By the time Patrick Sewell picked up the prestigious Forecourt Trader of the Year 2016 trophy, it had become clear throughout the evening that something rather special had been taking place within the Sewell on the go business. Its sites were finalists in no less than nine out of the 11 specialist categories, as well as both volume categories for the North of England region, where it has 12 forecourts in and around Hull and East Riding. It won in four categories, with South Cave winning two, including the award for Best Customer Service.
When South Cave was announced as the overall winning site, the whole team made their way to the stage to celebrate with Patrick a great reflection of how and why this business has been so successful. From the top to the bottom, it is a team effort.
"I’m ecstatic," Patrick said at the time. "I’ve got a great team here with me tonight this win is about the guys delivering the best service every single day. We can provide first-class facilities, but it’s the people serving our customers who make us number one."
Sewell on the go is part of the 140-year-old family business, the Sewell Group, which includes construction, facilities management and investment divisions. It therefore has strong roots in the community its Maybury site won this year’s award for Best Community Engagement. The sites are open 24/7/365 and it boasts four million customers a year. The fact Sewell on the go is a major partner of Hull UK City of Culture 2017, is displayed in murals across its sites.
This year is the second time the long-established Sewell retail forecourt business has won the big trophy it last won in 2009 with its Chanterlands site in West Hull. Since then, like all successful businesses, it hasn’t stopped evolving and progressing. Sewell on the go like its name is on a constant path of redevelopment, refurbishment and tweaking.
It is constantly adding services and streamlining layouts in its stores to increase sales within the same footprint, without taking anything away from the overall offer. It also prides itself on offering the best customer service and Patrick was more than chuffed at winning this particular award.
The company’s strategy is also to maintain great partnerships across its network, such as BP and Costa. In addition, it is installing Subway units currently on three sites; and Cook frozen food freezers. It also has a strong brand presence, using similar formats and décor across its network, creating a certain atmosphere so that people will recognise they are in a Sewell establishment even if they don’t see the name and know what to expect.
"It’s all about smarter retailing," says Patrick. "We don’t want to take anything out but want to make more out of the same space."
Last year it knocked down and rebuilt two sites. One of them was South Cave, which has now become its flagship site as well as this year’s Forecourt Trader of the Year winner. "We acquired the site 20 years ago, but it was probably designed about 60 years ago," explains Patrick. "We could have knocked it down and rebuilt it 10 years ago. But what we did was to systematically improve it over time tweak it, enhance it, partially redevelop it. We regret not knocking it down 10 years ago, but it was about being brave enough to make those decisions and believing we had the right model and confidence in the future.
"But then with our interpretation of the marketplace we could see there was a big opportunity to develop the site, which was partly due to its location, alongside a busy main road the A63 and having the right mix of customers, both transient and affluent/rural. We wanted to improve the transient nature of the site by creating more parking spaces and installing a good food-to-go offering including Subway, Costa Coffee, sandwiches and so on, to really explore that opportunity."
According to Patrick the old forecourt was crammed into a small footprint, with unused buildings to the rear. Apart from the pole sign, the forecourt was barely noticeable to motorway traffic and not that attractive. The store was dark and dated, with limited product lines. The layout didn’t encourage browsing and there wasn’t room for creative displays.
By knocking the whole thing down, the Sewell team was able to start with a clean sheet. The new £1.5m development is a complete transformation. The forecourt is modern and welcoming, with a range of car washing and valeting services as well as the all-important 25 parking bays; cycle rack, picnic/outdoor seating area, and electric charge point for cars are also key features. The larger canopy and store which is now three times larger than before have been completely re-positioned and are viewable from the main road. The store has full-height glazing, making it bright and airy. It has 120 solar panels on the roof, saving £10,000 a year. The site was designed using Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology, guaranteeing cost control, design accuracy and buildability.
It’s all very impressive as you drive onto the forecourt, but walking into the shop reveals a busy but welcoming store, including smart and convenient loo facilities. You can see that every inch of the store space has been pondered over and maximised. It features a Subway with seating area; and bristling food-to-go area featuring two Costa Express machines, a tea boiler and Slush Puppie machine, surrounded by all manner of snacks and sandwiches.
There is a farm-shop feel around the Londis-supplied store, with over 100 local products, such as specialist bread and cakes, and ’alternative’ brands for gifting chocolate. The off licence has also become a ’specialist’ area, with a range of 400 wines which are constantly rotated according to trends (Patrick is the taster!), as well as beers and ales. Cook freezers complement the alcohol, take-home and adult snacking categories.
Seasonal displays have also become a particular focus, creating excitement in store: "When it comes to seasons, we’ve got to be flexible," stresses Patrick. "When it’s Christmas, it’s got to feel like a Christmas store, when it’s Easter it should feel like an Easter store,"
The Forecourt Trader’s Shop Doctor scored the site five stars across all the categories. All in all, it’s hard to fault this fantastic development from traditional 1960s garage to a world-class forecourt!