue to expand their partnership.
DIAGNOSIS: In theory, the BP M&S Simply Food partnership has a lot going for it in practice it very much depends on how the customer sees it. In the case of Wisley South, there are some operational issues.
PRESCRIPTION: One challenge is an enviable one the sheer volume of visitors to the site. And then the number of options they have. This M&S Simply Food shop certainly provides the visitor with a number of convenience options. But too many choices can overwhelm to the point that the shopper chooses nothing. Category management must be used to keep the shopping experience as simple as possible and to maximise sales.
The high level of usage is obviously a major challenge to keeping the toilets to an acceptable standard. They urgently need attention and a major clean and maintenance programme to reflect the standards demanded by BP and M&S Simply Food and, most of important of all, the customers.