GENERAL APPEARANCE: Located on the long and winding main (A140) road between Norwich and the seaside town of Cromer, the bright and colourful Jet branding gives this rural service station a very welcoming appearance.

FORECOURT: Though the pump area is small, it looks like some thought has been put into the layout with the first island set at an angle to make it easier for cars to pull alongside. Large banners promote the LPG pump. However, in contrast to the Jet branding, the shop front presented a dull and scruffy image. The wooden panel above the guttering is perhaps awaiting the arrival of a fascia and I hope that’s sorted soon. There were a few Spar promotion poster frames fixed to the front wall of the store (there are no front windows through which you can see into the store) and no fascia. The front was rather dominated by a row of red bins full of winter fuel, fire wood and BBQ charcoal. Oh, and of course there were the obligatory empty plastic food trays and empty flower display unit!

SHOP: On entering the store (around lunch time) to the left was an extensive range of oils and other car accessories, ahead was a Bake & Bite unit with some rather tired offerings – certainly this did nothing to convince me I was in a store offering a range of fresh foods. To the right was the checkout service area – I think there were five members of staff behind the counter but none the customer’s side.

On further inspection it was clear that groceries and woolly hats, plastic fly swots, mouse traps and kiddies toys are available in great perfusion. The large chiller cabinet was hidden away at the rear of the store behind all those grocery shelves. Local suppliers were being supported with a nice range of bread and locally grown asparagus and strawberries – but why were they hidden on the bottom shelf of that chiller cabinet?

PROGNOSIS: How odd to find a large Spar community c-store with very little Spar identity, so little hope of attracting passing trade. My guess is that the primary target for this site has changed from being a petrol station with a kiosk to a destination shop. All the fundamentals are in place – this is a full service store with a Post Office. But something was missing. There was little excitement, no theatre, apart from some support for the Spar Euro 2004 promotion. The store stocks a huge range of products and offers a wide selection of c-store services, but it has been known for consumers to suffer from ‘option paralysis’ – too much choice, and perhaps that’s the case here.

DIAGNOSIS: Given that the owner has decided to support a symbol group and has selected Spar, he should now take advantage of some of the Spar retailer support packages. Category management and use of the Spar scorecard seem priorities. As does greater support of Spar promotions. This may help reduce the impression that the store is expensive. One of my key price tests is milk and Roughton Service Station did not score well. At 75p for a two-pint pack it is 15p more expensive than at my local c-store. Surely at this level it’s perilously close to ‘insult pricing’? Recent data from HIM’s Convenience Tracking Programme shows there is a tightening up of the ‘convenience premium’. Although price may not be the most important factor to shoppers I wonder if this store is charging more than the local villagers’ tolerance threshold. OK as a last recourse of the desperate, but no good for a significant shop.

PRESCRIPTION: Assuming the store is a member of Spar it needs to tell and reassure customers by putting that trusted name over the shop. It will give the store a new authority and help meet customer’s expectations, especially in the food-to-go, fresh and chilled categories. A Spar scorecard analysis will help to identify strengths and weaknesses and could lead to an action plan to perhaps relaunch the store, say, with a promotion leaflet drop. Symbol membership is now surely a proven strategy by which independent forecourt stores can grow their businesses and Roughton Service Station should exploit the advantages of its chosen group to the full.