LOCATION: Last year, following a few weeks closure for a new-build, this site re-opened as Essentials of West Meon a Nisa/BP Service Station

FORECOURT: It’s a prominent corner site with an illuminated price pole and access on both the A272 and A32. Four islands of pumps are covered by a large unbranded canopy. Perhaps waiting for an opportunity to brand it Nisa? The pumps are new and were in good working order. Despite its rural location and the fact that there are not competing service stations for some miles, fuel prices were bang on competition in the wider area.

The forecourt is rather plain and although there seems to be space, no car or jet wash facilities are available. Services are restricted to air, water, vacuum, Calor gas and a number of parking spaces.

In front of the shop is an ATM (free-to-use), bins containing various types of winter fuels, a newspaper display unit and snow toys including toboggans.

Advertising on the forecourt was restricted to BP fuels and Nectar. The largest banner, at the corner of the site, promoted the ’Boost Your Balance 1 in 4 chance to win Nectar points’ promotion. But mysteriously no hot food or drinks deals. I was puzzled why there was no forecourt promotion for the store’s Hut Restaurant one of the main reasons I had decided to ’stealth check’ this site

SHOP: I calculate the shop size to be around 2,500sq ft and being relatively new, all was looking fresh and bright. There were no signs to the restaurant area but I found it in the far left-hand section of the store. To get there shoppers need to pass through the shop. There is a good run of produce nicely displayed in wicker baskets but some of the items were past their best. A mouldy grapefruit and yellowing greens will put shoppers off the rest of the range!

There is a large good-looking range of Ginger’s Kitchen soups and ready meals (interestingly packed in biodegradable wooden baking trays) and also Heritage brand products. Specialist Cook frozen meals are available in two cabinets.

The off licence section is good but it was rather disappointing to see a display of various wines on offer still using Christmas-themed pos material.

The Hut Restaurant area includes a large in-store bakery display section, a serve-over counter and some tables and chairs. The made-to-order burger I had was good and it was encouraging to see tradesmen ordering their lunches.

A separate Starbucks’ hot drinks counter is at the edge of the area.

A pleasing display of bunches of flowers and plants is positioned at the store’s entrance, as is a great pile of Christmas tins of sweets and other seasonal lines. At this time of year, they look dated and as if the store got its ordering wrong.

A wide range of lines are on promotion as detailed in the available ’Price Smash’ Nisa leaflet.

There are two customer loos one designated for baby change and disabled. Both were in urgent need of a clean. Close supervision of the facilities with very regular checks is essential! Another clean shop sadly let down by grubby customer toilet facilities.

There seemed to be plenty of staff. At one point, three on the tills and at least two in the restaurant.

PROGNOSIS: This enterprise represents a massive investment and has a lot going for it. A good location with lots of passing traffic and plenty of in-store space.

The challenge is to get drivers and shoppers to stop, buy fuel and use the shop and restaurant.

DIAGNOSIS: A priority must be to continue to establish this new business in its community and to drive the forecourt and shop/restaurant business to transient shoppers.

The aim to keep fuel prices competitive is vital.

PRESCRIPTION: Recent research indicates that forecourt customers regard hot food as more important than ambient or chilled. The Hut Restaurant recognises that, but then falls short in marketing the facility and its menu options. There’s plenty of space on the forecourt for some bold promotional material.

It may be worth promoting the Nisa promotions locally, but perhaps more important to focus on the store’s point of difference. The Gingers Kitchen and Cook range for example and perhaps, in time, some local products. These could well be the subject of a special leaflet reference on Facebook.