GENERAL APPEARANCE: Situated on the busy A303, Hazelgrove Services is part of the Chartman Group. From the roundabout the Esso service station with its Spar shop is clearly visible and it shares the plot with a McDonald’s.

FORECOURT: Under a large canopy there is plenty of space to access the pump islands providing a range of Esso fuels. Of the four islands three were operational. Each pump displayed the current non-food special offer. There is a separate diesel pump and parking area for HGVs. Air, water and a vacuum were available and the car and jet washes were in constant use. Calor Gas was also available.

There is a post box and the shop’s Post Office inside is clearly signed. Newspapers, winter fuels and flowers are also available. There are a number of posters displaying a range of Spar offers and the shop’s Bewleys coffee. There is also a hanging basket of flowers and the coveted Investors in People Award sign. The store front is interesting and busy but a little let down by a number of bread trays/delivery cages cluttered around the front and side of the shop.

SHOP: This is a typical Spar forecourt shop - it is well-designed, offers a comprehensive range of goods and services, and is extensively signed with Spar-branded material.

At the entrance are some large sacks of potatoes and to the right a large magazine section leading to the Post Office, which is open mornings only. Towards the till area there are long runs of confectionery and snacks. It was difficult to shop for snacks as a wall of full cartons ready to re-stock the section hid the shelves. To the right of the till area is the Bake & Bite hot food-to-go counter and Bewleys hot drinks machine - unfortunately it was out of order. The large wine and beer section was also difficult to navigate as it had a stack of cartons piled ready for staff to refill the shelves. However, a long run of chilled cabinets offered a good range of food ’for now’ and food ’for later’ products. It was the first time I had seen Bake&Bite ’handmade in-store’ sandwiches and the coronation chicken salad sandwich that I bought was good but a little expensive at £2.49.

Spar own-brand products and promotional offers seemed to be well supported. There are separate gents and ladies toilets that were generally in good order.

There was one member of staff on the till, he was polite and got on with the job of serving the queue of two or three customers

PROGNOSIS: Spar, Esso and McDonald’s together must attract a large number of passing vehicles from the busy A303. The Chartman Group has invested heavily in its Hazelgrove unit and is, by and large, keeping to the Spar formula. The Spar retailer package is a great success and in the group’s communications it does stress that the stores are owned and run by independent local people who are able to offer the products and services required by their customers. This challenge has been met in part by Hazlegrove Services with a few local products and most importantly the post office. I suspect the big challenge is the limited number of local customers and the reliance on passing trade.

DIAGNOSIS: The majority of trade for the part-time post office must be local and I fear that the business may be in jeopardy from the proposed Post Office closure programme.

Prices may need attention. They are perhaps acceptable for a busy trunk road service station but close to the maximum for local shoppers.

PRESCRIPTION: First the post office, and Hazelgrove should explore the possibility of it becoming part of the planned ’core and outreach’ service.

Next, some objective ’management by walkabout’ might reveal some areas for improvement. A range review may indicate that some of the off-shelf display lines and special offers may not be worth stocking.

De-cluttering would make room for a tight selection of local products.The introduction of a range of local produce with provenance supported by promotional material would add much to this store and help drive it forward from its current four-star status.