GENERAL APPEARANCE: The small village of Birdham is the location of one of the Forecourt Trader Top 50 Indies 2007 sites, Rusdene Services. It is a Total forecourt with a Smile-branded shop.

FORECOURT: The site identified by a Total pole is large and there is easy access to the pumps. Given its semi-rural location the pump fuel prices were very competitive. There were four islands of pumps offering 16 nozzles under a large Total canopy. The pumps were being cleaned and all seemed to be in good working order, each fuel dispenser unit was crowned with the ubiquitous non-foods offers.

The car wash and jet wash facility was well signed and the air, water and vacuum services were clearly positioned and accessible

Shop-front offers included an ATM, newspapers, flowers and winter fuels. There was a shop menu on permanent display that listed some of the shop offerings.

The customer toilet was accessed via an outside door. The toilet area was clean and well maintained but the cleaning rota notice on the inside of the door had not been updated.

SHOP: The shop facia is smile.local. The retail area is small, the stock range tight but my first impression was that what it does, it does well.

The interior was bright and the decor and category wall signs nicely subtle. To the left of the entrance was a comprehensive display of magazines and a Tchibo coffee machine. In the far corner, on the top shelf of a savoury snack cabinet, was a microwave.

Ginsters sandwiches and savoury snacks were stocked and I hoped the sales van was due soon as stocks were low with some lines out of stock. A range of Snacktime sandwiches was also stocked - I purchased one and it was excellent.

The offering of standard packaged grocery lines was restricted with emergency top-up lines only. This store did not offer any alcohol, produce or local products.

In-store promotions were limited - staff were not! There were four on duty at the time of my visit. One was despatched to clean the pumps, another was re-stocking the packaged snack section and two were on the tills. They were all friendly.

PROGNOSIS: Last autumn Martin McColl, keen to enhance its position as ’the country’s leading independent neighbourhood retailer’, acquired Bristol-based Smile Stores. Martin McColl and Smile Stores together now have a significant CTN/c-store estate but as far a I am aware very few forecourt stores. Perhaps the Smile store at Birdham is a one off?

DIAGNOSIS: It has long been acknowledged that the ’one size fits all’ philosophy is certainly not applicable to the small store sector. The dynamic growth in the c-store sector demonstrates an understanding by leading operators that each business is different and that shops need a distinct trading format to meet the demands and expectations of their particular customers. Forecourt operators have the additional challenge that they need to meet both local consumer requirements and those of the motorist.

The Total Smile site at Birdham faces a number of issues. The site is not located on a major trunk road. The main local store serving the Birdham community is a Spar some 100 metres away. I guess motorists generate most of the trade and that trade is seasonal with the nearby Witterings seaside attractions increasing potential customers during the season.

PRESCRIPTION: I expect one of Martin McColl’s priorities will be to re-brand all the Smile Stores to bring them in line with its fascia policy. And if that happens at the Birdham site it would also be a brilliant opportunity to review the store’s offering.

The essential ’motorist-on-the-move’ offer should be maintained but enhanced by various meal deals and the rather basic microwave should be scrapped in favour of a small bake-off service.

This Smile store does not currently have an off-licence, or stock produce or local lines but could really do with them.This is a good store with potential and one that I hope Martin McColl can fully grasp and exploit to the full.