GENERAL APPEARANCE: This joint-branded Shell Mace Express site is impressive. It stands a little above the road and the Shell branding screams out at motorists and many appear to stop to refuel and to use the shop. To one side of the forecourt is an accident repair/MOT/second-hand car sales centre and to the rear of the shop, a large commercial yard. There is limited parking and during my visit vehicles seemed to be abandoned here, there and everywhere.

FORECOURT: The pumps and islands looked clean and in good order. Fuel prices were very competitive and Autogas was available. There was a little litter around but this was a busy shared site and perhaps to be expected. To the side of the store there was air/water and a fragrance vacuum but no car wash facility. In front of the shop and to either side of the entrance there were bins, one for fire lighters/winter fuel – nearly empty and the second for garden compost – virtually full. Given that it was the middle of November and just after a very frosty night this seemed entirely the wrong way round! Other services included Calor gas (there is a large residential caravan park next door), a cash point, and dispenser for fishing bait (there are quite a few fishing lakes in the area). Along the front of the shop there a number of poster frames that were advertising magazines, videos and DVDs for hire.

SHOP: The shop, a Mace Express, has recently been refurbished and seems to be the product of a huge investment by the retailer and support from Palmer & Harvey. Determining the right categories, space allocation and range selection for a specific cstore can be a minefield and this is where a business analysis from the retailer’s chosen wholesaler can be invaluable. But I’m not sure that the retailer and wholesaler has got it right on this occasion.

It is presented as a hybrid – something between a full neighbourhood store and a site with a very transient customer base. Most categories are offered but some are over spaced, such as car care/motor oil and video/DVD hire and some under spaced such as magazines and fresh produce. The small produce section looked to be well shopped but there was not a bag of prepared salads to be seen. The grocery range was tight but there were plenty of crisps, snacks and confectionery. There was a large chiller display of soft drinks and a good off licence section.There were many offers on beer but only a few wine deals.

PROGNOSIS: Research is constantly telling us that most shoppers are looking for convenient, fresh foods and that c-stores are not capitalising on demand. Certainly Abridge Shell is not and most opportunities for growth are passing it by. It has an island site with a Pot Noodle machine, microwave and hot drinks dispenser, but it was a mess. Customers making their own drinks are bound to spill some and good retailers will keep the surface cleaned down at all times.

The one unisex toilet was grubby. There was a large customer notice stating ‘now wash your hands’ and I felt like leaving an even larger staff notice stating ‘now clean this room’.

DIAGNOSIS: The staff are efficient, helpful and friendly dressed in Shell shirts rather than Mace.

It was difficult to see the promotions in store as most were on an island site near the store entrance under a partly obscured board proclaiming ‘Price Busters’. During my short visit it was clear that customers were passing the display by. The offers would have more impact if they were dispersed throughout the store and the offers promoted in those poster frames at the entrance to the shop. Stock could be an issue as there was a very limited display of bread and milk (but at 65p for two pints it was competively priced). The two ice cream cabinets were virtually empty. There were no Christmas displays and no local products were being offered.

PRESCRIPTION: This is a good store that may have to rethink its space allocation and promotion display policy in order to maximise its full turnover and profit potential. It would benefit by improved store standard disciplines (toilet cleaning rota) and ‘management by walkabout’.