GENERAL APPEARANCE: The junction of the A338 (Oxford/Wantage road) and the A415 (Witney/Abingdon road) is off set and somewhat awkward, but constantly busy and an ideal location for a service station. And indeed right on the junction at Frilford is a large Shell service station with Budgens shop.

FORECOURT: The forecourt is well signed and the competitive fuel prices are illuminated.

The total forecourt area is large - almost to the point of looking a little austere - but is helped by attractive pots of flowers along the frontage. Access to the four islands of pumps is easy and all the pumps were clean and in good working order. Accessible and well-promoted forecourt services available are: air, water, vacuum, a car wash and jet wash. There are marked parking spaces - including disabled .

Shop front offers include Calor Gas, ATM, winter and barbecue fuels, newspapers and flowers. The newspaper display was partly obscured and a little difficult to shop because of a line of empty delivery cages. There is also an A-board promoting a dry cleaning service, a local notice board and Lottery sign.

SHOP: The empty cages at the front indicated that the shop had recently received a delivery and on entry I was greeted by a number of packing cases. But also by a very cheery, friendly member of staff asking if he could help. This was repeated throughout the store as staff were urgently restocking displays and getting all the boxes out of the way of customers. Full marks.

The food-to-go area was clean and attractive but I thought it may have been a little late in the morning to still be offering breakfast items. The Simply Coffee dispensing area was a little messy - though this was probably a sign of a well-used facility. For an independent forecourt shop the produce section was very good as was the sandwich and drinks chiller.

A selection of current Budgens offers was highlighted well but some were out of stock.

There is a good clean toilet customers can use but is restricted to customers asking for the key. I wonder why? The staff were industrious, friendly and helpful.

PROGNOSIS: To achieve success service stations must get certain factors right - location, choice of fuel brand and shop fascia. The owners of Frilford Service Station seem to have got them all right.

Progressive independent retailers must decide if they are going to try to trade alone or work in partnership with another organisation. The choice is wide - there are many symbol groups that offer a variety of packages. But the partnership chosen by the owners of Frilford Service Station - with Budgens - is different in that it’s a multiple that has divested its shops in a franchise model to independent individuals. The discipline and support of a multiple and the entrepreneurial drive of private owners is a potent combination.

DIAGNOSIS: In comparison to the average c-store, Budgens achieves a very high rate of fresh-food participation. Budgens stores demonstrate a passion for great food and for the communities they serve.

In the grocery sector the only constant is change and innovation is the key to staying ahead. So this is the challenge for the future - a proactive flexible organisation made up of Budgens central services and great retailers, working together to give customers what they demand.

PRESCRIPTION: I happened to be passing Budgens of Frilford some six hours after my initial ’stealthcheck’ - I needed to buy some things for later. All sign of the delivery cages had vanished and there was a new member of staff on the till who was equally friendly and efficient.

On this visit, I was surprised not to find some local products stocked. Consumers are demonstrating a burgeoning interest in produce and products with local provenance. In these testing times customers are looking for offers and the availability of promoted offers needs attention.

Perhaps some management by walkabout - a re-examination of the store from the perspective of a customer may be beneficial and help keep the enterprise successful?