GENERAL APPEARANCE: The BP Connect/Marks & Spencer Simply Food forecourt and shop at Popham on the A303 west shares the site with a Little Chef that was recently the focus of attention of Heston Blumenthal.
FORECOURT: The large site is well signed with both a Little Chef and BP pole - the BP pole promotes in addition to current fuel prices its M&S Simply Food and Wild Bean Café offerings.
The forecourt is spacious with a canopy covering four islands of pumps. The then current BP/Nectar card offer ’Win your fill back!’ was clearly promoted and there was a good stream of motorists refuelling.
In addition there is a separate HGV pump - also steadily in use - with its own canopy.
For shop-only customers, parking was difficult as the up-front store parking spaces are limited and all the spaces in the large Little Chef parking area were occupied.
To the rear of the site BP offered an air and water service but no car/jet wash facility is available.
Shop-front offers include an ATM, newspapers, piles of winter fuels and a large array of cold weather motoring products.
SHOP: On entering the shop the first offering is M&S Simply Food. It seems to me a very comprehensive M&S food range although obviously fewer facings than in one of their larger traditional stores. To display the vast majority of the range, chiller cabinets are required. Many of the M&S products were on offer but the sections did not look well shopped. The shop offer also includes a M&S off licence section, a limited number of branded groceries, a range of branded confectionery, soft drinks and snack products. It seemed to me that the branded product offers were selling better than the M&S offers.
I was puzzled by the M&S bread offering - the display fitment was too small, the shelves too close together and there were far too many signs proclaiming ’sorry temporarily out of stock’. The sandwich display was a mess.
The Wild Bean Café has a self select offering and serve-over facility for hot drinks/cooked food. One table and a few chairs are available for customers wanting to eat/drink in. The Café was not busy.
The hand basins in the customer toilets were surprisingly grubby.
I guess the number of SKUs stocked and the restricted facing available makes the store high maintenance and indeed there were quite a few staff on duty. Shame they were not paying attention to the sandwich display.
PROGNOSIS: The combined offer of BP Connect, Wild Bean Café and M&S Simply Food appears compelling and since the initial trial in October 2005, BP now has over 100 wholly-owned sites operating these three offerings.
DIAGNOSIS: It is quite clear that recessionary pressures are changing behaviour.
Shoppers for food have not stopped spending - they are spending differently.
What matters for retailers at these times is to ensure that what demand there is can be satisfied with the stock range offered. Without some clever range selection and focused offers M&S Simply Food may find that difficult. The ravages of recession are driving budget not premium lines.
BP, Wild Bean Café and M&S Simply Food - three messages. In the Popham shop it feels as if two-thirds is M&S and, of the rest, there’s an area of impulse confectionery and snacks in the line to the tills, and then there is the Wild Bean Café.
Perhaps one message/offering too many? Would results be better under an M&S Café banner?
PRESCRIPTION: The shop had a constant stream of visitors but there was no evidence that they were also customers of the Little Chef.
BP was not using the consumer interest in the Little Chef to attract business - I believe an entrepreneurial independent retailer would have seized the opportunity.
Consumer research indicates that the number of shoppers buying local products continues to rise. This shop stocked none.
The store’s energy cost to power the chillers and staff costs must be massive so a winning marketing and sales programme is essential.
I have been impressed by the recent M&S ’meal deals’ for £10 and wonder if they may work well in this shop.