It’s more than two years since I ’stealthchecked’ an Esso ’On the Run’ and I thought it time to have another look. This time I wen to Baynards Green Service Station - a short distance east off the M40, on the busy A43.

General Appearance: The forecourt, with its distinctive Esso ’On the Run’ branding, is clearly visible and the pole that advertises some of the site’s services includes illuminated fuel prices. The one-way system around the site makes for easy access and there are some designated parking spaces.

Forecourt: Under a long and somewhat narrow canopy, there are five pump islands. At each one there was an offer board promoting, at the time of my visit, a free Cadbury Dairy Milk Caramel bar with a large speciality Costa coffee. The only service that I could see was air. The forecourt was clean and clear of litter. Along the front of the shop there were a variety of offers including; a news stand, screen wash display, a promotion on bottled water and a Stella Artois feature.

Shop: Above the entrance there was a banner advertising Lucozade with the slogan ’Refuel your car. Refuel yourself’. I turned to the right and there was the Costa Coffee area with its enticing aroma. But I was rather let down because despite it being some time before lunch, the hot savoury snacks on offer did not look attractive. There was also rubbish on quite a few of the tables. I decided to make do with a sandwich. There were plenty of shelf wobblers promoting ’honey & mustard chicken’ as the sandwich of the month. So that was my choice - but more disappointment, as it wasn’t available. The muzak in the shop was of the ’pounding’ type and therefore not conducive to a restful break from driving, so I took my refreshments to the car. The customer toilets were poor - grimey, a bit smelly and a real turn-off. There were a number of staff in store with clipboards - what were they doing? Maybe ticking boxes, but certainly not going that extra mile and looking after customers. However, the member of staff who served me was very good - friendly, efficient and lifted my spirit a little.

Prognosis: Esso UK, part of the global Exxon Mobil Corporation, claims to fuel one in six cars serving an average 40,000 customers an hour, 365 days a year, from around 950 sites. The ’On the Run’ concept is designed to meet the refreshment needs of busy customers on the move. It has rapidly spread across the Esso estate, which also includes more than 130 sites where the shops trade as Tesco Express.

The ’On the Run’ concept is good and is also being rolled out globally - that’s easy for a company with huge resources. But what seems to be hard is the day-to-day execution and maintenance of the concept; corporate managers are not entrepreneurs. They may be good at ticking boxes but they do not have that intuitive retail flair and customer service ethic that turns a good store into a great one.

Diagnosis: The delivery of the concept of Fast, Fresh, Friendly is demanding. To be fast the store and product categories must be well signed. The supply chain must be exemplary as products must be in stock. Things like café tables must be clean and ready to use. All this demands focused and well-trained staff. To many customers, fresh will mean more than recently-brewed coffee and freshly-baked pastry products. It will also include elements such as a clean store and clean staff uniforms. Friendly is all about staff and their relationship with customers.

Prescription: A customer-facing manager would have cleared the café tables of rubbish and perhaps removed the ’sandwich of the month’ advertising as none of those sandwiches were in stock. And he or she would have had the toilet thoroughly cleaned. As is often said, retail is detail and its grindingly hard work to deliver an exceptional service to customers 24/7.

A business is most vulnerable when it thinks it’s doing well. Is there a whiff of complacency in the ’On the Run’ air? I hope not and am sure that with adherence to and execution of the mantra - fast, fresh friendly - the team at Baynards Green Service Station can make this a site customers will want to shop at time and time again.