GENERAL APPEARANCE: This site, developed by the James Graven group, is perhaps better known as Spar Littleport and for winning best environmentally friendly outlet awards. In October 2012 the enterprise was leased to BP.
I have long wanted to visit the site and what better time than now, some four months after changing from private to corporate control.
FORECOURT: It’s a large site bordered on two sides with extensive planting and, on the Littleport village side, the ground is built up to an acoustic fence reducing noise pollution. A sign at the entrance to the site promotes its heritage stating: "A James Graven & Sons, Family Store, Established 1860".
The BP-branded open canopy is very big and covers four islands of pumps. All looked in good order and each has a digital media screen promoting the site’s offers. Something new to me, was that the number of each pump on the canopy bar has a memory jogging tag line, such as: 2 peas in a pod; 7 days in a week; and 6 eggs in a carton. Fuel prices were competitive. There is a separate HGV lane and island of pumps.
Two jet wash bays are available. And to further emphasise the site’s green credentials, a clear notice informs users that the jet wash uses rainwater collected from the site.
Designated parking spaces, including those for the use of the disabled, are plentiful. A number of signs illustrate the site’s and the James Graven family’s heritage.
The shop’s frontage is partly clad in reclaimed wood. A free-to-use ATM is available and a number of shop-front bunkers offer winter and barbecue fuels. Newspaper and flower display units, a waste bin, fire extinguishers and a Nectar display unit are all at the shop door almost restricting entrance!
SHOP: A Spar sign and logo are positioned above the shop’s entrance. Countryside-themed notices are positioned around the shop. These reinforce the James Graven commitment to the environment and to local products.
As expected, this is a fine example of a Spar shop stocking all the essential convenience store categories and providing many in-store services. Unfortunately the spacious toilet is rather spoiled by the large floor-cleaning machine stored there!
All chillers are fitted with doors, which restrict energy use.
I have followed the publicity around the opening of this store and its focus on local products one report claimed there were more than 100 stocked. I found quite a lot of messaging about ’local’ but only a few products, which was very disappointing! A number of shelves were empty but generally the store was well merchandised and an extensive range of Spar-branded products is available.
It was just prior to lunch and the hot-to-go savoury food looked good. The Costa Express unit was in use and looked well cared for.
PROGNOSIS: In a tough market, Graven & Sons’ commitment and financial investment in building a first-class operation with the best environmental features and local credentials resulted in a great award-winning business.
Beyond the stocking and development of locally produced products, the ’local’ concept extended to staff, support of charities, school and events in Littleport. The local police were encouraged to visit and to enjoy a free coffee.
DIAGNOSIS: The BP Wisbech Road forecourt and Spar Littleport shop business has been leased to BP. One can assume that the challenge for BP has been to absorb this privately managed unit into its own successful corporate business.
A Co-op supermarket opened in Littleport during the same week as the Spar Littleport shop opened.
PRESCRIPTION: A dilemma for BP must be how far to reduce the considerable ’James Graven-ness’ of the store and to rely on the strength of the BP and Spar brand only.
I suspect there has already been a significant dilution of the shop’s support for local producers. If this is the case, it surely follows that there should be a reduction in local product messaging.
Customers living within the catchment area may feel let down by any reduction in local support and move their loyalty to the Co-op.