GENERAL APPEARANCE: Princethorpe is situated south of Coventry on the A423 Banbury Road. It is a small hamlet with a few houses and a pub. The Pace service station is easily identified by the pole clearly displaying the new-design Pace logo.
FORECOURT: The site is quite long and narrow. At one end a bright yellow gazebo covers cars being hand washed while at the other there’s the forecourt with the canopy, fuel pumps and shop.
A separate pump offers diesel and another, red diesel. The two main pump islands have a range of Pace fuels at 1ppl above local prices. But no fuel was available!
The site also offers paraffin, a Flo Gas service, winter fuels and has a Royal Mail post box.
Cars were parked along the forecourt and ’abandoned’ at the pumps. Many of the drivers were after information about fuel availability.
SHOP: The shop front displays a painted menu communicating items including an off licence, flowers and a Post Office. The name of the enterprise on the fascia is NK Service Station & Country Store.
The shop was bright and clean and stocked a good range of c-store product categories. However some of the categories ’promised’ by the shop-front menu were not available. The premises’ licence had not been granted, so there was no off licence, there were no flowers and the Post Office opening hours were limited to Wednesday mornings.
There was a hand-written sign at the sandwich and savoury snacks cabinet with an offer to microwave purchases.
Of note is a retro range of weigh-out sweets in jars and the good use of floor units across the front of the closed Post Office counter. A hot drinks vending machine, photocopier and displays of engine oil also occupied this space.
The customer toilet was in excellent order.
There was no customer notice about the fuel and off licence but the lady on the till was quite open, but non-apologetic, about the situation. The business that had been open since August 2009 had insufficient funds to pay for fuel up front. The cash was delayed because most people pay by credit card but the management hoped to have supplies back in a few days’ time and that the off licence would be open soon.
PROGNOSIS: It is obvious the owners of NK Country Store have thought about what they want to offer customers but I wonder if they have done this in partnership with a wholesaler? I suspect not. Their selection of product categories and services is good but the non-availability of some is a significant problem in building up a regular customer base.
The name ’Country Store’ will make many customers think that fresh produce will be available. The consequence of building customer expectations in this case, in a number of areas and then not delivering on them may result in serious problems with the long-term future of the business. Disappointed customers generally do not return to the site of their disappointment.
DIAGNOSIS: It was a bold decision to start a business in a recession. The original business plan must have been sufficiently sound for Pace to sign them up as a new dealer site and to use their new branding.
But the curse of many new businesses is cash flow. And cash flow and the non-availability of funds must be the most serious challenge for NK Service Station and Country Store. The most critical need is to get supplies of fuel.
PRESCRIPTION: I hope the current problem with cash flow is a one-off and that Pace takes a positive attitude in helping with the funding for an urgent delivery of fuel and with an arrangement that helps to secure future supplies.
The hand wash car service is busy at weekends and, at £5 a shot, is generating some cash. Perhaps some promotion to combine regular car wash and shop use could be introduced?
I feel they should reduce the space given to lubricants and use it more tactically for displays of special offers meal deals and local lines. Such a lot of resource has been invested in this business and I do hope it can overcome its current difficulties and that it has a long-term future.