Following Westbridge Motors of Northampton winning the Forecourt Trader of the Year 2006 award, I visited its website to find out more about the business. It’s an informative website and gives focused details of a many-faceted business.

Each part of the business - taxis; recovery; repair and maintenance; forecourt and shop - has its own web page. The business also owns the WashMe car wash facility. Clearly an intriguing site for the Shop Doctor so on the Tuesday following the Easter holiday weekend while travelling south on the M1, I diverted onto the A45 heading for Northampton.

Appearance: Close to an historical area of Northampton centre, an industrial area and among a dense area of chimney pots, the busy site is big and quite visible. I first saw the glass-enclosed WashMe car wash centre and then the forecourt pole, and turning right onto the site was surprised by the size of the forecourt canopy and shop.

Forecourt: The access entry is clearly marked and wide enough for HGV vehicles that are serviced from a separate bay. The large canopy covers 12 pumps offering a full range of BP fuels including LPG. The pumps were easily accessible, clean and all working. Each pump island was topped with a non-food offer.

Air and water are available from the HGV bay. The WashMe car wash is to the rear of the forecourt and is only totally visible as you move to the site’s exit. A full money-back guarantee is offered and also discounts for regular customers, but its location and separate name make it seem like a separate business.

There is covered up-front store parking and along the front of the store are an ATM, winter fuel bins, Calor gas including patio gas, flowers and newspapers. Shop: The 24-hour large c-store is proudly branded Spar. Spar livery, promotions and branded products are obvious but not over-bearing. Right at the entrance is a map of the local area, a post box, a pay phone, magazines, maps, another ATM and a further display of newspapers. Also an oval-shaped chiller offering a range of eat-now snacks and other impulse products. From the entrance the customer has a view of the whole shop but unfortunately I could also see two aisles totally crammed with full cages.

Shopping the store it became clear that quite a few sections were very low on stock and that the delivery needed to be put on shelf with some urgency. Fresh meat, produce and cheese sections only had the odd line available. And many of the grocery sections also needed immediate stock attention.

I made my selection of items and on payment was informed by the sales assistant that they did not have a customer toilet. The transaction was carried out effectively but not with the customer service skill that I had expected from a prize-winning store.

Prognosis: Established over 60 years ago Westbridge Motors has a long tradition of offering a diverse range of 24-hour services and being at the cutting edge of sector developments. It has a tradition of investing in the business and breaking new ground.

Diagnosis: But is the Westbridge Motors shop truly customer-focused? For a large professional organisation there should be no real difficulty in making policy, the challenge comes with its delivery. Staff knowing how to deliver and doing it day in and day out is key.

I am sure Westbridge Motors management wants and plans for well-stocked shelves and exceptional customer service and that they train their staff accordingly. However it was not quite being delivered at the time of my visit.

Prescription: Being out of stock almost certainly results in lost sales - even lost customers. Customer service is an area where many independent operators believe they can out-perform the multiples. I am sure Westbridge Motors will be revisiting its policy on stock control and staff training.

An operation that rates customer service highly should surely have had a customer toilet.

Finally, to meet consumer demand and to maintain its record of being among the market leaders Westbridge Motors should develop activity in the organic, fair trade, ethical and local sectors.