It’s been a long time closed, but last month the MRH team proudly opened the doors on its glorious 6mlpa site at Barton Mills, on the busy Fiveways Roundabout on the A11 near Bury St Edmunds. It is the last major development currently planned following MFG’s acqusition of the company which will be completed this month and bears all the hallmarks of the type of modern and stylish developments and upgrades that have taken place throughout the MRH network under CEO Karen Dickens.

A serious fire in April 2017 had gutted the shop and forced the site’s closure, prompting its redevelopment. Part of the Esso-Anglia package which was acquired by MRH in 2015, it had featured a small £5k-a-week store with a typical Hursts offer, and a recently installed Subway. "It was always identified for redevelopment, but it was producing a very good profit, and until the fire, difficult to develop because it was such a busy, successful site," explains Andy Cresswell, the company’s retail md. It has a huge amount of passing traffic 30k a day but with strong competition from a Shell site on the opposite side of the roundabout, and a Rontec site just down the road. MRH also has a site in the town, and two sites further along the A11 towards Norwich Thetford East which has just been converted into a Budgens; and Thetford West, featuring MRH’s first ’Grab & Go’ format. Barton Mills is the eighth Grab & Go. The site enjoys both a big tourist and commuting trade, and despite the proximity of the nearby town after some deliberation, the team decided to focus on the transient customer because of the difficulty for people accessing the site due to the road system. "Over the past 12 months we’ve undertaken a full review of the network so that we really understand what’s going on at all of our sites the key levers/contributors to the potential customer base; so that we can deliver a mission-focused offer," says Andy. "We have worked with location analysis company CACI to produce a ’mission’ model, which gives us the confidence to invest in a certain format. It gives us the facts about demographics, local businesses, schools, colleges, passing traffic and so on, but it also drills down to details such as the time of day pumps are being used. But even with all the data, you still have to visit the site to understand its location; a lot of people may live locally as in the case of Barton Mills but they may have trouble getting to the site from where they live.

"Which is why here at Barton Mills the focus is very much on food for now for business, family, tourist, HGV and van drivers very much focused on morning and lunchtime. But it’s also about providing an impactful, modern and spacious location with an inspirational food-for-now offer giving motorists the confidence to stop, knowing they can stay here for half an hour. It’s also very much a roadside services offer with our focus on facilities like washrooms and significant parking (20 spaces)."

The building is certainly striking, with its multi-coloured brickwork in MRH colours, and a plethora of branded offers, which scream at you to come in for a Subway, a Costa Coffee, or a hot pizza or chicken wrap from Stone Willy’s: "We really needed to make a statement to ensure that the passing traffic will see that there is a very good, full offer here," says Andy. "We’re really proud of the impact of the building. We’ve been working on this for 18 months this is the first one we’ve developed. We’re really aware that the turning rate for the road is dependent on the visibility and the size of the building. We’ve done a lot of research that shows that our bigger units, where drivers going past have more confidence that there’s a better offer inside, have a higher turning rate for the shop. What we have here is a double-height building, but only one floor. It has the MRH colours fully integrated into it to really get that imposing structure. What it gives is a higher ceiling; a good comfortable atmosphere which means people are happy to stay for a while; it gives that services feel, rather than a small box where you’re in each other’s way." As well as the branded food offers, a lot of work has been done on catering for all needs: such as hot water for tea and Pot Noodles; and a focus on healthy foods. The 175sq m store also features a standard offer of Booker-supplied distress products; plus an off licence. "We’ve got high hopes that we’ll see growth on fuel and very high growth in the shop," says Andy. "Early indications of the first few days is that will certainly be the case."