During my visit to IFFE 2007 at the Birmingham NEC last month, I spent some time at the impressive - and busy - Pace stand. Pace is keen to sign up more dealers, and claims a ’marketing support package that you might only expect to get from an oil major’. Having never used a Pace filling station and shop before, I was then determined to ’stealthcheck’ one. It was difficult to plan my visit as the Pace website does not include a site-locator facility. However, the Sunday after IFFE, while driving west to east on the A303 in Wiltshire, I came across one at Chicklade.
General Appearance: The first sign of a service area ahead was a pole promoting a Little Chef and retail shop and then, immediately after, a Pace-branded polesign came into view. There was quite a lot of parking available - it was mid-morning and a fair few cars were parked. The restaurant looked busy so I decided to park and have a look round before refuelling and buying a snack for my journey.
The Little Chef building was a mess externally - and inside was not much better. This was therefore not a place I wanted to stop at, so all hope rested on the forecourt to see what was on offer there.
Forecourt: It’s a good size forecourt with five pump islands providing 18 nozzles of Pace-branded fuel. Access to the pumps was good, the pumps looked a little past their sell-by date but were clean, and all were working. The retail price for fuel was 4p a litre more than my local edge of city independent - an acceptable premium for a main road route and certainly not an insult price.
Each pump island was crowned with details of a promotional offer - scented candles. The only other additional service available was air. There were no shop-front offers.
Access to the customer toilet was next to the shop entrance. There was one single toilet for all to use. Like the rest of the building, the toilet was in urgent need of redecorating, but the room smelt pleasantly fresh.
Shop: The unbranded shop was very small. Clearly aimed at the highly transient motorist, the shop offered the main impulse categories. It was all neat and tidy but offered no excitement or real inducement to buy. The hot drink area was headed ’Little Chef Express’ but did not look very appealing. I was hard-pressed to find a snack of interest and ended up with a chocolate bar. On the wall near the hot drink area were two certificates, the most recent for 2001 awarding the store commendations for customer service.
The one male member of staff efficiently handled my total transaction.
Prognosis: It is perhaps stating the obvious to write once again that the refuelling, convenience store and eating out marketplace is changing rapidly and that consumers are increasingly becoming more discriminating in where they spend their money. From the Pace website it is obvious the company understands that building a long-term relationship is much more important than the one-off sale.
Diagnosis: What I cannot understand is the extraordinary gap between what the brand claims is its customer policy and what is actually happening at the Chicklade Filling Station. It’s as if the site is caught in a time warp. The marketplace has moved on but this Pace forecourt has not. However the potential to develop the offer is there as the site is in a strong location with masses of traffic passing on a daily basis.
Prescription: This service station is in need of some updating and TLC. The owner must ensure that the offer - fuel and shop - satisfies today’s consumers. On the Pace website and as part of its shop support programme, the brand promotes the services of a specialist marketing agency and a ’Forecourt Shop 2005’ package - a service that by its very name suggests it is two years out of date!
I urge Pace to revisit this issue and provide a marketing and support programme that will help grow the shop business and therefore the future of its dealer business. It would be marvellous to see Chicklade Filling Station win a certificate for ’customer service and satisfaction’ for 2007.
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