GENERAL APPEARANCE: On the A144 to Norwich is one of the Hammond Group’s forecourts. The large Jet Aim Hi prize-winning site has a Ford dealership, plus used cars and servicing/repairs facilities.
FORECOURT: There are four islands of pumps, each topped with two non-food offers. Access to the pumps is restricted as the forecourt is quite narrow and non-fuel customers have to pass by the pumps to reach the parking spaces.
The fuel prices were competitive and the trade was steady.
To the far side of the showroom there is a car wash and at the other end of the shop the air, vacuum and Calor gas service.
SHOP: The shop is branded Mace Express with the Palmer & Harvey standard silver and blue fascia. But the fascia is a bit lost among the vibrant yellow and blue Jet livery.
Best use has been made of the limited shop space with many of the key convenience store categories on offer. In theory that’s good - but in reality perhaps too much for a small shop with limited staff to manage it.
During my late morning visit, some of the offerings were in need of attention. For example, the newspaper section was a mess and a number of products were very low in stock and about to run out.
There were no flowers or fresh produce. Some bakery products and sandwiches were from local suppliers.
There was a leaflet dispenser containing a Stock List of the used Ford motors that the Hammond Group had available. No customer toilet facilities were available.
The one member of staff in the shop was friendly and efficient but was not in a Mace- or Hammond Group-branded uniform.
PROGNOSIS: This Jet forecourt appears favourably positioned. It is in partnership with Mace and is part of a significant enterprise - the Hammond Group.
Local rumours suggest that the Halesworth Co-op is to close its forecourt to allow more car parking space for store customers. If correct this would leave the Hammond Jet/Mace site as the only forecourt for some miles around. But local reports also say that Tesco is trying to open a store in Halesworth.
Halesworth town is full of small independent stores and the opening of a Tesco in addition to the Co-op supermarket will certainly change the pattern of shopping for the community. Small shops could well be under pressure.
DIAGNOSIS: In addition to becoming the only fuel retailer around, the Hammond Group Mace shop could become an essential edge-of-town convenience store.
More and more consumers may be looking for a convenient source of top-up lines, chilled products, fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh bread and flowers - all offered with exceptional service without the need to trudge round a supermarket.
PRESCRIPTION: There is a clear opportunity for the shop to raise the bar in terms of its performance. Thinking businesses are usually receptive to new approaches that may further drive their performance and Hammonds management must know that innovation is the key to growth.
It appears that Halesworth is a fairly tight community and would respond to a community-centred business. The Hammonds/Mace shop should open up two-way communication. Perhaps starting with the school that is opposite the forecourt. Consider sponsoring one of the school’s activities, hold a My Shop is Your Shop ’Cuppa Day’ event at the school and find out what the mums, dads and teachers want from their local shop.
Hammonds should source more products with a local connection - ones that won’t be available in the Co-op and Tesco. And perhaps start a fruit and vegetable box collection scheme.
Install an ATM, display newspapers and flowers on the forecourt. Use the epos to the full and cut out all slow-selling lines and add those that customers say they want. Promote the forecourt and shop to all those who visit the Hammonds showrooms - give them a leaflet and coupon for a free cup of coffee, for example.
It is not always the strongest that survive but the ones most responsive to change.
So Hammonds will need to keep adapting and investing to grow and to maintain its prize-winning ways.