GENERAL APPEARANCE: High-profile Shell-branded dealership on the A265 – the main route between the M23 and East Grinstead. Part of a large development comprising triple franchise motor dealership complex and Gatwick Airport Parking facility.

THE FORECOURT: Initial impressions as you drive on the site are very positive. The forecourt is spacious, bright and buzzing with activity, while the Costcutter branding across the front of the shop is welcome sight, conjuring up pictures of convenience shopping – something for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and all things in between. There were also plenty of posters

promoting in-store offers.

Of special note is the unusual sight of decorative plants and hanging baskets that adorn the site – fresh and well cared for too.

The car wash facilities – surprisingly no jet wash, just a rollover – are well promoted, and things like scented vacuum, free air and water are well positioned to encourage motorists to give their car attention. The valeting facilities must certainly encourage regular return visits to the site, as must the external cash point.

Less positive was the general cleanliness – pumps and islands looked like they could have done with a good scrub, and the outside toilet was pretty grim. A rota for regular cleaning is obviously required here if customers are not to be frightened away.

Other gripes included sloppy pricing (wrong price on pump compared to the price pole) and an abandoned ice cream freezer left in front of the shop (couldn’t it have been put round the side?). And despite the generous proportions of the forecourt there were no designated parking spaces, although plenty of room for car parking. There was also no signage for Costcutter or the numerous site facilities on the pole sign, or any indication of opening hours.

THE SHOP: Good sized shop with an off licence, bake off, and comprehensive Costcutter offer, although some unnecessary duplication in places, such as two brands of flour. There were plenty of competitive price promotions covering most categories – and leaflets giving details. Most categories were in stock, but the gondola end displays were not priced.

The store could have scored very highly but it was let down by an air of sloppiness, such as a lack of on-shelf availability, cluttered aisles, and details such as sandwiches out of refrigeration, which should have been spotted. But in its defence it was a busy shop. Staff were extremely pleasant and helpful, but there was a lack of unity in terms of staff uniforms.

DOCTOR’S PROGNOSIS: The prognosis for forecourt shops as convenience stores is hot, and wow this site is certainly rising to the challenge. This is no patched up kiosk but a full-on convenience store, as you would expect with the name Costcutter above the door.

Consumers are looking for ‘real food served conveniently’, but I wonder how many fresh chickens the site is selling given that they were displayed on the bottom shelf of the fridge just as you enter the store. Maybe customer needs would be better met by extending the limited range of fruit and veg.

More work is needed to maximise sales of food-to-go. The offering of sandwiches and savoury snacks, soft drinks and the hot food counter were located in three separate corners so no time saving there.

I could also see the powers that be at Costcutter – rightly – going nuts at the abandoned unopened news boxes (at 12.15pm), full delivery cages in front of the magazine section, and two empty dustbins and a pile of empty cardboard boxes that barred customers shopping the off licence section. It certainly made my blood pressure rise to think of all the lost opportunities to drive sales from these key categories. There has been some serious investment in this store but urgent consideration should be given to spending a bit more and providing separate loos for ladies and men.

DIAGNOSIS: The store is generally in good shape but is lacking a little finesse. The time honoured adage ‘retail is detail’ could be the remedy here.

PRESCRIPTION: Management by walkabout. The store is crying out for the manager to walk the store hourly as a customer. First impressions count and you may not get a second chance to get customers back.