GENERAL APPEARANCE: The Thornfalcon Garage and shop is difficult to miss. It’s a large corner site with two Jet-branded poles one on the A358 and the other on the A378 and both include illuminated prices. And those prices were some 5ppl less than my local supermarkets so the Thornfalcon site appeared well worth a visit.
FORECOURT: The road edge of the forecourt includes planting pockets and gives a soft feel to an otherwise functional site. To the left of the entrance, the forecourt comprises an Autogas pump, a jet wash and air, water and vacuum facilities. To the right, there are four islands of pumps situated under a large Jet-branded canopy, a car wash unit and Mace shop.
The pumps all seemed in good condition and were topped with non-food promotion cards. There was a constant stream of drivers refuelling.
The forecourt was clear of litter and there are a number of designated parking spaces.
A display of handmade wooden garden furniture was sited to one side of the shop entrance. In addition to Calor Gas, other services offered in front of the shop are newspapers (from a very damaged dispenser), flowers, seasonal fuels (low on stock) and fresh produce.
SHOP: The shop has a long new-style Mace fascia and in addition to the Mace logo it incorporates the text ’Knight Brothers’ (the owners) and the slogan ’Whenever, whatever’.
The shop design and layout is very much in line with the Mace formula and includes many of the core convenience store categories. To the left of the entrance a refrigerated cabinet for dairy, produce, sandwiches and snacks was very low on stock. In fact a number of must-stock lines were out of stock, for example, semi-skimmed milk.
To the right of the entrance the aisle led to the till area past a big range of crisps, snacks and confectionery. The till area also included a hot snack dispenser and a Nescafé & Go drinks machine. A range of chilled wines, beer and cider was available.
The height of the shelving was limited so visibility up and down the aisle for both customer and staff was good.
There seemed to be just a few promotional offers.
The customer toilets were okay and on the whole the shop was functional but lacked any theatre.
PROGNOSIS: Judging by the diverse range of businesses on the site the owners, the Knight brothers, are very entrepreneurial. Evidence suggests they are constantly investing in and evolving their businesses.
Being prepared to spend is essential but so is the need to understand what may be driving change in your business.
DIAGNOSIS: Various factors are contributing to a decline in fuel volumes and many forecourt owners now accept that their business cannot survive on fuel alone.
As a result the growth in forecourt convenience stores has been dynamic. Shop sales have certainly helped but they too are now under significant pressure.
The need to achieve an optimum sales and profit balance between fuel and shop sales must be a constant priority.
PRESCRIPTION: I understand that Thornfalcon Garage changed its fuel brand to Jet earlier this year. And, as part of the Jet low price tradition, was able to reduce pump prices. The effect seems to have resulted in competitors also lowering their prices.
The Knight brothers must be hoping that additional drivers attracted by the low fuel price can also be converted to shop customers.
The Mace shop is basically sound but some areas need attention. The shopfront newspaper dispenser needs changing.
Product availability is an issue. Research indicates that shoppers are becoming more intolerant of out-of-stocks. Staple products must always be in stock.
Consumers continue to look for locally-sourced quality food and drink. The shopfront produce display is good but a display board indicating local farm suppliers would help.
And an increase in promotions would surely help the shop.
Finally, an external sign saying that there is an ATM in the shop should attract more users.