Eve Hill Service Station, a joint-branded Costcutter Express/Murco site, is at the edge of Dudley in the West Midlands, on busy Wolverhampton Street (B4176).

FORECOURT: The site is huge, with a large canopy covering four easily accessed pump points, a car wash, a jet wash and a shop, and still there is massive space to park. However, there is only one designated shop parking space.

The clean and tidy site promotes both a jet wash and car wash. It provides a vacuum, air and water and offers barbecue fuel and accessories. Fuel prices are competitive and the illuminated pole clearly features Costcutter Express.

Across the site and outside the shop two promotion posters were displayed, one featuring a Fosters eight-pack promotion and the other a Müller yogurt offer. Both the posters had as a themed background an illustration of fresh green apples. This is good customer marketing; I was now anticipating a great shopping experience with the emphasis on fresh and ‘food for now’ and a tight convenience range of ‘food for later’.

SHOP: Unfortunately, my expectations were instantly dashed. On entering the store the overriding impression was one of dullness and clutter. In contrast to the exterior, the store was dull, dark even, and seemed to be crying out for a lighting review. It gave me the feeling a quart had somehow been squeezed into a pint pot.

The shop is not large but virtually every c-store category had been shoe-horned into the available space. My instant impression was one of clutter and confusion and it seemed difficult to find what I was looking for.

It was just gone 2pm and I wanted food for now as a lunchtime snack. In the Bake & Bite unit only three dried-up sausage rolls were available. I settled for a Ginsters sandwich and bottle of Lucozade from the chiller – the best of a rather uninspiring lot.

Milk was competitively priced but, apart from the Fosters and Müller promotions, I was unaware of any other in-store special offers. So, the shop seemed to be offering a lot of products but, as far as I could see, didn’t have a customer toilet or cash point facility, nor was it offering fresh produce or any local products. Apart from improving customer service, providing a range of fresh may well produce more turnover and profit than much of the dead stock I saw around.

The one member of staff took the cash for my transaction but with a total lack of enthusiasm, little eye contact and certainly no smile. He became a bit more animated when, as an excuse to engage him in conversation (there were no other customers in the store), I asked for directions to the M5 motorway.

PROGNOSIS: Convenience stores on forecourts continue to develop and prosper. They are becoming yet more sophisticated as they understand their customers and further segment and tailor offers to those customers.

Trading partnerships between symbol group/wholesale operations and fuel companies – such as the alliance between Costcutter and Murco – are driving much of this change with dedicated convenience and forecourt formats. This is very good for our sector as, in most cases, the commitment of retailers is making the partnerships work.

DIAGNOSIS: I wonder why the partnership appears not to be firing on all cylinders in the case of Eve Hill Service Station. Perhaps it could be a lack of interest – lack of discipline even – from Costcutter, from Murco, or from the site operator. You would think not, given the alliance between all parties, but it seems to me the store has a far greater shop sales and profit potential than it appears to be achieving.

PRESCRIPTION: The ‘management’ should revisit the store, revaluate its ambience, its customer focus, its layout and its stock range. Given the full support of Costcutter and Murco, who have huge expertise in operating convenience stores and forecourts, Eve Hill Service Station can surely deliver much more.