Last month’s issue of Forecourt Trader featured the Petrol Division of United Co-operatives and reported some very impressive shop developments and results. I resolved to visit a site as soon as possible then remembered that the report mentioned one at Westhoughton near Bolton – I was up that way so popped in. Close to the town centre of Westhoughton and at the Pavilion Shopping Centre is a Co-op Food Market and in its shadow is the forecourt.

forecourt: It’s huge and under the large Shell-branded canopy there are three easily-accessed pump islands with 18 nozzles. Two of the fuel dispensing units had handwritten notices on them telling drivers that diesel was only available at one pump.

The site was steadily busy – it was 12.40pm – and fuel was competitively priced.

The large site is rather anonymous but there is ample room for parking although there are no designated spaces.

Both a jet wash and car wash were available as was air and water. There were no offerings in front of the small shop and no posters on the window advertising offers inside.

shop: The fascia is blue and at its right hand end was the single word ‘shop’ and no mention of the Co-op brand.

The shop is small but seems to offer a basic range of top-up items but no beers, wines or fresh produce. Nor was I aware of strong promotional offers. There was no customer toilet or cash machine.

This is clearly a town centre site and is not targeted to the transient driver – indeed I was a little hard pressed to find tempting items for my lunch and had to settle for a basic sandwich (from a very limited selection) and a bottled drink. Both chillers were getting perilously close to being out of stock as was the ice cream cabinet and bread section.

There were a few oddities in store. Under a bold wall-mounted confectionery sign, barbecue items were displayed; on the back wall was a wooden display shelf with nothing on it apart from an unopened case of snacks and last, but not least, a gondola end of anti-freeze! Perhaps left over from last winter or getting ready for the coming season?

My time spent in line to pay for my purchases was a little longer than necessary as the member of staff working the till was having difficulties. She kept calling – well yelling almost – for help but by the time it arrived she had it sorted.

prognosis: Most successful retailers are keen to promote their brand and to demonstrate to customers a deep understanding of what they want. Many spend considerable sums on research into the needs and wants of customers and potential customers. And in the forecourt market we also ask what customers want from a convenience forecourt store. The answers have helped to drive the large number of highly professional forecourt operators that we now have in our sector.

Last month’s feature on United Co-operatives reported that United’s Petrol Division was as keen as any organisation to drive shop sales and profit forward and it was developing its shop offer accordingly. Let’s hope the company turns it attention to the shop at Westhoughton soon.

Diagnosis: The Co-op Food Market in Pavilion Square is situated above the forecourt; you have to drive down to it. So the shop is in the shadow of the Food Market, certainly from a physical standpoint, but I felt from a trading perspective too. This is a shame because I am sure the shop is not reaching its full potential.

Prescription: A way forward to help realise more of its potential would be to apply some of the programme invested in United’s newly-acquired sites. The shop could be extended but at the very least it could be refurbished. Apply for an off licence; introduce fresh produce; and a targeted promotional programme. Ensure the shop is well managed.

I know that the ‘one solution fits all’ approach is not always applicable, but surely the expertise within United is such that it can develop this store so it is better at meeting the expectations of the consumer.