LOCATION: My target, the Chatham Road Service Station, is located just south of junction six on the M20 and north of Maidstone on the A229. The site is on a service road and if travelling south, drivers must go right round a busy roundabout and come back on themselves. It was okay for me as I wanted to visit the site, but it’s a bit of a hassle for local drivers. To make it worthwhile, it needs to be special.
FORECOURT: From the service road, the site is very visible. The bold Esso-branded pole shows a list of services: Synergy fuels, illuminated fuel prices, Mobil, Clubcard and 24-hour off licence. Then there’s the large corporate Esso canopy and lastly, a short queue of cars waiting to get on the forecourt to have access to the pumps.
The site is tight but has a clearly marked separate HGV lane and pump. There are four islands of pumps dispensing a range of Synergy fuels.
When I visited, each pump was occupied by drivers refuelling as the price for fuel was competitively set at superstore levels and 1ppl less than a local service station I passed later. There were no vehicles on that forecourt.
Despite the level of business, the pumps were all working and clean.
An air-line and water unit is positioned to the left-hand side of the forecourt and the entrance to the BP Hand Car Wash service. This leads behind the shop and around to the right and what was an automatic car wash facility, but is now the centre of the hand car wash service. Again, there was a queue of vehicles and at least eight staff were busy processing the cars. There is a bold menu of the various hand wash services available.
The outside customer toilet was well signed and in reasonable order.
Other forecourt services include Calor Gas, the Lottery play unit, flowers, winter and barbecue fuels and an ATM that charged £1.25 per transaction. There are no designated parking spaces, so, parking for shop-only customers must be a challenge.
A number of services and offers were being promoted: Synergy fuels, ’Free paper with £40 fuel’, a meal deal, Nerissimo coffee, Keyfuels and ’Tesco Clubcard points here’. So, nothing special but a fantastically busy forecourt with vehicles waiting to refuel and others to be processed through the hand wash service, and all this mid-morning on a Friday.
SHOP: The rather small, low-key, even discreet fascia states this is a Best-one Xpress shop known as Chatham Road Service Station.
The shop is smallish but light with good visibility all around. The attractive display units are angled between the front and back aisles and are quite low, giving an open feel. The shelving displayed a tight range of essential packaged grocery with promotion ends well used. So, good first impressions. Of course, there is a wide selection of soft drinks, confectionery, crisps and snacks. In addition to a heated food-to-go unit by the hot drinks counter, there was a selection of sandwiches and savoury items.
The one member of staff was very busy constantly dealing with a short queue of customers but was friendly and efficient.
This shop a first generation forecourt convenience store is well designed for fast shopping but will miss out on those shoppers looking for inspiration.
PROGNOSIS: In this year’s Forecourt Trader Fascia Focus supplement, The Bestway Group claims that Best-One is the UK’s fastest-growing major symbol group.
DIAGNOSIS: There is a lot going for the Chatham Road Service Station but it may be time, with the help of their Best-One business development executive (BDE), to re-examine the future strategy for this site.
PRESCRIPTION: On the evidence of my short visit, there is nothing wrong with this forecourt’s fuel sales, and the hand-wash trade was going great guns too.
But given the site’s location on the service road and limited parking, it is difficult to see how shop sales can be significantly increased to anyone other than refuelling customers, despite there being a large residential area behind the site.
So, the challenge for the owners is to increase sales to vehicle drivers and time spent with their Bestway BDE may help drive this opportunity to new heights.