GENERAL APPEARANCE: Located on the busy A20, Parkfoot Garage looks a busy, but tempting place to stop with its Spar shop, cash point, off licence, car wash, strong BP branding and spacious parking area.

FORECOURT: The forecourt has a constant flow of traffic, but everything is generally clean and working and covered in promotional material, be it flagging something to do with the store, BP’s Ultimate fuel – there is also an LPG pump – or the mighty car wash that sits behind the store. However, the parking area could be more organised with line markings.

SHOP: In most respects this store certainly ‘ticks all the boxes’ and appears to be addressing most of the reasons shoppers use convenience stores – for everyday items: this store had a good range of newspapers, cigarettes and confectionery; and top-up items: milk (at a competitive price), bread and a fair range of fresh products were available. A selection of food-to-go products were on display as were a range of ready meals and chilled wines. The store was backing Spar promotion items, which were supported by external posters (shame the frame nearest the entrance door was empty) and in-store monitors showing Spar ads. (Not sure how effective because you had to watch a while to get the message.)

PROGNOSIS: This is clearly not a store run by a complacent retailer but a fully professional convenience outlet. One that I can see is constantly and proactively seeking new and improved offerings to satisfy its customers and to advance store turnover and profitability. It demonstrates a commitment to its chosen symbol group Spar and to BP (indeed instore Ultimate flags almost overpowered the Spar imagery). As with any well-managed busy store it is easy to find a few negatives – an empty cardboard box on top of the ice cream cabinet; three large stacks of the local paper in front of the Walkers crisps section (I bet the sales participation of crisps and snacks suffered); the magazine section was a bit of an untidy mess with outers of drinks preventing full access and the hot drinks machine wasn’t working. Staff were helpful but not friendly, and dressed in BP not Spar uniforms.

DIAGNOSIS: As ever my concern is that this store is not giving sufficient attention to fresh foods. It has a produce section but it is fairly tight on space and is facing away from customer traffic as it enters the store. Perhaps space allocation should be reconsidered, as for example there was insufficient space for bananas, which were displayed on the top of the cabinet together with portable folding picnic chairs. Not the most obvious of linked merchandising ideas! Despite the colossal improvement in forecourt convenience stores we still have large numbers of fuel-only customers and we need to find yet more innovative ways of persuading them to spend money in store. I am far from being convinced that non-food WIGIG (when it’s gone it’s gone) promotions are the answer. The only offers at the pumps were for non-foods – and so many of them – chairs, watches, garden lights, wallets etc. Surely some of the pump offers should promote fresh foods and food-to-go deals.

PRESCRIPTION: This is a properly developed joint-branded convenience store and there is no need to remind this retailer that constant change and development is the key to progressing the business. It’s stating the obvious to remember that higher sales come from just two sources: firstly, existing customers spending more, perhaps from a more focused range or different opening hours – it didn’t appear to advertise them anywhere. Secondly, attracting more customers into the store – I believe thought should be given to expanding the fresh offer perhaps with the addition of organic and local produce. There also seems to be a need to appeal to more food-to-go buyers and a limited range of relevant offers could be the answer.

Store standards are the foundation of progressive retailing so one last action point. Take a fresh look at your shop as if through the eyes of your customers and your very good operation could become a great destination store.