GENERAL APPEARANCE: On the A4, almost midway between Newbury and Reading, is a BP Mace service station. It shares a spacious site with WCE self-drive vehicle hire and MERC servicing and repairs.

FORECOURT: The BP/Mace-branded pole with illuminated fuel prices is not very visible approaching from Newbury, but better from the Reading side. Under an extensive BP canopy are five islands of pumps, all with easy access.

Fuel prices matched those of a supermarket in Newbury.

Each pump was topped with a number of non-food offers including one for electronic cigarettes.

Forecourt services include a car and jet wash, and also the usual provision of air, water and a vacuum. Designated parking spaces were rather limited.

A number of verge-edge flags stated ’Collect Nectar points here’; poster boards said ’Off licence in store, open 24 hours’; while shop window posters detailed promotions. At the shop front is a freestanding ATM it charges for withdrawals. Along the front of the shop is a newspaper display, flowers, winter fuels and large containers of screen wash. The site also offers a bottled gas service.

SHOP: Branded Mace it appears that the shop has recently been refurbished and rebranded. The corporate Mace fascia also carries the tag line ’Whenever-whatever’.

It fulfils the ’whenever’ promise as it opens for 24 hours but falls down on ’whatever’. It has most of the necessary offerings demanded by the motorist with little time to spare, but the main things missing are hot food-to-go and produce.

There is a Costa coffee and a basic range of sandwiches and savoury pastries but no café facility. The off licence section is limited but a range of offerings are displayed in cool cabinets. Spirits were displayed behind the till area as was HB and OTC products.

There is a tight range of magazines but a wide selection of ’top shelf’ titles were displayed on low shelves possibly alienating many customers.

There are no customer toilets.

PROGNOSIS: The owners have made the decision to go into partnership with Palmer & Harvey and join Mace. It’s a business that has recently grown its forecourt shop coverage significantly.

DIAGNOSIS: The benefits of joining a symbol group are well-documented and Mace, with its retailer tag line of ’sell more, make more’ provides a range of services to its retail members. But what is clear is that just signing up to a symbol group is only part of the solution. Owners must not become complacent; they must still drive their own businesses by tailoring their total offer to the needs and wants of their customers. The BP/Mace Thatcham unit gave me the impression that the owners consider the partnership with these two respected brands was sufficient and that their own individual marketing input was not required. But with a new business and uncertain market and economic conditions likely for some time, some more customer-focused activity may prove effective.

PRESCRIPTION: Many drivers are now actively looking to reduce mileage and using local shops more, so it is important to maintain this site’s competitive position.

If not already in place, customer deals could be negotiated with WVC hire and MERC. These could take the form of loyalty programmes, for example, covering the car and jet wash and coffee purchases.

Such loyalty usage deals should be introduced for all the sites’ customers. Meal deals are also a proven promotion activity that works well. Consider the introduction of a hot food-to-go programme.

Explore the opportunity of introducing a lottery scheme and an ATM that does not charge for transactions.

Develop a customer toilet facility and promote its availability on the pole surely something that should be widely adopted.

Introduce a robust customer care regime. Seek a major review session with Mace to agree necessary changes to the store’s offerings.

BP/Mace Thatcham is a great site and offers a good range of forecourt services in addition to a refurbished shop. With a more focused marketing programme it should be possible to increase both sales and profit.