Paul and Pinda Cheema are well known in the convenience store sector as award-winning retailers. Last year was a significant one for them they purchased their first service station, left Costcutter and agreed a partnership with Nisa.
The Texaco-branded pole and canopy are distinctive and highly visible from a traffic light-controlled busy crossroads. The corner-located forecourt is small with four islands of pumps and very little space for parking. Access to the pumps was a bit of a lottery (there are no direction, entrance/exit signs) and when refuelling, I found my car boxed in for a while.
Fuel pricing was competitive with other sites in the vicinity. Refuelling transactions were taking longer than usual as, due to a temporary fault, the shop was unable to process any card transactions. A notice at each pump island about the problem and informing customers that there was an ATM in the shop had not been read by many and this resulted in some delay at the till.
Lack of space means vehicle services are restricted to an air line. Outside the shop are packs of solid winter fuels and flowers.
The shop exterior and fascia are strongly branded Malcolm’s Costcutter there’s no external Nisa signage at present. It’s a small shop and was rather lively with the ATM (free to use) at the entrance understandably busy.
Opposite the entrance is a Jack’s Beans coffee unit beside a small freezer (containing Rustler and other snack products) with a microwave on top. (This could not be used as stock was piled on the top). Sandwiches and savoury products were merchandised next, keeping all the food-to-go items close together.
The produce section was well merchandised with fresh-looking stock and with effective chalk board-style product ticketing.
Still a big footfall driving category, the basic CTN ranges of news, confectionery, snacks and soft drinks were all well represented and merchandised. Behind the till the tobacco gantry looked converted and ready, as required by law, to go dark this April.
Ambient grocery products were well represented shame about the staff coffee mug that could have been abandoned on shelf among the canned meats for days! No local products were apparent but an extensive range of Ho-Jay bagged pet food products took up quite a bit of shelf space. A good number of Heritage brand products are stocked. My visit was pre-Christmas and a tight range of festive items was on offer.
Promotional offers abound covering a wide range of products and price points including £1, ’half price’, ’Any 2 for’ and ’Any 3 for’. The ’Any 2 for’ deals looked particularly effective on the wines.
Given its current configuration, the store is too small to be able to provide customer toilet facilities.
The queue at the till was slow due to the card transaction problem. At the same time staff were stocking shelves and altogether creating a rather hectic situation. Staff may have been better employed on the forecourt explaining to drivers about the card difficulties. The member of staff on the till was great. She was calm, friendly and polite given the situation and the reaction of some customers. Full marks Katie!
Convenience is a sector in growth and, despite the continuing challenges of the economy, overhead costs increasing and competition from the multiples, 2015 could be a good year for independents. Of course, independent convenience store and forecourt retailers need to strengthen their service ethic and community endorsements as points of difference from the multiples.
The Cheema family has certainly invested in the future and given themselves some challenges with the investment in their first garage forecourt and with the change from Costcutter to Nisa.
They have made a good start and now that the range and promotions have been changed to Nisa all they are left with is the change of the fascia and exterior.
The development of the forecourt is restricted by the limitation of space. So it’s important to continue with competitive fuel pricing and keep the pumps and forecourt in first class condition. Despite its space limitations this is a good forecourt and shop with further award-winning potential.