GENERAL APPEARANCE: Ward End Service Station is the unit where Booker recently introduced its new Premier Food & Fuel concept. The bespoke offer is now being rolled out. The trial received good publicity and I was keen to make a ’stealth check’ on the test store.

FORECOURT: The BP pole is very visible as are the entrance and exit signs. The site is triangular with roads adjacent to the long sides, with the shop and pumps at the base end. A BP-branded canopy covers the four islands of pumps.

The price of fuel was in line with local competition and drivers were constantly refuelling and were well informed by external display material advertising in-store offers.

The pumps and forecourt were clean and tidy. A jet wash was under construction and this meant the car wash and other services (vacuum) were unavailable. Parking spaces were clearly designated and most were occupied.

The pump islands carried details of non-food offers (e-cigarettes again) and ’meal deals’. At each island is a poster frame showing details of various offers they included ’half price’, ’any 2 for’, and ’any 4 for’ type value deals.

In front of the shop was a display of winter fuels, screen wash and a poster communicating that there is a free-to-use ATM inside.

SHOP: I was impressed by the new-style signage, the clean floor and tidy shop. Some of the in-store messages work well such as ’Grab a bite to eat’, but others not ’Cool down!’ it was bitterly cold on the day of my visit!

The ATM, hot drinks’ unit including a Lichfields cakes meal deal and sandwich/savoury snacks and milk chillers were to the left. The display of sandwiches seemed minimal; the 2ltr milk £1 offer was sold out!

Newspapers and magazines are displayed opposite.

A small display of produce (mushrooms and sprouts looking well past their best) is at the start of the soft drinks’ chillers that run down the back of the store to the tight wine and beer section. Spirits are displayed behind the till.

The grocery sections occupy the centre of the shop. At each gondola end is a display of offers. Fuel-only shoppers pass these and the confectionery and snacks displays to get to the till area.

Euro Shopper brand products are widely stocked and many are price-marked.

I was concerned that there seemed to be a significant number of out-of-stock items and I was interested to buy some of the All Gold half-price chocolates (as advertised on a poster by the pumps) only to be told that the offer had only just started and the stock hadn’t been delivered yet!

There are no toilet facilities for customers.

PROGNOSIS: Competition is fierce. In recognition of all this, the Booker launch of its new forecourt concept is timely.

DIAGNOSIS: It is reported that Booker’s new forecourt offer has been created around three key elements choice, price and service. How are these playing out at Ward End Service Station?

PRESCRIPTION: Firstly, full marks to Booker for the concept and to the owner for switching to the new Premier Food & Fuel style.

The new-style fascia and signage looks good.

Of the three key elements, choice and price are well covered. Meal deals work well but customers do look for variety. Judging by a current in-store customer leaflet, the deals at launch will have been running for about three months.

Space prohibits any seating but a hot food-to-go programme may differentiate Ward End Service Station from local competition. And it has plenty of local competition including a Tesco and Lidl.

To further differentiate the shop, local artisan and/or ethnic foods may offer an alternative way forward.

But what about service? Until a regular sales pattern is established it must be difficult to manage stock control. But out-of-stocks are a sure way of turning potential customers away. So is poor quality produce.

Customer service and involvement in the local community are vastly important. Consider providing a customer toilet facility.

Retail is detail and these issues need attention to reap full benefit from the significant investment the owners have made in this business.