GENERAL APPEARANCE: In Hereford, the A4103 from Worcester leads into the busy Commercial Road. City Service Station looks like a recent conversion to a smart Harvest Energy site.

FORECOURT: Driving towards the site, it is unfortunate that the pole is partly obscured by one of the city’s flower displays on the lamp posts. But the clear blue, green and white Harvest Energy branding on the large canopy signals that this is a service station.

The site is not large but access to the five pump islands was easy. All the pumps were clean and each island was topped with display cards advertising three different non-food offers. Space between the pumps was used by wooden half-barrels overflowing with plants.

The forecourt provides air and vacuum services but is too tight to allow many designated parking spaces. All of these were taken up by recently hand-washed cars. The hand-wash service was well promoted. Drivers go through the car wash and are then finished and valeted by members of the hand-wash team. The system was in constant use during my visit.

At the shop front there are two wood/wire cages one containing a selection of wooden half-barrels, plastic sledges and rock salt! The other held bags of winter fuel and barbecue items. There was also a newspaper display unit and some large containers of screen wash.

There is a ’night pay’ facility covered by a striped awning.

SHOP: The fascia simply states ’shop’. The shop is small and was cluttered. This was due to lots of cases of product piled around the result of a recent delivery from P&H. Members of staff were working very hard to refill shelves and to put stock away and were apologetic about the shop’s disarray.

The tills are to the left on entry, as is a Simply Coffee unit, and the ATM (free-to-use) is to the right. Along the back wall there is a row of chillers and, on the opposite side, a tight range of groceries.

Down the centre of the narrow space between the cabinets and shelving, there is a line of free-standing floor units. One offered an inexpensive range of jewellery. They did not seem to be well shopped. Space prohibits the stocking of many of the main convenience store categories.

The customer toilet was awful.

PROGNOSIS: Harvest Energy is part of the Blue Ocean group of companies, one of the largest independent suppliers of motor fuels to the UK and many other European countries. In the UK Harvest Energy is a relatively new forecourt brand name but it is increasing its presence across independent service stations. Its blue and green logo on white produces clear distinctive branding.

DIAGNOSIS: Consumer expectations will continue to be driven by multiple operators and competition will increase as they invest more and more in their forecourt estates. The upgrading of independent forecourts as demonstrated by Harvest Energy is first class but it must embrace the total business forecourt and shop alike.

PRESCRIPTION: Forecourt businesses continue to face challenging trading conditions, in the main, as a result of rising fuel costs. Reports indicate that many motorists are driving more economically and reducing the number of journeys they make. Shop sales are a challenge too.

The City Service Station has taken a massive step forward with its new partnership with Harvest Energy. The forecourt looks good, fuel prices are competitive and the hand-wash enterprise working well. Drivers/shoppers should not be disappointed with the forecourt experience but it is a different matter on entering the shop.

It is this side of the business that now requires attention but space severely limits expansion into other convenience categories. So, it is a priority to ensure that the current ranging and stock management works to maximum effect. Slow sellers must be eliminated.

This shop would benefit from some focused promotions. Introduce bread and milk deals. Go for price cut/price-marked offers rather than multibuys.

Build on the hand-wash trade by introducing a loyalty programme. Link this with a coffee incentive. And consider meal deals.

Blitz and redecorate/refurbish the customer toilet facility.