GENERAL APPEARANCE: The Windmill Service Station, a BP forecourt and Budgens store, is about two miles north of Ringwood on the A338. It is well signed (BP-branded pole and canopy) and is located at an entrance to the Headlands Business Park.

FORECOURT: Access to the pumps is good and during my visit there was a constant flow of vehicles refuelling. Pump prices were about average for the area. The pumps were in good order and each island unit was topped by non-food promotion offers.

A car wash (Washtec soft brush) was on offer at £2. Other services included air, water and a vacuum.

Several in-store offers were advertised around the forecourt.

There are a number of designated shop-front parking spaces. Offers included a free-to-use ATM, newspapers, winter fuels, screenwash, anti-freeze and a large display of plastic toboggans.

Baskets of seasonal flowers and foliage hang at either end of the shop front. Sensibily, at this time of the year, they are artificial but they did soften the shop’s appearance.

SHOP: The redeveloped shop (previously Spar) opened last spring and is now branded ’Budgens of Blashford’. The immediate impression is good. The store ’ticks all the boxes’ and seems to be meeting all the needs of today’s convenience store shoppers both for ’food for now’ and ’food for later’.

On the right, as you enter, is the food-to-go section. It has a good range of hot savouries, a Boston’s doughnut unit, a Tchibo hot drinks machine and a wide range of sandwiches, wraps etc.

On the opposite side of the aisle is an extensive range of good-looking produce. Many of the display units are lined with hessian.

There was stock on the floor waiting to be put away, which made shopping this section difficult.

The bread and bakery display looked good as did the off licence section. A wide range of wines and beers many chilled were on offer with case deals on beers and lagers. My visit was just prior to Christmas so there were many seasonal products on offer.

There were £1 offers, half price, bogofs, ’Any 3 for’, local offers and ’special offer’ shelf wobblers a mind-boggling number of them!

The customer toilet was spacious and well designed for wheelchair users, but it was just a pity the loo rim was grubby.

PROGNOSIS: Budgens’ parent company is the Irish Musgrave Group and, since the acquisition in 2002, Budgens stores have been divested to independent retailers. Owned and run by progressive retailers who care about quality, fresh foods, provenance, value and the communities they serve, many are prize-winning enterprises.

Budgens of Blashford is part of the Peregrine Retail Group, which also owns a Budgens forecourt at Bridgwater, Somerset.

DIAGNOSIS: Tough economic conditions are likely to continue through 2012. It is reported that high fuel prices are driving shoppers away from out-of-town superstores and into their local stores. Not just to save money on fuel, but to support their local independent shops.

Increasingly cash-restricted consumers will be looking for value attracted by promotions, aggressive prices and value own brands. Retailers focused on their local community and its needs may prosper best. And one-off sales opportunities such as the Olympics, Diamond Jubilee and the multiples ’going dark’ on tobacco will offer sales opportunities.

PRESCRIPTION: The vast majority of Budgens of Blashford’s customers must arrive by car. So, the challenge is to encourage them to become regular fuel and shop customers. Regular users of the Headlands Business Park should be encouraged by a loyalty scheme.

The introduction of a loyalty scheme car wash/coffee for regular travellers on the A338 may also help convert transient drivers to regular users.

Local products remain in demand but I found it difficult to locate any. Ringwood beers are surely a must-stock range.

Consider restricting shelf wobblers, floor displays and using a toilet cleaning rota. Also, the introduction of a payment terminal and the Health Lottery.

This is a great store that I am sure will continue to evolve it’s well worth a visit!