GENERAL APPEARANCE: Leaving Crewkerne town centre, south on the A356 I saw a Texaco pole ahead and as I needed some lunch decided to make a ’stealthcheck’ on the site. I parked in a side street as the entrance to the forecourt was blocked, and walked.
FORECOURT: The forecourt is long and narrow with a car wash and garage to the side and rear of the shop. There are three pump units in a single line under the Texaco-branded canopy and one separate diesel-only pump near the site exit. During my visit the site entrance was coned off as they had no diesel and were waiting on a tanker delivery. Winter fuels are offered from a secure box next to a stone-built wall to the front of the site. Planting pockets on the wall displayed a fine show of weeds! There is no designated parking just some space at either end of the forecourt. In front of the shop was a unit for newspapers - local paper only - and a small display of flowers for sale.
SHOP: The shop fascia in Texaco red is unbranded and the shop front window a mess, featuring a jumble of Texaco marketing material and hand-written posters including a vacancy for a service station manager!
The shop is small and desperately in need of some attention. The fittings and décor are well past their best and the overall ambience rather dull and gloomy as the window shutters had been left half down. Basic categories such as tobacco, confectionery, snacks and soft drinks are all there - although I think ranging is a little behind the times - but categories like news, off licence, bake-off, fresh produce, local foods etc that meet customer needs and drive sales in modern convenience stores are missing. A small range of seaside toys is randomly displayed around the store. Soft drinks were in a chiller and a microwave was available - presumably to heat the rather limited range of savoury snacks on offer. I purchased a ’Strawberry Fare’-branded sandwich, a soft drink and chocolate bar and left the two concerned staff - not really interested in my transaction - to worry about the delayed fuel delivery.
PROGNOSIS: Fuel sales remain a challenge to the future of the forecourt and this has been one of the motivating factors that have driven operators to invest in cutting-edge convenience stores. In this way forecourt operators provide a comprehensive offer to their customers and secure a longer-term future for the business. Three Counties Garage started well some years ago, but the convenience store sector has moved on and they now find themselves significantly behind the game. So, it is indeed time for a new manager! The advertisement by Hunt’s Foodservice (which I assume owns the garage) mentions duties such as ’staffing, stock re-ordering and cash management... a rare opportunity to become a manager in a growing company that allows full management responsibility, but with all the support you will need’. The prognosis for this business could be grim, but with a new manager, and full support of the owners - including finance for development - longevity is possible.
DIAGNOSIS: Three Counties Garage is an established business on the edge of a busy town. Traffic - including serious numbers of holidaymakers - on the A356 is constant and there are a fair few houses close by, hence the business could be a true community store. But, a lot to get right. Firstly a review of stock range and stock control - and I suggest the ’Strawberry Fare’ sandwich range is checked out, as I believe the current labelling is not correct or legal. The whole site should be tidied - getting rid of those weeds and hand-written signs - including clearing the shop window to improve visibility. The second stage is more strategic and includes the refurbishment and branding of the store, and a link with a leading symbol group.
PRESCRIPTION: The new manager must develop, get approval for, and implement a positive ’first 100 days’ development programme. Part of the research could be calling on the free retail advice available from Business Link in the South West (www.businesslinksomerset.co.uk) and for local foods Taste of the West (www.tasteofthewest.co.uk). But essential is the formation of a partnership with a symbol group. This is no time for evolution but revolution!