Following the news that Somerfield had purchased 140 sites from Texaco I thought I would visit an existing Somerfield/Texaco site to refresh my knowledge of their offer. Located in the village of Coal Aston on the B6056 and just off the A61 between Sheffield and Chesterfield is a Somerfield Essentials (recently opened) franchise on a Texaco dealer site. Coal Aston is a typical Derbyshire village; no shops – apart from the garage – and a large garden centre.

GENERAL APPEARANCE: It is a longish narrow site with a car wash at one end, then a car sales/service workshop and Somerfield Essentials store. Upfront parking is limited.

FORECOURT: The Texaco pumps looked a little jaded and certainly had not been refurbished when the store was refitted. Although the site was narrow, access to the pumps was easy, but I can imagine some chaos if drivers leave their cars at the pumps while using the shop. Car wash, vac and air facilities were clearly visible, but no water.

SHOP: Externally, opening hours were shown and there were some promotion posters on the window; the Somerfield Essentials banner could be clearly seen on the polesign. The only outside product offer was a small display of flowers. The front door opened onto the till area, and to the right was the main access to the shop. Like a Christmas tree with baubles, the shop was festooned with ‘great deals on your doorstep’ hanging signs. I am sure marketing theory says it’s good to repeat a message, but this lot seemed OTT, rather treating the customer as thick!

As regards planograms and product location I assume that Somerfield expertise had been employed in the store layout. This is a full-on c-store with an emphasis on fresh foods, and certainly a significant investment in chillers.

Top selling products and Somerfield own-brand products were available, but the shop offered a range well beyond what would satisfy ‘distress’ and ‘top-up’ shopping requirements.

Most products were marked with shelf-edge pricing, and milk was competitively priced.

The store was promoting a wide range of products – 26 lines (excluding varieties) – supported by a consumer leaflet, and I wonder if this had been distributed door-to-door in the village. If not, then I think the range of products being promoted was very ambitious, and could well result in a large range of products being overstocked. However, around the store, there were no significant out-of-stocks.

Key categories were all signed but it was difficult to navigate the store because of the number of ‘great deals on your doorstep’ signs. All I was looking for were some items for a snack lunch, but it took a while to locate the various offers.

The checkout operator was friendly and dealt with my transaction (fuel and snacks) efficiently. All staff were wearing Somerfield uniforms.

I struggled to find a satisfactory food-to-go offer and had to do with a sandwich from a rather limited range. Sandwiches were displayed on the top shelf of a chiller that was used for a mix of marked down stock. Oops! Evidence of quite a lot of over-ordering! There were quite a few cases of soft drinks seemingly abandoned in the middle of the store. There was no bake-off offering; no customer toilets and no ATM.

PROGNOSIS: This is a typical multiple store that research indicates the c-store shopper wants – clean and modern, with convenient opening hours and offering essentials underpinned with a good fresh range. The challenge is to get residents to shop the store and to satisfy the needs of transient customers.

DIAGNOSIS: I hope the store will closely analyse its sales for a thorough understanding of its customers’ requirements and adjust its offering accordingly.

PRESCRIPTION: I had a feeling this type of store – slick multiple – was out of place in the village. Perhaps customer research will prove me wrong, but I wonder if an offering of local produce and more tailored promotions would be more effective.