LOCATION: I approached the Crossways Service Station from Pembroke Dock across the toll bridge on the A477 towards Haverfordwest. It was easy to find as the Gulf-branded canopy and pole really stood out.

FORECOURT: The Gulf pole has illuminated prices and details of various services available. In a falling market, the fuel price was very competitive. The four pump islands were all working. Refuelling trade seemed steady.

At the road side of the site is a Calor Gas cage and signs promoting a special deal ’Spend £10 on fuel and get a half price Top Wash’. The rollover car wash and two jet wash bays were to the side of the shop together with an air-line and vacuum. There was also an outside customer toilet, that was out of order. This whole area had a rather worn, slightly run-down appearance.

In front of the shop is a very visible ATM but it charges £1.99 per transaction.

There are a number of designated parking spaces.

SHOP: The fascia boldly features the ’best-one’ symbol and its heart motif. It is clean and fresh unlike the entrance door to the shop! This was rather grimy.

It was obvious that the long run of refrigerated cabinets on the left of the entrance was brand new and its merchandising was just being completed. It now looked bright, clean and an interesting area to shop. To the right of the entrance is an impressive run of food-to-go offerings made up of a slush dispenser, a Rustler on-the-go machine, then a Rollover hot dog cabinet, a Tchibo to-go machine and counter and finally a bake-off display cabinet.

The rest of the shop includes a comprehensive area for grocery items, fairly extensive displays of confectionery and crisps and snacks, an off licence and a number of free-standing display units (one with technology items and gadgets). By the till area there is a large leather corner sofa and TV (not on) inviting customers to rest and relax. During my visit none did.

Probably as a consequence of the merchandising of the new cabinets, there were a large number of original cartons around the shelving with stock ready to be put on display. It was all quite untidy and, as a result, difficult to shop.

I could find very few local products or produce (there were just some pre-packed lettuce and cucumbers) but a good range of best-in products was available.

Customer leaflets featuring the current best-one promotion were available and a number of the products were on gondola ends and well signed.

While dealing with my transaction, staff apologised for the toilet not working.

PROGNOSIS: Crossways Service Station is part of the Dragon Service Station enterprise and it was great to see the continuing investment into the updating and development of that business.

DIAGNOSIS: Market conditions are uncertain and although usually resilient, retail sales are challenging. Total market sales are at best static or even in decline. It is predicted that food prices will start to increase as inflation really kicks in thus adding to household shopping bills and making consumers yet more selective in their purchases.

PRESCRIPTION: Clearly Dragon Service Stations is investing in the future, so some thoughts about the short term. For instance, I spent over three times the value of fuel to qualify for a car wash discount but was not asked if I wanted to take advantage of the offer.

Some growth markets were not being fully exploited. For example, produce and local products. And, apart from the posters on the entrance door, I saw no involvement with the local community. This is an area worth exploring as it really reinforces the fact that the shop is putting something back into the local community.