HKS, the Leicester-based Top 50 Indie, last month celebrated its 31st birthday with the launch of its flagship site, HKS Sandringham, its biggest development to date. It was a busy month for the successful Thakrar family business, with confirmation that it has acquired seven new sites from Shell, to add to its 27-strong network.

The new flagship site, in Melton Road Leicester, was officially opened on May 1, with a party atmosphere including special promotions, plus a local press and radio campaign encouraging customers to come and familiarise themselves with the delights of this amazing new forecourt and convenience operation.

It features a modern BP forecourt with jet wash and parking, Tokheim pumps with media screens, ANPR, Tokheim Eye CCTV, plus an eye-catching silver bull-nosed canopy link to the main store. Then comes the light and spacious 200sqm Spar shop, packed with all the products, services and facilities customers have come to expect from a forecourt built for the future.

The company wanted the site packed with innovation, according to HKS operations manager Chris Loach. Hence as well as today’s forecourt staples Costa Coffee and Subway it has created its own café area, Café@HKS. Taking up just 4sqm of corner space, it offers breakfast and lunch menus including chips and pizza with vegetarian options. Key to this offer is an Ovention oven, which enables three-minute cooking without the need for a deep fat fryer and the consequent extraction paraphernalia, so it can be placed anywhere in store.

Alongside the café, taking up the whole of one side of the store, is an extended counter and accompanying bar stools, plus numerous electric sockets with USB inputs which, combined with free wifi, is an absolute magnet for local children.

"We had business users in mind when we built it, but the kids love it and sit here for hours, buying coffees, Subways, chips and so on," says Chris. "It’s been very well received."

Another first for HKS is the high open ceiling. "Other sites have painted it black or grey, but we decided to paint it white, which is unusual, but gives the store a bright look plus the dust doesn’t show quite as much." Also in terms of design, the company wanted to create a supermarket atmosphere, to encourage people to do a bigger shop, hence higher shelving mainly 2.2m high compared to the more traditional 1.3m. LED lighting strips are used on the gondola ends to highlight products and promotions.

While sales both on the forecourt and in the store progress smoothly upwards and on target, the development, as is often the case, was not without its headaches. Firstly with a start date for the £1.5m knock-down-rebuild (including new tanks and lines) due for January 2015, a factory fire next door destroyed the canopy and the site had to be closed in August. Then when building was underway, the trouble caused by the re-siting of a BT box was completely underestimated both in time and money setting the project back several weeks and costing an eye-watering £94k (budget was £20k). Not to mention extensive highways works to re-route the exit. But after an eight-month closure, HKS is very proud of its new development and more will follow.