There are three forecourts with shops within five miles on the A351, from Corfe Castle to Swanage. There are two Texacos and sandwiched in between, at the village of Harmans Cross, a BP/Londis Express.
General Appearance: The St Michaels Garage complex (forecourt, shop, new- and used-car sales showroom and service workshop) is L-shaped and located on a very sharp bend as you leave Harmans Cross heading towards Swanage.
Forecourt: A range of BP fuels is offered including LPG but access to the pumps is tight and if, after refuelling, customers wanted to use the shop it could cause quite a bottleneck. There are no designated parking spaces for shop-only customers.
The site has a car and jet wash and the forecourt offers a range of services including air, water, Calor gas, barbecue fuel, flowers, papers and an ATM. Plus there were the usual non-food offers at the pumps.
The forecourt looked well used and in need of some TLC - for example, there were no gloves or paper towels in any of the dispensers.
Shop: The Londis Express shop is of average size and offers a wide range of goods and services. The Londis ’stamp’ is apparent but other offerings, together with the fact that there were delivery cages in three of the aisles, gave the store a cluttered feel.
All the main c-store categories were represented and it was clear that the store had - a few years ago - been subject to investment to help drive the business forward. But, it was now not quite at the cutting edge of range, presentation and store standards.
For example, the forecourt newspaper sales unit had a number of broken panels (some with sharp edges that could be a health and safety risk), the in-store display of magazines was a bit of a mess as was the dispenser for the local daily paper. On the main aisle, from the entrance to the checkout, a display unit of DVDs was dirty and dusty.
The in-stock position was not particularly good. The ice cream cabinet was very low on stock and I hope a delivery was due prior to the weekend (my visit was on a Friday during the recent heat wave).
The store’s food-to-go offer was supported by a microwave and pot of hot coffee. Some local products were offered but there was no fresh produce.
I was not aware of a planned promotional offer and prices looked at a premium. The price of a pint of semi-skimmed milk was 40p.
While paying for my purchases the one member of staff in the shop informed me that they did not have a customer toilet.
Prognosis: Many forecourt shop operators have recognised that one way of driving their business forward is to join a symbol group.
As a result symbol retail numbers are on the rise as is their share of total c-store sales. Retailing can be onerous and many owners report that working in partnership with a chosen symbol group helps enormously.
Diagnosis: So, is the partnership between St Michaels Garage and Londis working?
Clearly some years ago the owners invested heavily in the business and selected Londis as their retail partner but it all looks a little tired now.
Store standards are slipping, which cannot be good for the shop or Londis, and following the opening of a new Spar shop on one of the neaby Texaco sites, the future looks challenging.
You have to ask just how well do symbol group operators support their retailers once they have signed them up?
Prescription: Surely this is a situation where St Michaels Garage and Londis should still be working in active partnership. Working together to develop a support package and action plan.
An action plan to bring store standards up to scratch, and a promotion plan to take full advantage of the holiday trade and to ’see off’ the new competition.
Come on Londis, take the initiative and help this retailer to raise their game and to drive the business onwards and upwards.