After a great visit to the fine medieval town of Shrewsbury, while heading west towards Welshpool on the A458 I was able to make a stealthcheck on a service station. My target was the Local Service Station and Mace Express at The Mount, which is about a mile from the centre of Shrewsbury.
Forecourt: In addition to the refuelling area and shop, the attractive site – there was a line of potted palms along the frontage – includes a workshop. There are five Local-branded pumps running along the fairly narrow forecourt and the steady stream of customers seemed to have no difficulty in finding a refuelling point. There is space for parking around the site although none designated apart from some reserved for workshop customers. In front of the shop newspapers, solid winter fuels and Calor gas was available. The hot jet wash was in constant use.
A distinctive feature was the illuminated pole (one top panel missing) in that did not display any fuel prices – nor strangely the fact that the site included a shop. However, a serious range of non-food promotions was well advertised at the pumps and at other strategic spots on the forecourt.
The Shop: The Mace Express shop is small (I would calculate less than 500sq ft) and is long and narrow but quite an Aladdin’s cave crammed with offerings. Every bit of wall space is utilised, with an eclectic range of cool cabinets, shelving and display units. Down the centre of the shop there are covered frozen food cabinets, the tops of which were being used to promote special offers.
There was a basic range of top-up groceries and a number of one-off impulse purchases on offer. A range of snacks was available including locally-made sandwiches from The Little Gourmet, Shrewsbury.
The toilets were adequate and the one member of staff on duty dealt with my purchases efficiently but without a smile.
Prognosis: What is all this about the death of the independent? OK, some may be rubbish but the majority of those I visit are working very hard to stay in business and develop their offerings.The Local site at Shrewsbury is a prime example of this.
Judging by the constant flow of vehicles refuelling, the fact that there were no prices on the pole did not seem to be restricting sales.
In terms of the shop it was good to see the owner’s partnership with a symbol group that has a focus on forecourts. So, plenty to cheer about but what about room for further improvement?
Diagnosis: Well, physically no room for expansion. But I was impressed by the ingenuity with which every possible nook and cranny had been filled with an astonishing range of offers. But, that was as far as it went. Range control seems non-existent and I am sure all but loyal regulars would be confused by the variety of different products on offer. There were so many odd items for sale or on special offer – from jerry cans for £1.99 to an out-of-date AA Road Atlas. I have written before of my concern about WIGIG (when it’s gone it’s gone) promotions – I wonder whether they really produce significant incremental sales and profit?
Prescription: Membership of Mace – or any major symbol group – should enable retailers to prosper from offers and additional retail development support and expertise... use it, make them work for you to what should be your mutual benefit.
Research continues to inform us that consumers rate highly independent c-stores in terms of value for money. Consumers do not often compare the price of items in a convenience store with those in a supermarket – the removal of fuel prices from the pole seems to support this.
Consumers will shop locally provided they have the right available range – right for your customers and locality, products they can find quickly, a clean store and great staff.
Perhaps time for an audit of your business and a rethink of your offer. In this way and by gaining the trust of your customers the future for the Local forecourt at Shrewsbury and for all independent convenience stores is bright.