The RoadChef services on the M6 Toll at Norton Canes includes a BP-branded forecourt and shop. The service station was the Forecourt Trader ’best motorway site’ winner in 2007.
FORECOURT: A large pole clearly identifies the service station. The site is huge, with an extensive BP-branded canopy covering eight pump islands. In addition there is a separate Autogas fuelling area and three diesel islands for HGVs.
Despite the usual motorway price premium the pumps were busy.
Air and water services were offered in two locations but the air supply was ’out of use’. There were a good number of designated parking spaces including some for the disabled.
Store front offers included flowers, screen wash and a small seating area. The shop window displayed a number of posters and messages and a meal deal offer.
SHOP: The long corporate BP green fascia simply stated ’shop’. In the middle of the back wall and opposite the shop entrance is the checkout till area and to its right the café area. To the left were a number of non-food offers and the customer toilets.
The shop offer is basic motorway ’grab and go’ including news, cigarettes, confectionery, snacks and soft drinks. Most of the range seemed to be aimed at eat now and I could not find any top-up/distress purchase products - not even milk. Apart from a small floor-standing display unit, the shop had no fresh food. At the time of my visit (around 3pm) the lunchtime trade had finished and the serve-over café staff were cleaning down. As only a limited menu was on offer I settled for a Costa coffee and a sandwich from a display cabinet. Both cost ’motorway services’ prices but they were okay.
I found the range of non-food offerings staggering. I cannot imagine that many motorists ever buy - even on impulse purchase - umbrellas, shirts, electric fans or boots from a motorway service station but there they all were.
The customer toilet facilities were just about satisfactory but the floor needed a clean.
The till staff (two) were hard pressed but welcoming and polite.
PROGNOSIS: In a constantly changing environment it is vital for retailers to excel at translating customer needs into business opportunities. Retailers need to develop a distinct competitive advantage in order to grow and be profitable over the long term.
BP appears good at this, it has demonstrated over the years that it is an innovator in terms of developing retail formats to meet motorists’ needs. The development of the Wild Bean Café concept and the partnership with M&S to develop Simply Food/Connect shops is testament to this. BP is rightly one of the leaders in the revolution in forecourt retailing. No surprise then that BP was the chosen operator of the forecourt on the RoadChef motorway service area on Britain’s first privately-funded motorway, the M6 Toll.
DIAGNOSIS: The M6 Toll RoadChef site is massive including a modern glass and metal building offering shops, restaurants (including a Wimpy) and Costa coffee. There is also a Premier Inn and the landscaped site includes fountains and picnic tables. Plus the BP service station and shop. News released at the time of the BP site opening indicated that the shop would be a Connect and include a Wild Bean Café. All the appearance of a formula for customer satisfaction and success. In the event the shop is not a Connect and has two different brands of coffee/hot drinks offerings.
PRESCRIPTION: For an award-winning best motorway site, I was disappointed. The forecourt was what I expected - large, effective and busy. Customers are willing to pay the toll charge and therefore may be prepared to pay a certain premium for goods and services. Strange then that BP does not make available its Simply Food/Connect and Wild Bean Café offering - surely a clear competitive advantage that would help take advantage of this opportunity?
Short of such a development I wonder if the shop should reduce its non-food display area and add a range of top-up and fresh (perhaps local?) products.