GENERAL APPEARANCE: Ullswater Road Garage is located at the entrance to Penrith just metres from the M6, the A66 and the North Eastern gateway to the Lake District, the A592.
The forecourt and shop are situated on a large site and are co-located with a restaurant, a 24-hour breakdown and recovery service, MOT and service unit, the Cumbria Mini Centre and Westmorland Vehicle Hire. All may be part of the same enterprise. But also on the site is a Topps Tiles and a Cranstons Cumbrian food hall.
FORECOURT: A Gulf-branded pole signs the forecourt area. The main forecourt has four pump islands and is covered with a canopy carrying Subway and Gulf logos.
The pump prices for fuel were competitive although beaten by the Morrisons supermarket in Penrith.
To one side of the site is a large parking area for HGVs and two separate diesel pumps Topps Tiles is sited in this area. Between Topps Tiles and the forecourt/shop is an entrance to the rear of the site and the Cumbria Mini Centre and MOT and service workshop.
The other side of the site has all the car wash facilities two double jet washes, a drive-thru car wash and the vacuum. The jet washes were in constant use.
There is a large area of designated parking and, at a number of points around the site, displays of used Minis for sale.
To the front of the shop Calor Gas and winter fuels are available. Posters advertise some of the shop offers. To the right is the Rooster Café and to the left, the entrance to the shop. Sadly guarded by two containers of dead plants!
SHOP: The shop is branded Thorougoods Select Convenience, which is one of the Bargain Booze franchise trading names.
The interior is impressive, clean, light and with shelving running at an angle across the shop leading down to the Subway and a small seating area. Close to the entrance is all you need for a fast shop an ATM, hot drinks machine, sandwiches and snacks, soft drinks, confectionery, news, chilled wines and beers, and tobacco at the till area. Further into the shop it offers good grocery, produce, fresh and non-food ranges. The off-licence section is extensive and includes floor displays of beer. There are displays of £1 offers, winter gloves and other stands. A few local products (for example, sandwiches, confectionery and maps) were stocked. It would have been good to have had the opportunity to buy some fresh bread and flowers.
There are no customer toilets in the shop but people are directed to facilities in the Rooster Restaurant.
The member of staff at the till was rather distracted counting coins and dealt with my transaction (a full tank of fuel and other items) and questions in a somewhat off-hand way.
PROGNOSIS: As an enterprise the Ullswater Road Garage has a lot going for it. A great location as well as space for a plethora of associated services, a national fuel brand and growing shop franchise, and foodservice brands. So, there’s a fantasatic opportunity to serve regular customers as well as offer services to the great numbers that visit the Lake District and the surrounding area. But in the tough trading conditions, there are a lot of different aspects to manage and develop.
DIAGNOSIS: A priority must be to continue to drive the forecourt and shop business.
Fuel prices are at an all-time high and we are warned to expect further increases. Motorists are looking to reduce driving bills: by cutting their journeys and by buying the cheapest possible fuel. Cut-price fuel is not a very attractive prospect for forecourt owners as there is precious little margin in it at present.
Shop management must remain alert to consumers’ needs. Top of the shopper’s agenda is value for money, friendliness and speed of service and, from independents, a sense of community.
The owners could develop a programme of deals ’for now’ and deals ’for later’ to enhance the shop’s perception of value for money. And then promote them to passing motorists.