LOCATION: Very close to the busy centre of the small market town of Romsey is a BP Park & Shop service station. In such a central position it is very accessible and visible thanks to its large branded canopy and pole with prices.

FORECOURT: The site was busy and the three islands of pumps in constant use. Perhaps this was due to two outdoor posters at the front of the forecourt that stated ’Cut Price Fuel 2 Days a Week’ and ’Cut Price Fuel Today’. Prices were 2ppl less than the local competition.

The pumps were in need of a clean and looked past their best. They were topped not by the usual non-food offers but a sign promoting confectionery.

At the rear of the site is a car wash and jet wash bay together with air, water and vacuum services. There is also a Calor Gas service and some parking spaces.

Up-front shop offers include an ATM that disappointingly, and now unusually for forecourts, charged for services. In addition, there are solid and barbecue fuels as well as newspapers the stand had been well shopped and a number of titles sold out. Then, intriguingly, there was a tallish display unit headed Park Café but it only contained a poster for the Health Lottery!

SHOP: The shop fascia is branded with the Park & Shop logo and a strap line ’for life’s essentials’.

At first sight, a lot of forecourt shoppers’ ’life’s essentials’ were available food-to-go, hot drinks, milk, top-up groceries and an off licence section. But others were not no produce, for example!

Many of the displays were low on stock just two packs of sandwiches (both ploughmen’s fillings) in the chilled snack section and limited availability of milk (one bottle of two pint semi-skimmed). The grocery aisle was being re-stocked and several packing cases on the floor made it difficult to shop the area. There is a wide range of confectionery, some in original display cartons, but too many were empty!

Promotions are limited in number and again stock levels alarmed me. Just one line of wine at a very competitive price, but only two bottles left. A number of free-standing display units are in use, for example, for a range of Cofresh snacks. No sign of the Park Café in store!

The customer toilet was closed with an ’out of order’ notice on the door but the helpful member of staff kindly allowed me to use it. I can see why it’s not generally open to shoppers the area is partly used as a store room and the toilet area is in need of attention.

There was a short queue, and I noticed that most people in it were fuel-only customers, but the member of staff kept calm and friendly as he dealt with transactions.

PROGNOSIS: The Park Garage Group website states that the first Park & Shop store there are now some 35 of them opened in August 2003. They must have been cutting-edge stores then but now, judging by Park & Shop Romsey, the old model is not working to maximum effect.

Leading forecourt operators today know the importance of refuelling both the customer and their vehicle. But research tells us that refuelling patterns are changing. Drivers are not completely filling tanks and are refuelling more often. Besides fuel, food-to-go and hot coffee are prime shopping needs. Strong promotions and £1 offers encourage impulse sales. And, of course, fresh produce has become a must-stock range.

DIAGNOSIS: One of the attractions of this site is its location very close to the town centre with lots of passing traffic. The challenge is to get more of this traffic to visit it.

PRESCRIPTION: Fuel competitiveness is important, but would an everyday 1ppl saving in comparison to local competition work better than cut-price fuel on just two days each week?

Other changes could include:

Promote the use of the car and jet wash.

Convert the cash machine to ’free to use.’

Refurbish the customer toilet.

Introduce an in-store bake off and hot food-to-go offering.

Introduce special offers on coffee and meal deals.

Develop a limited fresh produce range.

Clear clutter from the till area and use the space to up-sell selected products.