GENERAL APPEARANCE: This joint-branded Shell/Londis Express site is architecturally distinctive with a large M32 sign secured by a series of cables towering above the shop. Intense use has been made of a difficult shaped position but one, which I guess might test the patience of drivers at certain times.

FORECOURT: Under a large Shell-branded canopy there are four main pump islands with some 20 nozzles (at least two were not available and just had Londis carrier bags tied over them) pumping the normal range of fuels including four devoted to Autogas. I found it difficult to locate a diesel nozzle and had to change lanes. While refuelling I had an opportunity to scan the forecourt and was amazed to see at the separate HGV lane a nozzle abandoned on the ground.

The site was busy – I was there just after 11.30am – and the congestion of cars on the forecourt was a challenge. There is no obvious up-front parking if you only want the shop or cash dispenser. In fact there is limited space for parking to the side of the shop and at the rear six bays, but they seemed to be occupied by the same six cars during the whole of my visit. Parking and lane management is obviously a problem.

SHOP: Forecourt c-stores come in all shapes and sizes and this one is no exception. It needs and has a very clear entrance and exit system, and the owner and Londis have made good use of the available space. At the centre of the wide entrance is an island cool cabinet offering a great range of savoury snacks, sandwiches, drinks and fruit. To its left flowers, magazines and news, and to the right the counter. On the way to the counter, fuel-only customers would pass lots of ‘grab and go’ products including an extensive range of crisps and confectionery. At the rear of the store is the chiller cabinet (the price for a two-pint carton of milk was expensive at 78p) and in the right hand corner a large off licence. I was intrigued by a floor stand branded ‘Usefuls’ displaying a wide range of household and DIY items – I wonder if it pays for its floor space but it says that as a c-store we have thought of everything. Generally the store stocked a tight range of top-up grocery items and is designed to satisfy the impulse wants of transient customers.

At the heart of the store is a large Bake ‘n’ Bite hot food-to-go counter. During my visit it was staffed by two sales assistants busy preparing food for the lunchtime demand. I saw two other members of staff – both in Shell Optimax shirts – one working the till, effectively but without any customer interaction or charm and the other merchandising the confectionery fixture. The weather on the day of my visit was horrid and this goes some way to explain the rather dirty floor. But I feel it does not excuse the very grimy washbasins in the toilets and paintwork around all the loo door handles. The ladies toilet advertised baby changing facilities but none existed.

PROGNOSIS: This store has made very good use of the space available. I imagine the forecourt pumps a considerable litreage of fuel and that the link with Londis has proved valuable in driving profitable shop sales. The geographical position of M32 services would suggest that many of their customers would be transient and possibly fuel only. The challenge then is to convert them to fuel and shop customers.

DIAGNOSIS: Displays of impulse lines were good but something is needed to arrest the attention of potential shop customers. Perhaps promotions could add some theatre and interest. I believe Londis has a ‘star buys’ programme, designed to appeal to impulse buyers. I thought the off licence section cried out for some offers to attract shoppers to its position at the rear of the store. I feel the store’s pricing policy is at the top end of the range and should not be pushed further, so a limited range of offers would also demonstrate a commitment to delivering value to shoppers.

PRESCRIPTION: M32 services is an impressive operation and delivering much, but by applying more management by walkabout – seeing the site as customers – and paying more attention to the basics such as cleaning and forecourt management, this site could be not just good but excellent.