Judged by any standard the Esso Gate Services filling station and shop near Faversham, Kent is a busy site. But judged by my standards – and the look of shock-horror on the faces of many motorists and shoppers I saw during my visit – it is a dump. Esso should be ashamed and should have taken action weeks ago to protect its business and reputation.
The Gate Services site is on the northbound side of the A2 at Dunkirk just beyond Canterbury and also includes a lorry park, Little Chef and Travelodge.
FORECOURT: The site was constantly busy and I had to wait to fuel my car. The Esso branded canopy is huge and there are three islands each with two multi-nozzle pumps that were filthy. All the equipment looked DIRTY and the whole site was a mass of litter.
While filling the car I noticed that the car wash was marked ‘Permanently Closed’ and looked as if it had been for months. The vacuum was ‘Out of Order’.
The HGV diesel filling point at the rear of the store was no better.
Obviously, all was not as it should be and it seemed clear that the owner of the site and business had given up, and just could not care less about it.
THE SHOP: So, into the Esso ‘Snack & Shop’ and matters go from bad to worse! Basically it is a standard Esso shop with a food-to-go service and all the main categories you would expect... but, carnage.
The shop front and interior (walls, floors display units, loos) were dirty and had not been cleaned for ages. Acres of shelving was on display but with little stock. Motorists and would-be shoppers were wandering around in a daze, and the two members of staff were no help – they had given up. I felt particularly sorry for the French parents who I imagine had recently just arrived at one of the nearby continental points of entry to the UK and were struggling to feed their young family from the lousy selection. Given its geographical position, trade from overseas visitors should considerably boost this site’s business.
All sections were short of stock but the newspaper and magazine section looked terrible with the magazine racking running up the wall and not a publication in sight. Well, ok, a few local papers and torn and damaged magazines were strewn around. At the pumps two different ‘meal deals’ at £2.49 were being advertised, but there was no evidence of the offers in store. At the till and while completing my transaction, a most disgruntled member of staff informed me that the business was to be “under Esso ownership in a few weeks”.
PROGNOSIS: It is reported that there is a strong demand for fully operational filling stations for development, and in the past few months we have seen reports of a significant number of sites changing hands. I expect many of the transactions have necessitated most complicated financial and legal settlements but I doubt if any have allowed the existing business to so seriously deteriorate as in the case of Gate Services before the new owners took over.
DIAGNOSIS: During my visit I was not aware of any notification to customers that the business was about to change hands. Had I not asked a member of staff I would not have known and may well have left the site vowing never to return or to reward an Esso filling station or shop with my repeat custom ever again.
PRESCRIPTION: Businesses and in particular, retailers, should never forget that the customer is king. There may well be some special circumstances at Gate Services that resulted in the dire Esso forecourt and shop that I – and large numbers of other motorists – experienced during the day of my visit – and, I fear, many days before and after – until the new owners get a grip of the situation. I believe customers should have been informed about the situation, and I am simply staggered that Esso, which invests so much in an attempt to build a relationship with motorists and customers, should so easily allow that trust to be destroyed.