A previous issue of Forecourt Trader featured a story about Jim and Wendy Bamford, who decided to run their own business. Securing a six-figure loan from the Bank of Scotland, they purchased a garage with a refitted c-store at Crowland near Peterborough - Jim was going to run the garage and Wendy the Total petrol station and Mace shop.

GENERAL APPEARANCE: The Total pole is visible from the main road but it does not advertise the shop.

FORECOURT: Space is tight although there is enough room for a few used cars for sale and sufficient space to access the four pumps. All the pumps were working and were crowned with non-food offers. The pump prices were competitive. Other services included air, water and, to the rear of the shop, a jet wash and vacuum. The jet wash facility could have been better signed and perhaps price-promoted to stimulate trade.

An important element of Crowland Service Station’s offering is the servicing, repairs, MOT and car sales.

Parking is limited and spaces were not designated. The shop front is modern and outside there was winter fuel, bottled gas, newspapers and flowers.

SHOP: The shop - probably refurbished some 18 months ago - is a Mace and the shop front, fascia and interior fittings are all in the Mace style.

Sale space is limited but the owners have done well to include all the main c-store categories including an off licence, hot drinks’ dispenser and bake-off.

The basic grocery range was limited but included all the essential top-up lines; petfoods were given good space; and although the chiller space was limited, soft drinks and milk were easily accessible.

Crisps, snacks and confectionery were all well represented.

A couple of floor stands were in the way and I wondered if they really generated additional incremental sales. A few items were on promotion and some of the display cards were hand written.

The toilet was marked ’staff only’ but was quickly opened when requested. The wash basin and toilet were rather grimy and if customers are to be allowed to use the facility a little more attention needs to be given to this area.

There were two members of staff on duty - one was filling the confectionery section, the other handled my transaction and was friendly but not keen to engage in conversation.

When I left, it was good to see a notice on the door ’thanking customers for shopping here’.

PROGNOSIS: Crowland Service Station is a modern business supported by three major organisations: Bank of Scotland, Total and Palmer & Harvey’s Mace.

DIAGNOSIS: Retailing is an exciting but tough occupation and I wonder what sort of follow-up support the companies have offered Jim and Wendy.

Many owners find the support and advice from their supplier partners of great benefit. Surely Mace should be helping to maximise sales from the local community as I suspect passing trade is thin.

PRESCRIPTION: Approaching the two-year anniversary of their new way of life may be an opportune time for Jim and Wendy to make a thorough review. How about arranging a meeting with Bank of Scotland, Total and Mace to seek their input on how the business can be driven further?

A visit to the Convenience Retailing Show and the International Forecourt & Fuel Equipment exhibition at the Birmingham NEC next month could be worthwhile - to find out what’s happening in the trade and to have a look at what other wholesalers offer in comparison to Mace.

Installing an ATM, stocking local produce and developing a relationship with the local community could also help.

Incidentally, a flyer I picked up from the counter during my ’stealthcheck’ was advertising a Crowland Parish Plan open meeting to be held the next evening. I do hope Jim and Wendy were able to attend and make a contribution that demonstrated how important the village was to their business and how the business cared for the community of Crowland.