Oakdene Service Station is situated at Ulnes Walton, Leyland (between Chorley and Preston). It pumps Texaco fuel and has a Londis shop but what sets it apart is its prize-winning off licence.

FORECOURT: The well-signed forecourt is almost totally covered by a large Texaco-branded canopy that also has, on one side, the title ’The Wine Station.com’. The four pump islands were accessible and all in good working order but a separate diesel-only pump was out of action. Pump prices were competitive and there was a reasonable flow of fuel customers.

Air and water were available but there was no vacuum facility. While space prohibits a car wash, a jet wash has been squeezed into one corner.

Parking spaces were limited.

The front of the shop was dominated by a storage and display unit for winter and barbecue fuels.

There was an outside customer toilet - that was simply shameful. The worst I’ve seen!

SHOP: The Oakdene corporate green shop fascia says ’Oakdene Foodstore’ and ’Booze Bandits’. The shop must be around 2,000sq ft and is a Londis. Immediately on entry there was a large display of current Londis offers - including Euro 2008 - and support for the My Shop is Your Shop National Independent’s Week.

The shop is a comprehensive c-store and offers a wide range including a good fruit and vegetable section and some local products. All available space was utilised with off-shelf displays and the use of floor-standing units. A good selection of Londis-branded products were available.

The pick & mix sweet section was a bit of a mess and there were a good number of loose sweets on the floor. There were three ranges of sandwiches but the attractive locally-produced range was not priced.

To the rear of the shop is an exceptional beer, wines and spirits section. The wine cellar is lined with racks and uses old wooden barrels to display a staggeringly wide range of wines. White and sparkling wines are available chilled and there is a comprehensive range of beers and lagers including an impressive display of beers from around the world.

Special offers abound. Any thing from single bottle offers to mixed bags (six selected bottles) to case lots.

The checkout area was busy. While I was there the manager badly handled a situation where a customer buying a ’three bottles of wine for £13’ offer was charged just £10.47. His attitude seemed to embarrass the till operator and customer.

PROGNOSIS: In the forecourt sector there are many examples of strong branding - brands that have developed over years and have built a significant customer loyalty. Texaco and Londis are such brands.

DIAGNOSIS: Oakdene Service Station and the owners, the Gilson family, have made a considerable investment in the forecourt and shop but its clear ’point of difference’ is the off licence.

The Oakdene operation is in a challenging location and so needs to attract business from surrounding villages and much further afield.

Competitive fuel prices, the distribution of the Londis promotion leaflets and the communication of the off licence business via the website must all be fully exploited.

I found the business somewhat confusing - due to the wide range (too wide perhaps) of goods, offers and services available and the number of trading names. I counted: Texaco; Londis; Thewinestation; Oakdene Foodstore; Booze Bandits; Dave Gilson & Sons; and Oakdene Cellars.

PRESCRIPTION: My ’stealthcheck’ suggests that Oakdene Service Station is a great business. I am sure the owners are not complacent and I would suggest that a customer service ethos, staff training and more ’management by walkabout’ should put to rights some of the operation’s weaknesses.

But how can a good operation insult its customers with toilet facilities so diabolically bad?

To me they undermine the whole business and I suggest that very urgent attention is given to closing or totally refurbishing them.