Over the years I’ve heard much about the prize-winning Fraser Group, and its role in the Lakeside Group, and thought it high time I visited one of its sites. So I travelled to Georgetown, Didcot, south of Oxford. This Spar store/BP forecourt site has recently been revamped and seems ideally situated – it’s among chimney pots, is just outside Didcot and has an entrance to the Didcot Girls’ School immediately behind it. On the down side it does have competition from a Co-op ‘Swift Shop’ c-store next door.

FORECOURT: The BP forecourt is large and under a long BP canopy are four accessible island fuelling points. Of special note are the decorative plants (positive) that adorn each island and various non-food WIGIG (when it’s gone it’s gone) promotions (negative) featured at the pumps.

In addition to the usual range of BP fuels the forecourt offers air, water, a vac, jet wash and full car wash. There are designated parking areas, a customer notice board and litter bins. The forecourt was busy and perhaps in need of some attention as there was quite a bit of litter across the site.

Outside the shop there are a number of customer services including an ATM, dog park, post box, Calor Gas, flowers/plants and winter fuel.

SHOP: The shop must be over 2,400 sq ft and includes a Post Office. It is a good example of a Spar forecourt shop and offers all the main c-store categories including fresh produce, serve-over food-to-go, news and a large off-licence section. As you would expect, the shop is well appointed (although there are no customer toilets) and many sections are clearly signed and merchandised.

The shop is open 6am to 11pm daily (7am to 11pm on Sundays) and at mid afternoon, the time of my visit, was quite busy. There is a large confectionery and snack food run and fresh foods are well featured. The off-licence section promoted a number of offers but at least two were not available. They had sold out and the shelf was just left empty. The ‘today’s offer’ board was left blank. The Bake ‘n’ Bite sandwich and savoury pastry offering was limited but hardly surprising, given the time of my visit.

A comprehensive range of Spar products was available as were major brand-leading products. There were a number of random off-shelf displays but no obvious promotional programme.

I felt store management a little lax – there were a number of shopping trolleys with stock in them abandoned in one corner of the shop. There was also quite a lot of rubbish on the floor. The member of staff on the till was brusque and told me in no uncertain terms that if there was no Spar Rioja (which was on special offer) on the shelf “then it had all gone”.

PROGNOSIS: I remain convinced that the c-store market and particularly the forecourt c-store market is still full of opportunity. But of course operators have to work at it. They have to constantly review their offer and ensure that it meets customers’ needs.

It is clear that the Fraser Group want to grasp the opportunity and have worked at it. Indeed they have invested heavily in facilities and in Spar they have chosen a first-class retail partner.

Diagnosis: But still retail is detail. It’s great to put all the store development elements in place but they must then be made to work and key to this is store management and staff training. So stock availability, store standards and staff friendliness are all areas that Spar/BP Georgetown should revisit.

I also think their shop offer would be improved if it included a promotional programme or fresh food offers and felt the store needed some form of ‘wow’ factor. They were offering non-food specials, but they seemed so out of keeping with the overall Spar image.

PRESCRIPTION: The Fraser Group and Spar constantly evolve their businesses and driving them forward to meet consumers’ demands. Between them they have won many awards for excellence.

The Spar/BP at Georgetown is good but currently not a prize-winning store. However, I am sure they will not give up and with further attention to store standards and innovation, it will excel again.