Can 1 + 1 = 3? Yes, I am certain it can. For example, when two enterprises come together the result may well be greater than the some of the original two parts.
Would this be the case at the pilot BP/M&S Simply Food site at Hammersmith? Well, I went to have a look and to do a Stealthcheck.
Forecourt: Situated on the A4 west and just before the Hammersmith flyover the site is massive, clearly this must be a flagship site for BP. The huge canopy covers eight pump island units each with eight hoses and at mid afternoon, the time of my visit, fuel customers just kept coming. To the rear of the shop there are two jet washes, two car washes and air, water and vac points – all being well used. In front of the store there was a large display of winter fuels and a newspaper stand. The site’s ATM is positioned at the side of the store.
There are around 15 parking bays but that is still woefully short of the number required. Although the perimeter of the site is marked with double yellow lines, vehicles were abandoned here, there and everywhere as drivers/passengers shopped the store.
So, the first of the enterprises is in pretty good shape and delivering all one would expect from a BP site and major fuel retailer.
Shop: The shop fascia is branded BP Connect and to the left hand end Wild Bean Cafe and to the right hand end Marks & Spencer Simply Food. So, 1 + 1 + 1 and I wonder what that will equal?
On entering the store it’s all M&S with chiller island sites and chiller wall units. Around the top of the walls are M&S illustrated messages regarding a range of subjects such as: innovation (M&S was the first UK retailer to introduce avocados); the GM issue; and salt. The extensive range (I guess well over 1,000 SKUs) is massive in fresh and includes food-to-go and food-for-later products. The off licence section is M&S (not Thresher as normal in a BP Connect store). But what sets this M&S apart is the inclusion of major branded products including Heinz, Kellogg’s, Nescafé, PG, Stella, Cadbury and Walkers – together a superb retail offering.
What is not M&S is the café section. Clearly it is part of the joint venture decision to maintain the Wild Bean Café image. I thought the coffee dull, was not inspired by the savoury offerings, and was disappointed that the café did not offer M&S food.
The toilets were OK – they smelt a bit – but it was disappointing to note that the cleaning rota included not one entry.
My visit happened to coincide with a mini bus visit of ‘men in suits’ and it was a shame to see that the staff were more interested in providing them with coffee than serving customers. At one point there was a line of customers as long as the shop and only one of four main tills and the café were taking money. It took too long for all four tills to be staffed.
Prognosis: BP operates some great sites and has developed its Connect/Wild Bean Café concepts into a powerful retail offering. The joint venture with M&S Simply Food can only drive its food offering forward and I would not be surprised to see the initial pilot quickly pushed out to many more than eight stores.
Diagnosis: Oil companies seem to be struggling with forecourts – buying and selling company-owned sites and constantly changing their retail formats. The supermarkets see the forecourt as a massive opportunity – both to sell fuel but also to drive grocery market share. Partnerships/joint ventures abound. I expect the consumer is thoroughly confused!
But M&S has a unique place in the consumers’ minds. They like the M&S food offering – fantastic products; many fresh; perhaps not the cheapest. But great for forecourts and I think the offering in the BP/M&S Simply Food at Hammersmith well judged. So, does 1 + 1 = 3 in the case of BP and M&S Simply Food?
Prescription: Well not quite – to me the Wild Bean Café muddles the equation. If the foodservice offering was also under the M&S umbrella – say branded with the M&S ‘Revive’ badge, then I believe the joint venture would deliver exceptional outcomes to BP, M&S and, most importantly, the consumer.