I have long wanted to visit a Triple Eight Group site, so finding myself close to Salisbury I soon located the joint-branded Spar/BP forecourt on Wilton Road, part of the busy A36 Southampton/ Bath road. It is on the Wilton side of Salisbury, a mile from the city centre, and opposite an equally large Shell site.

FORECOURT: The BP forecourt is big with a high canopy covering eight fuelling points. The approach to and space at each pump was extensive and the usual range of BP fuels was available. Air and water were available but the vac was out of order and there were no car wash facilities. Other services included Calor Gas, winter fuel and a cash point. There was an illuminated pole with Spar at the top of the list. There were some 20 parking spaces with some designated for the disabled. There were a number of litterbins available but not well used as there was plenty of litter scattered around the site.

SHOP: This is an excellent example of a Spar forecourt shop – well designed and appointed, the result I guess of massive investment. It looks clean and bright, open from 6am to 11pm daily and with an extensive range. As you enter the shop you face the checkouts; to the left is the food-to-go area and toilet, and to the right the main c-store offering. I arrived at the store at 4pm so was not surprised that the serve-over food-to-go counter was not staffed. There were a few savoury products being kept warm but they looked a little tired. Sandwiches and other savoury products in the large chiller looked good, as did various pastries. As I looked around I became aware of a number of separate displays of Bake ‘n’ Bite products, many on clearance offer, and had the feeling that too much had been baked off earlier in the day and that wastage must be serious.

I inspected the toilet and surprise, surprise, it needed cleaning. My visit was on a Thursday and the cleaning rota showed the last time the toilet had been cleaned was 6am on Tuesday! Why display a chart if it’s not used? The c-store includes a great off licence section including an extensive chilled range. Magazines are displayed under the front window and this necessitates quite low racking, which results in ‘top shelf’ publications at eye level. Rotten beans and green potatoes spoilt a nicely presented range of chilled and ambient produce. A full-on grocery range is available but it perhaps offers too many options with, for example, six facings of marmalade. But it was good to see support for new products with a display unit for the Quaker seasons range well shopped.

Themed Valentine’s Day pos material was well used and the display of boxed chocolates was more than enough to satisfy all the romantics in Salisbury. The checkout area had two tills in operation but one line wasn’t moving as the assistant had a problem with the Lottery terminal. The other assistant was under pressure trying to cope with six people waiting in the queue and demonstrated a lack of customer service – no greeting, eye contact or smile.

PROGNOSIS: The Triple Eight website states that its aim is to offer ‘retailing excellence both in our stores and on our forecourts’. On the evidence of this site it is well on the way.

DIAGNOSIS: A constant theme of the Spar marketing programme is Value, Fresh Foods and Store Standards. And the reason is clear – that’s what the modern c-store customer is demanding. Get it right and the consumer will spend more money. Has this store got it right? Well nearly. Value – yes it offers a tight range of promotions and themed offers. Fresh – it certainly has invested in the right equipment, space and range. An improved control of product quality will help achieve customer satisfaction and limit wastage. Store standards – a great store let down by slippages in operations that could affect customer moments of truth – whether to buy or not!

PRESCRIPTION: It takes real commitment to make a difference and I’m sure Triple Eight will keep working hard to meet its objective of ‘retailing excellence’. It takes incredible enthusiasm and dedication to achieve it 24/7. Keep at it, you are very close.