GENERAL APPEARANCE: Five years ago I reported on my visit to this location, the Dome Roundabout, north Watford. Since then nothing much seems to have changed. It’s still a Shell-branded forecourt. A Sainsbury and Asda superstore are still within a stone’s throw but, significantly, the forecourt shop has changed from a Sainsbury Local to a Little Waitrose.

FORECOURT: During my visit the site was extremely busy with all of the 12 main pumps occupied most of the time. So, what’s the attraction, what’s the motivation to shop at this Shell/Waitrose site?

Well, in part it must be the very competitive prices for fuel at 137.9ppl for diesel and 129.9ppl for unleaded some 7ppl cheaper than average prices. However, the nearby Sainsbury Superstore was cheaper at 128.9ppl and the Asda Superstore cheaper still at 128.7ppl.

Another attraction may be the forecourt services. These included air, water, vacuum, car wash and jet wash as well as two separate HGV diesel pumps.

Front-of-shop offers included an ATM, newspapers, screen wash, winter fuels and rock salt. All good stuff and what drivers would expect from a large Shell site.

SHOP: The shop is branded Little Waitrose and has only very recently opened. Facing the store entrance is a large cabinet filled with soft drinks but the sign above it says ’soft fruit’. Not quite the start I was expecting from a Waitrose store! To the left of this unit is the aisle leading to the main ’food for now’ area. A hot food-to-go unit was quite small; four shelves were empty and only a few Ginsters products were on offer. My visit was just prior to the lunch period and I hoped other products were being prepared for sale. The sandwich, hot drink (Coffee Nation) and made-in-branch baguette sections looked good but a little tucked away to the rear of the shop.

The ’food for later’ range both ready meals and ingredients was comprehensive.

A well-selected range of beers, wines (many in chillers) and spirits was available. A good number of lines were on offer.

The customer toilet had a very grubby hand basin and the inspection chart showed that two of the hourly checks had been missed.

PROGNOSIS: Waitrose is expanding its shop estate. Its sales increases have recently out-performed the major supers and, as a result, its market share has increased. The company claims that a big priority is to "bring Waitrose to more people in more places". Part of this will be achieved with the expansion of its convenience store estate. Its first c-store was opened in 2008 and they are all now styled as Little Waitrose. The one at Watford is the company’s first forecourt shop part of a two-store trial with Shell.

DIAGNOSIS: Waitrose believes in quality and freshness. The stores stock a wide range of interesting products, many local and with clear provenance. But it is seen by many as an ’upmarket’, perhaps expensive retailer. Recently to address the question of price, it introduced an entry-level range called Essential Waitrose and is keeping many brand-leading products at the same selling prices as the large superstores.

PRESCRIPTION: This Little Waitrose offers a good forecourt shopping experience but some in-store standards need examining. They need to reflect the Waitrose ethos.

Quite a lot could be achieved by some ’management by walkabout’. For example, it would have picked up the mouldy lemon I saw on display and products that customers had abandoned among the shelving.

Rotas where displayed (eg toilet cleaning) must be maintained. The empty Waitrose magazine display stand I saw needed an information card stating when the publications would be available.

The ’food for now’ offerings seem disjointed and need refining and pulling together. The single item fruit display included lemons not in the same league as apples and bananas as a snack item! The Waitrose sandwich box has a strap line ’Good To Go’, an excellent heading that could be expanded across other products in the food-to-go range.

Waitrose has developed a great reputation for local charity donations but nothing about this was apparent in this shop.

The current competitive price of fuel must be a big draw for this site and I am sure this Little Waitrose will also become a destination stop once it has overcome some of its teething problems.