Phil Tout knows that stocking his store’s shelves with healthier products equals one thing - healthier sales. When Phil decided to knock down his Esso forecourt in Nailsea, north Somerset, and build a much bigger and more modern version, increasing the amount of fresh and premium food and drink was a priority. And the 4,000 sq ft Budgens store, which opened in November, has certainly not
disappointed him. "The chilled and fresh category is the main driver of the business," says Phil, who runs the independent site with his wife Lesley.
"So 45-50% of the shop is now given over to fresh foods rather than ambient products. People seem to like it, we’re already seeing sales of £45,000 a week, and we’re expecting to double that once we’ve been open for a few more months and people know what we offer. It’s a very exciting time to be in this business."
The Touts are old hands at running forecourts. They’ve been in the business for more than 25 years - Phil was previously a motor mechanic but got into petrol retailing after buying a workshop that also sold petrol in a small way. They run another site in the village of Langford which also offers more than the traditional forecourt offering - as well as doing their weekly shop, customers can get their hair cut by the Touts’ daughter Buffy. They also have a store in Cheddar.
But back to Nailsea, and Phil proudly discloses that the site was designed by award-winning architect Alec Cornish-Trestrail. The cavernous 4,000sq ft shop certainly has a very modern feel to it - it has been designed with lots of windows to make it very light, and it has wide aisles with colourful displays and seemingly acres of fridges and freezers. Phil had a lot of say in the design of the retail building, one aspect of which he was particularly adamant about: "I did not want a suspended ceiling, so I asked Alec to come up with an alternate design," he says. "From my experience, suspended ceilings are more trouble than they’re worth - you get workmen coming in to do wiring or fit security cameras, and they leave dirty finger marks all over them."
The result is only seen by craning your neck up about 5m, to an open ceiling with panelling. Phil explains that the design includes lights which hang down at normal ceiling level, which generally keeps the eye at a lower level.
Customers are spoilt for choice in the shop, which as well as the impressive fresh fruit and veg section - now eight bays x 1.25m - has a large food-to-go operation including a self-service salad bar, Indian takeaways and snacks like chicken tikka skewers and samosas, pasties, pizzas, breakfast rolls and several varieties of paninis. Bread is bought-in frozen and baked on site. The fresh and chilled cabinets also contain appetising-looking fresh pasta and sauces, smoothies and juices. There is also an extensive selection of alcohol, including bottled beers from the local Butcombe Brewery and chilled wine and lager. Plus there’s a seven-door freezer and a good selection of crisps and cereals.
The 24-hour store, open seven days a week, also offers ’greener’ products, with locally-sourced sausages and cheeses, the Ecover range of cleaning products, and organic chocolate from premium brand Green & Blacks. The shop also offers National Lottery tickets, an ATM and the usual fresh flowers, tobacco and car care products. It all seems to be very popular with the main local customer base, as well as commuters travelling to and from Bristol - which is seven miles away.
The shopfitting, air conditioning and refrigeration cost £230,000, and it’s all a far cry from the basic 1,800 sq ft shop which previously stood on the site. In total, the site was closed for 15 weeks for the revamp, and despite only re-opening at the end of November, Phil says that within two months, fuel sales were already back to previous levels of about 90,000 litres a week. However he expects to get this figure up to 120,000 within a few months. Not bad when you consider there’s a sizeable Tesco forecourt - with a store about one-and-a-half-times as big as the Touts’, just down the road.
The forecourt itself has a five-island starting gate design. It has two 85,000-litre double-capacity, double-skin tanks, offering three grades of Esso fuel: unleaded, Super Plus, and diesel. According to architect Cornish-Trestrail it is also set up for a fourth grade if Esso introduces one, and the pumps have Stage II vapour recovery systems.
There are two busy automatic WashTec car washes which are fed from a borehole - the only thing salvaged from the previous site - and a jet wash. Phil and Lesley invested £8,000 in getting CODAX technology fitted to let customers pay at the pump by credit card, debit card or cash.
The only fly in the ointment is the parking availability, the site has room for just 19 vehicles in total. "As the site gets busier, we’ll need to expand this," says Phil. As for the future, this is definitely a local store aimed at people living nearby. Phil and Lesley believe in putting something back into the community, including supporting the local children’s hospice.
This works both ways, and they are happy that customers see them as part of the community and prefer to visit them than the local Tesco.
"We’ve got a slight advantage over Tesco as we can carry on trading when they have to shut," says Phil. "Because we’re a forecourt with a larger store, we aren’t affected by the Sunday trading laws, so that provides a better service to our customers."