On an extremely busy roundabout where the Daventry/Milton Keynes A5 crosses the Oxford/Northampton A34 - on the Watling Street, Towcester side is a large Total/Bonjour site.
Forecourt: The site is signalled by an informative, bright pole and poster site inviting drivers to ’fill up your tank... and your coffee cup... and your fridge... and your wine rack... and your phone’. The entry to and exit from the forecourt is a clearly marked one-way system and my initial impression as I drove on to the site was positive, as it was large and quite busy.
Although there is ample space for parking, no area was designated as such and that resulted in vehicles being somewhat abandoned around the site. The access to the pumps is good and a full range of fuels is offered, including LPG. Large vehicles may use a separate diesel filling area.
In addition to a large car wash there is a jet wash facility but it was out of order. The vacuum, free air and water point are well positioned. There was some rubbish around the site that took the edge off my anticipation as I approached the shop. However, the front of the shop had a good array of offers and services - from a post box, ATM and flowers, through to papers, BBQ fuels and a special offer on soft drinks.
Shop: This is a spacious, bright Bonjour unit. I believe you could shop this store quickly. From the wide entrance door you can scan the shop and see all the category sections at a glance. Food to go, off licence, news, cold drinks, confectionery and snacks - it’s all here, apart from fresh produce. Each category range is tight, with a clear focus on big brands - but cheapness is not a selling point. I would calculate that prices were at a premium over average forecourt prices.
My visit was mid-morning so I expected to see a decent lunchtime offering, but the hot savouries already looked a little tired. The large chilled section across the rear wall was impressive but I thought the sandwiches were too far from the hot food.
The one checkout operator was efficient and friendly. I was informed that this Bonjour forecourt did not have a customer toilet but was told that the nearest one was at Tesco just across the road.
Prognosis: Total UK has certainly been investing heavily in the development of its Bonjour chain but its strong growth rate demands a strict adherence to a formula and does not allow too much room for deviations for individual store character or personality.
Diagnosis: What is clear is the potential. Too many drivers are fuel-only customers.
C-store shoppers claim certain factors are important to them. And location, speed of service, staff effectiveness/friendliness, availability of stock, cleanliness/tidiness and value for money always score highly. So, a huge challenge to the forecourt industry is to effectively communicate to non-shop users the many store benefits that already exist. Generally, speed of service is good, staff are efficient, out-of-stocks and store standards are improving. The perception of high prices remains a challenge.
Prescription: And how did the Towcester Bonjour store score using these criteria? Speed of service was good - even too good! A shopper can be in and out of the store in no time. Making shopping simple and quick is good but displays and promotions to slow them down a bit may produce startling results.
I did not notice many out-of-stocks and basically the store and forecourt was in good order. Nothing a focused bit of ’retail is detail’ management could not quickly put right. A little more challenging is the provision of customer toilets and designated parking spaces. I believe toilets are an important service to travellers - so, why none on this large site? Designated parking spaces take away a lot of customer stress and blocked pump lines. A more extensive cut-price promotion programme may soften the high price perception. Overall a good store but one without character. Perhaps the ’Tops’ loyalty card programme, about which I know little, should be abandoned and the cost invested in creating - within the Bonjour discipline - a distinct personality for each store.