Travelling from Worthing to Brighton, on the A27 just past Sompting, I made a stealthcheck on a Your Store Esso site. The forecourt is only some 50 metres off the A27 but it is very much a neighbourhood site.

Forecourt: I needed to refuel and having rejected the many corporate-owned sites in Worthing, was glad to visit the Manor Road Your Shop forecourt that is clearly visible from the A27. However, I could not refuel as two teams from Gilbarco Veeder-Root were working on the pumps.

In addition, the jet spray, which was actually advertised on a huge poster as ’open’, was clearly marked ’out of action’ However there was a car vac facility and air and water were available. Calor gas, solid fuel and flowers (including a tray of dying plants) were available in front of the shop. As there were no designated parking spaces I, together with other drivers, abandoned my car at the edge of the site while I visited the shop.

Shop: The ’Your Shop’ branded store is small but filled with shelving, cool cabinets and display areas offering a wide range of goods and services. This is a mini-market serving its neighbourhood with a long list (too long?) of basic canned, bottled and packaged groceries. It also stocked items you would expect from an operator focused as a forecourt convenience store such as news (despite a traditional CTN store opposite), food-to-go and an off-licence section.

All displays looked a little confusing as items were crammed into a limited space and no consideration had been given to category management. There were a number of hand-written notices drawing attention to an ecletic range of offers from ’free use of the microwave’ to an offer on ’toboggans’ - which was very quick off the mark as it had just been snowing.

I could see no structured range of special offers. No regular offers that could be marketed by leaflet to the many households in the neighbourhood, or impulse offers for fuel-only customers. There is no customer toilet facility.

The couple of staff in store were, I assumed, a husband and wife team and also the owners. They were extremely friendly and helpful but seemed not at all concerned that I had not been able to buy fuel.

Prognosis: Independent store operators looking to drive their businesses are well advised to join a symbol group. Despite operating in a fiercely competitive marketplace, symbol groups can help retailers to innovate, develop and increase profit.

The owner of the Manor Road shop has obviously heeded this advice. They selected Palmer & Harvey and signed up as a ’Your Store’ member. I thought I should update my knowledge of the ’Your Store’ offer and so visited the P&H website only to discover ’Your Store’ is now only available in Northern Ireland.

Manor Road must continue to evolve if it is to achieve a significant share of the trade available in its neighbourhood and have any hope of attracting all the motorists that must pass along the A27 each day.

Diagnosis: I suggest the evolution should start with a review of Manor Road’s chosen wholesaler/symbol group. Should the owners decide to stay with P&H they should at least press to be converted to a Mace Express. On its website P&H offers a ’Symbol Health Check Programme’ and the six steps the programme offers - trading assessment; consumer profiling; action plan; refit/remerchandise; ProShopper Blueprint planograms; and financial incentives - should help to maximise the store’s potential.

Prescription: The owners of Manor Road deserve credit for trying - they have joined a symbol group and it is not their fault that it is now a brand only being promoted in Northern Ireland. They have installed a microwave and hot drinks machine but the store lacked theatre. It fact it seemed a bit of a jumble - particularly the news section. They need to meet today’s shoppers’ expectations. I believe the site has good potential and I encourage the owners to take advantage of the services of the P&H symbol area manager, as promoted in last year’s Forecourt Trader ’fascia focus’ supplement. Should P&H not agree to help - change wholesaler.