Pickering, just south of the North Yorkshire moors, is probably equidistant between Whitby, York, Thirsk and Scarborough. My target is the B&M Harland service station, because it is the first to sell Spar-branded fuels.
Located on the A169 main road to Malton and York, just outside Pickering, the site is quickly visible. The Spar-branded pole, canopy and shop are most distinctive the red and green of the Spar logo against white wow, it works so well. It was a little difficult to get on to the site though it was heaving! Drivers refuelling, shopping, using the jet wash and service bay.
Spar fuel prices seemed to be 1-2ppl cheaper than other local service stations. There is a small, more expensive garage opposite the Spar site, but no supermarkets selling fuels for some miles Scarborough is probably nearest.
The pump islands also in spotless white were all working and each topped by a promotion message. The one I used was advertising a £3 meal deal. There is a separate HGV pump.
At the main road front of the site are several adverts for the Lottery, the meal deal and a local farm supplier. As a great advocate of c-stores using local suppliers, I was looking forward to seeing some interesting products.
Forecourt services include a vacuum, jet wash, airline and water. All the services are labelled with well-designed Spar-themed notices.
At the shop front a free-to-use ATM was in fairly constant use.
For shop-only customers, it may be a bit of a challenge to find a parking space; some people were parking in a side street.
The shop is fresh, light and bright. Understated but sophisticated category signs and gondola-end offer boards are very effective. The shop is not large but every spare space has been utilised.
A display of flowers greets you on entry, and aisles lead to the hot drinks unit and sandwich and snack display. An eye-catching array of ’made in shop’ Spar-branded sandwiches dominates. At the hot drinks unit, a notice promotes a coffee and bacon roll offer.
All the shelving runs diagonally across the store creating a spacious feel. All the units have promotional offers at each end.
An impressive glass-fronted cool cabinet runs right along the rear wall. The range offered is extensive and predictably includes many Spar-branded products including milk. Unfortunately, it was not from the local supplier advertised at the front of the site. All that I could see from the farm was ice cream.
Stuck to the wall behind the counter was a hand-written poster promoting ’hot sandwiches’ the only hot food-to-go offer I saw.
Unfortunately, the site does not currently provide customer toilets.
With fuel prices constantly under pressure, independent retailers have had a near impossible task to make a satisfactory profit from fuel. But a well-run symbol group shop can be a great turnover and profit generator. Little wonder that the symbol groups have been targeting the independent forecourt operator.
Now a number have strategically increased their package by adding an own-brand fuel offer surely a major development in helping retailers make their forecourt sites a real destination for both fuel and shop customers?
A change to the brand of fuel sold by a site must come with a degree of risk but, in the case of the Harland family, the change to Spar/Harvest Energy has resulted in a competitive retail price and a relaunched site that appears to be attracting new customers. The challenge is to keep them loyal.
For this site, the concept of the fuel brand and shop brand being the same works very well. The possibility of cross-promotions is a future opportunity.
The white livery is great but the Harlands must continue to ensure that the pumps and canopy etc are kept clean and white!
The Spar-branded signs and posters are well designed but the effect is somewhat spoiled by the hand-written signs used, for example, for the hot sandwiches. The made-on-the-premises sandwiches should be promoted more. They are excellent.
I am sure local products (milk and bread as a priority) would add interest and additional sales.