Just outside Romsey, on the Dorchester to Guildford A31, is a forecourt with a Co-op c-store and BP fuels. The Co-op is part of the Southern Co-operatives, a regional society that operates some 90 convenience stores of which only two have a forecourt.

Forecourt: The total site is fairly long but without much depth. At one end is Southgate’s, a Peugeot main dealer, and at the other end the shop and busy forecourt. The BP canopy covers a tight area of four pumps. Access is just about okay but is, I suspect, liable to get seriously snarled up if fuel customers abandon their cars to do a proper shop in the store. The petrol price was spot on compared to local competition but diesel was 3-4p a litre more expensive. Despite that I refuelled with diesel and was disappointed not to find a plastic glove or paper towel on the forecourt - all the dispensers were empty.

Air and water were available but no car wash facility. Calor gas is available and there is an ATM at the front of the store. Designated parking spaces are at a premium and there was some jostling for the spaces in the ’no-man’s-land’ area between the Peugeot showroom and shop. February 14 had passed but at the pumps a Valentine bear was still on offer at £2.99!

There was a pole in the middle of the site, situated so that it is visible from the A31 both east and west of the site.

Shop: The Co-op shop is a full-on c-store, about 4,000sq ft in size. The shop offers a comprehensive range. Highlights include the in-store bakery, fresh produce section and off licence. There seemed to be an abundance of BOGOF deals being promoted although a surprising number of the offers were out of stock. In fact there were quite a lot of stock-outs around the store, but equally a fair few cases of stock by the shelving ready for shelf filling. However, there was no sign of any staff to do it.

There were a few left-over Christmas and Valentine offers, and also the beginnings of a display of Easter eggs and confectionery. The one customer toilet was just squalid. The flooring stained, the washbasin filthy and the lock broken so would-be users would have no idea whether it was occupied or not.

True to the philosophy of the Co-op movement, there was a community noticeboard and free copies of the Southern Co-operatives magazine available. Entry forms were available for various ’Community Awards’, but all were out of date. Only one till was staffed to deal with a queue of some six or seven customers - inevitably transactions were harassed and far from strong on customer service.

Prognosis: In the face of stiffening competition c-stores, and particularly forecourt c-stores, continue to prosper. In many cases this is due to increased investment; a greater understanding of customers needs and wants; and exceptional customer care.Without such focus the competition will prevail.

Diagnosis: The Co-op Romsey has received investment; the store looks good and most of the fitments and equipment are in good order. But does it understand and is it trying to meet its customer needs? Well no, I don’t think so. All we have here is the Southern Cooperative formula; a template that I expect is applied to all its stores. Exceptional customer service? Certainly not. Just think, no gloves or towels at the pumps; terrible toilet facilities; community notices way out of date; lots of out-of-stocks - including promotional lines and too few staff at the checkouts.

Prescription: The Co-op should give more thought to the needs of the store’s location and its customer’s requirements. I am far from convinced that even this neighbourhood/forecourt store needs such a huge stock range. It would be a fascinating exercise to measure the store’s performance using the Pareto principle - I bet some 80% of turnover comes from 20% of the range and that means there must be hundreds of shelf warmers in stock. The Co-op movement is passionate about values and principles, including customer care. But in The Co-op Romsey customer care needs urgent attention... as does that toilet. By eradicating some of the basic problems they will demonstrate that they do care.