GENERAL APPEARANCE: U&I Fuels Service Station & Shop is located at the entrance to the village of Stadhampton. The site displays a sign ’last fuel before M40’ and ’Under New Management’.

FORECOURT: The site has a BP pole but my attention was first drawn to the very much past-its-best Mace signage across a double-fronted derelict house/shop front that seemed to be part of the enterprise.

The BP canopy covers three islands of pumps and access for refuelling is reasonable. The pumps were also past their best. Prices were 2ppl higher than average supermarket prices.

The surface of the forecourt is very uneven - close, I would think, to being a health and safety issue. The depth of the site means there is ample space for parking but vehicles seem to be abandoned as there are few marked spaces.

The site does not offer a car wash/jet wash facility but at the far end there is a car valeting business. Calor Gas is available and at the shop front there are winter fuels, papers and flowers.

SHOP: The fascia is the standard BP green shop style but on the window are some Mace signs and promotional bills. Inside there is a gondola of ’special offers’. The till area is to the left and the rest of the shop twists and turns towards a Post Office at the back.

Much has been achieved with the limited space and the range of convenience categories offered is to be commended. All main categories are there except fresh produce and local foods. Because of the configuration of the store, sales area displays are not large and there appears to be little logic to the order of the various categories. Most of the fixtures and fittings seemed old and the floor is rather uneven. I found the area around the Post Office quite dull - it certainly needs brightening up.

The shop does not have a customer toilet.

There were two members of staff on the tills - clearly needed as the service station and shop were quite busy - but they were more interested in gossiping rather than giving service to customers.

PROGNOSIS: The trade supporting the independent sector is awash with new shop formats, concepts and initiatives developed by wholesalers, symbol groups and others, not just to drive sales, but to ensure independent retailers are seen not as old-fashioned but as professional.

It’s good for an independent store to have its own character - to be different from the multiples - but it must offer what customers want. And what they want are great shops that are clean, bright and spacious with a good range of well-merchandised products - ambient and fresh. Acceptable prices are vital and so is exceptional service. So, for independents, implementation is key.

DIAGNOSIS: I found the U&I Fuels Service Station and Shop barely touched by this sort of concept. But, perhaps it’s early days as I could not tell how long the enterprise had been under ’new management’.

Clearly there has been some change. Despite the government closure programme, the Post Office has been retained and the shop sales area much reduced in size. Is this a distress action or preparation for a total store refit?

PRESCRIPTION: The new management has made a considerable investment in buying the business and now needs to go to the next stage to realise its full potential.

From a shop perspective there is a wealth of retail best practice information available from wholesalers. From the Mace signage and promotions, I assume Palmer & Harvey is U&I Fuels’ main wholesaler and it should help. U&I should first insist that the old Mace signage is removed. The frontage and fascia to the trading shop needs cleaning up and a temporary new-style Mace fascia may pay immediate dividends.

I assume the previous business has been there for some time and must be well known. So, what a great opportunity for the new owners to tell the community of Stadhampton what their plans are and, most importantly, to ask them what goods and services they would like to see in the refurbished shop.