Driving north on the A32 from Fareham towards Alton, I passed through the small village of Droxford. I was wondering how the Murco garage and its unaffiliated shop made a satisfactory living, when about a mile further on I saw a Power fuel pole and then its Premier store.

How can such a small community support two forecourt/shop businesses I thought, and had to stop to find out.

The Power/Premier site has a small frontage and is situated at a crossroads that must make entry and exit tricky at times. It is dominated by the Premier-branded shop with its distinctive imagery and branding and offers a MOT, service and repairs workshop to the rear.

FORECOURT: Under a small tiled canopy the forecourt consists of two pumps that supply unleaded and diesel fuels. There is a notice to say that the pumps are now self-service and the pole price indicates a 3ppl premium over average supermarket prices. Access to the pumps is limited because on one side they are protected by crash barriers from the A32. There is no car wash facility and services like air and water etc are not provided. Calor Gas is stocked.

There is up-front parking outside the shop and in front of the store there was a small display of flowers and a newspaper sales unit.

There was a steady stream of vehicles visiting the store and the drivers/passengers were each purchasing a few items but not one filled up with fuel.

SHOP: The shop trades as Merringtons Stores, a Premier-branded outlet which looks recently refurbished. It’s a medium-sized store into which the owners/Booker have expertly squeezed all the categories one would expect in a full service convenience store. Off-licence, hot food-to-go, produce and news were all there. Chilled wine and beers were available. In food-to-go there was a range of hot savoury pastries and drinks. The produce range was limited and there was no way that the yellow broccoli and dead leeks should still have been on sale.

Shelf displays were augmented by a number of free-standing display units featuring anything from small toys to healthy snacks. There was a well-used customer notice board. The shop featured a range of Premier promotional lines.

There are no customer toilet facilities.Two members of staff were in store and my transaction was dealt with efficiently and with a smile.

PROGNOSIS: I argue that independents face a more certain future when signed up to a major affinity group. Premier is one of the best and Merringtons has been bold with its investment in the store’s future.

DIAGNOSIS: As far as I could tell, all of the customers visiting the store during my ’stealthcheck’ arrived by car/van and just purchased items for immediate consumption - it was about midday.

I was delighted to see that a number of locally- produced products were stocked - such as Jackdaws-branded sandwiches and Wallops Wood Dairy Gloucester Old Spot pork products. I tried both, my roast turkey & ham sandwich was good and the sausages excellent.

To meet and satisfy consumer demands ’less is more’ and ’fresh’ is a convenience store mantra. Following this discipline many forecourt shops are achieving excellent results but I fear that Merringtons Premier store has some way to go before reaping results from this strategy.

PRESCRIPTION: I cannot see a profitable future for fuel sales from this forecourt and perhaps price is a deterrent. A number of fuel retailers have achieved interesting results by removing prices from the pole sign and it may be worth Merringtons trying this.

As to the store, I think it would help if Merringtons expanded and marketed its range of local products. This could create a significant point of difference. As far as I can tell Merringtons does not have a website - the local Droxford Murco forecourt does - and I believe such a development could help.

Merringtons and Booker have made a significant investment in this Premier store and I hope they continue to work together to ensure they achieve the sales and profits they are aiming for.