I had to be in France for a few days and thought it would be interesting to make a ’stealthcheck’ on a French forecourt site. And, in order to be able to directly compare and contrast with the UK, I decided to visit a Bonjour/Total site as I’d reported on my visit to the Bonjour/Total site in Towcester for a recent issue of Forecourt Trader. My chosen location was Etaples, just outside Le Touquet, which is between Boulogne and Abbeville on the D940 coast road.

Forecourt: The forecourt is well signed by a bright clean pole but there is not a word about the Bonjour shop on it. The site has a wide one-way entry to the two lines of pumps. Total fuel is offered, from a set of immaculately clean pumps. Also available is Total brand bottled gaz. Air, water and vacuum together with a jet wash and car wash is available, the car wash had ’nouvelle brosse caresse’ - new caressing brushes.

The forecourt has four designated parking spaces. Trading hours are advertised as 6am to 10pm.

The whole forecourt was clean, bright and tidy, however, it lacked character (a few plants and flowers would have helped) and there was nothing to attract you into the shop.

Shop: This Bonjour-branded shop is small but clean, tidy and all the shelving neatly faced up. Most efficient, but almost too neat and tidy to shop in.

Sections were well zoned and signed. Space was limited and so were ranges, pared down to the bare essentials with just one brand being offered. Quite a few Casino own-brand products were on offer.

The immediate differences to the UK was the absence of a news and magazine section; no fresh milk, no bake-off and no fresh produce. The wine offering was limited to French only but they did offer large bottles of chilled beer. There was a large range of soft drinks, crisp/snacks and confectionery. Situated near the checkout was a display unit containing a very wide range of natural and herbal, sugar and chocolate confectionery. And a limited range of sandwich-type savoury snacks was available.

There were no Bonjour promotions on offer; just a glass-fronted cabinet displaying items that were available from the Club Total catalogue. The toilet and baby changing area was clean but had a grubby floor. The one member of staff in the shop was friendly.

Prognosis: Total is the world’s fourth-largest oil and gas company and is opening Bonjour stores on its forecourts around the globe. I suspect the forecourt I visited at Etaples is new - certainly recently refurbished - but I felt the shop was no more than a token. It was well managed, but not committed to convenience trading and was doing nothing to attract non-motorist trade.

Diagnosis: The c-store market in France is not as developed as it is in the UK. All local shops - and many hypermarkets - close at midday and don’t re-open until 3pm. Saturday, Sunday and late-opening hours are restricted for the specialist baker, butcher and grocery store (there maybe some relaxation in tourist areas) and it is only the forecourt that is permitted to open for 24 hours. Convenience is growing but the French nation will need quite a culture change to take place before the sector will develop to anything like here in the UK. But why wait? Surely a company the size of Total could drive the market.

Prescription: I believe there is a significant opportunity for retailers prepared to invest in convenience. One such company is Casino, the largest c-store chain in France. Casino c-stores usually have a wide range of produce in front of the shop but in every other respect are similar to Spar stores in the UK. Clearly Total recognises the strength of Casino as the Bonjour store I visited was stocking a range of Casino own-label products.

Total France should promote its Bonjour offering. It could promote the shop and its trading hours on the pole sign. It could introduce a limited range of promotions - perhaps using Casino as the source. It could make their shop fronts more appealing and introduce some community marketing. Total France could definitely learn from its operation in the UK!