GENERAL APPEARANCE: Freshwater Garages is in Freshwater town centre, on the Isle of Wight. It is on a corner, is very visible and is opposite a large Southern Co-op.

FORECOURT: The Pace-branded site is long and narrow. The pole shows illuminated fuel prices and the different parts of the business are all decorated in the Pace corporate colours. All the decor is bright and clean, and appears as if it has only recently been refurbished.

The forecourt is small and access to the two pump islands is extremely tight. Most of the 12 nozzles were working and in constant use. This was despite the premium price for fuel although it was on a par with other garages on the island at some 9ppl more expensive than the last time I refuelled at a mainland supermarket.

There was designated parking. Forecourt offers were limited to air and screen washes. A blue locker that may have contained winter/barbecue fuels was closed. The jet wash is between the shop and car sales office, and the workshop.

SHOP: The shop entrance is small and the sign above the door simply states ’shop’. The interior is a surprise. At first glance it seemed dull and half empty!

There’s the till area, behind which are tobacco products and a small range of OTC and toiletry items. Beyond that stands an ice cream cabinet. To the centre right of the shop, a run of shelving displays crisps and confectionery. At the end of this unit, there are two small coolers both in need of a clean with soft drinks and a few snacks and sandwiches.

Around the right-hand walls a lot of space was given to car care but in fact there was a limited range of items and empty shelving.

To the rear of the shop area are a few desks that I assume are part of the service reception and car sales.

There is a notice stating that the site does not have a customer toilet.

I paid for my fuel with some surprise and disappointment, knowing that I was obliged to go to the supermarket opposite for my few top-up needs.

PROGNOSIS: Convenience stores on garage forecourts continue to develop and prosper. But competition will increase yet further as the superstores inexorably move to this type of retailing. The supers need the growth generated by the convenience store sector and will continue to use fuel pricing to give them a competitive advantage.

For independent operators, positive trading partnerships are vital. Partnerships with both well-known fuel brands and symbol groups are working well. Freshwater Garages has one part of the equation in place with their Pace agreement but what about the shop?

DIAGNOSIS: Freshwater Garages has perhaps three major challenges: one how to grow their fuel, vehicle servicing and sales business; two, a current lack of parking space; and three, the supermarket opposite.

I guess the servicing and used car sales are generated from Freshwater/island residents and do not greatly benefit from the influx of holiday makers. Seasonal visitors may help fuel sales.

One way to stimulate sales would be to develop the shop side of the business. It has enough space for some strategic development.

PRESCRIPTION: I wonder how successful Freshwater Garages is with its used car sales?

Experts are predicting a fairly positive picture for new car sales, which means that used car sales will be impacted as the number of trade-ins increase. Freshwater Garages should consider the future potential for their used car sales. Could the vehicles be stored elsewhere and sales generated online? Remove the used cars on display in front of the shop, and there would be space for shoppers parking.

If the decision was made to develop the shop it would be unwise to compete directly with the Co-op opposite. A point of difference could be local island produce the Co-op stocks some, but not a comprehensive range. It may be possible for an existing farm shop to open a second site at the garage. Before such a strategy, the current shop sales would be helped by the introduction of hot drinks, the Heath Lottery and a range of top-up products. Also some beach stuff for the tourists and some non-food offers promoted at the pumps. I believe the shop has potential and I hope the owners can find a way to exploit this.