You’re on a long journey on the motorway, with one eye on the fuel gauge and another on the clock to see whether it’s time for a break. A sign comes up saying ’Services ahead’ but it says M&S Simply Food and McDonald’s and you wanted Waitrose, while the kids wanted KFC do you risk it and drive on hoping that the next services will have what you want or do you stop? It’s a scenario that’s played out up and down the country every day and shows just how important brands and what they stand for mean to us all. So, upon seeing your pole sign, do drivers see an Esso or BP logo and choose your site to top up on Clubcard or Nectar points, or do they see Subway and Costa signs and stop by for lunch and/or coffee? So many forecourt operators have hitched their wagons to big brands that drivers/shoppers expect to see some sort of alliance that shouts ’We know what you, the customer, wants and we’ve got it right here’. In a nutshell, brand alliances confirm yours as a credible business that’s professional enough to be able to do business with a massive national or international brand.

Ilyas Munshi, group commercial director at EG Group, says the key to a good brand alliance is offering customers choice, allowing them to satisfy a variety of needs on-site throughout the day.

"Working with leading retail brands provides faster access and deployment in to the market because of their size and consumer awareness of the offer. Presenting a range of well-known names to consumers collectively also creates a ’halo effect’ the brands are complementary and offer great choice to our customers."

Ilyas says EG Group’s brands are split between three offerings fuel, convenience and food-to-go. "In terms of fuel, we’ve successfully engaged and worked with leading oil major brands including Esso, BP and Shell. For convenience stores, we have worked with Spar, Carrefour, Louise Delhaize and Cactus, while for food-to-go, we have established relationships with Starbucks, Subway, KFC and Burger King.

"We’ve also seen success working with market-specific brands like Greggs in the UK and Pomme de Pain in France. As an international business, engaging local brands alongside the global partners we work with is an essential strategy thread. This approach ensures we have a relevant offering that attracts local consumers and meets their needs. We disagree with a ’one size fits all’ approach and for us it is about implementing relevant brands in accordance to consumer preferences."

One of the biggest and, arguably, the best franchise brands for forecourts is, of course, Subway, which currently has over 2,500 stores in the UK and Ireland, of which over 800 are in non-traditional locations, such as petrol forecourts, convenience stores, hospitals, transport hubs, universities, business and industry locations and colleges. And even with these numbers, Subway still has ambitious plans to expand and is on the look out for convenience and forecourt operators who are keen to partner with a franchise and open an outlet within an existing store.

The company says a partnership with the Subway brand offers excellent dual branding opportunities, as well as high rental returns and increased customer market share. Subway stores are described as "modern and inviting, as well as efficient and convenient, offering a quick service to attract a steady flow of customers".

Nick Baker, a Jet forecourt owner and Subway franchisee, explains: "I’m delighted with the results the Subway stores are producing at three of my forecourts. The Subway brand is widely recognised and another reason for customers to visit. Since opening the Subway stores, I have seen an increase in footfall as well as growth in our shop and fuel sales."

The Subway brand has a flexible operation system, meaning stores can be customised to suit the size and physical layout of the space. Unlike traditional food outlets, there is no need for grills or fryers. Its format also means staffing levels can be increased or downscaled to cover peaks and troughs in customer demand.

Fascia focus

One of the most obvious ways of linking with a well-known brand is by joining a symbol group and putting their fascia above your shop. There are plenty to choose from but it’s always good to do your homework to ensure you find the right fit for your business.

Premier was recently named The Shopper’s Favourite Symbol Retailer for 2018 at the Him Awards. Its win was based on shopper ratings across all aspects of the store offer, including availability, ease of shop, range of products and staff friendliness as well as loyalty and purchasing behaviours.

Premier boasts being the UK’s number one symbol group with over 3,300 stores nationwide. Martyn Parkinson, brand director, Premier, says: "The group is committed to delivering more profits for retailers, driving footfall and delivering a better shopping experience for consumers. By listening to and working closely with our Premier customers, Premier has enjoyed 14 years of consecutive growth."

Parkinson says one of the biggest challenges retailers currently face is declining footfall, but that Premier is committed to support retailers with its promotional programme designed to help retailers drive footfall back into stores.

This promotional programme covers fresh, frozen, grocery and impulse lines. "This market-leading promotional package, along with own-label and price-marked packs, really drives the value message to help Premier retailers grow their business," says Parkinson.

Also available to retailers are Euro Shopper, Booker’s entry level exclusive own-brand and Happy Shopper, the mid-tier option.

And Parkinson says Spend & Save, where retailers can save up to 4% on their non-tobacco purchases, is also popular with Premier members as this adds to their bottom line.

Meanwhile, at Londis, forecourts represent almost half of the group’s 1,900 sites.

Martin Swadling, brand director Londis, says: "As well as independent forecourt operators we are delighted to serve large multiple site operators such as MFG and Petrogas and also a number of regional groups. While we recognise that forecourts are increasingly becoming more like convenience stores we still appreciate that they have a unique set of needs to maximise both sales and profits.

"We have a specifically designed forecourt package which combines the strength of our chilled offer with a bespoke forecourt promotion package and our dedicated forecourt development team has a wealth of experience in forecourt retailing focused on making sure our package is fit for the future and well set to help our retailers maximise any opportunity."

Swadling continues: "At Londis we are always looking to the future and making sure our retailers are keeping up to date with market trends, areas like craft beer, free-from, protein and premium spirits which are seeing significant growth. We are helping our retailers by listing key lines in these new areas and providing market insight as well as point of sale to ensure that we not only help our retailers understand the size of the opportunity but also enable them to bring the ranges to their customers’ attention."

Also in the Booker stable is Budgens with over 220 stores across the UK, half of which are forecourts. "Our knowledge of the fast developing convenience and forecourt sectors coupled with our comprehensive fresh food ranges provides independent retailers with a market-leading solution," says Mike Baker, brand director Budgens.

Budgens offers up to six-days-a-week multi-temperature deliveries, ensuring maximum freshness and, on average, 98% availability, with emergency top-ups available at local Booker Wholesale branches.

Baker says Budgens has a straightforward business model again with no membership or weekly fees and includes the aforementioned Spend and Save scheme. Again Budgens offers retailers Euro Shopper and Happy Shopper but it also has the premium Discover the Taste range. "And our new own brand range Discover the Choice brings together hundreds of prepared fresh foods including a market leading range of ’meal for tonight’ options with ready meals,

Retailer view: Shyam Karthikeyan, Costcutter Ord

"After working for my dad, I took on my own petrol station Blackpark in Inverness, three years ago and then seven months ago I bought Ord. I had already switched Blackpark to Costcutter and as Ord needed a big refit, I decided to move it to Costcutter too.
"Blackpark is not a big shop it’s under 1,000sq ft while Ord is much bigger at 1,800sq ft. At Blackpark it’s all about food-to-go, confectionery and drinks while at Ord, it’s more of a convenience store.
"One of the things I really like about Costcutter is that they encourage you to source from local suppliers; and I think that’s really important. We use a local supplier for eggs, milk and other dairy products at Ord.
"Another great benefit of doing business with Costcutter is that I don’t have any financial commitment there were no initial costs, no weekly or monthly charges, plus I get a rebate every quarter and still their team works with you all of the time.
"Customers have appreciated the switch to Costcutter, particularly for the bargains and deals they offer. They have an excellent range and competitive prices. We also have access to Gordon & MacPhail malt whiskies, which are very popular with the tourists in the summer.
"After P&H collapsed, the supply deal with Nisa was good for us as it meant our fresh range improved considerably. I’m looking forward to offering the Co-op own brand as our main competition at Ord is a Co-op but our store is much more accessible so I’m hoping that once people know they can get the Co-op brand from us they’ll come here for it. Both of my sites have Esso fuel and that’s good, particularly in Inverness which is a Tesco town, as it means people can top up their Clubcard points.
"We’ve doubled the sales of the previous owner at Ord and we’re getting the lottery and a Post Office so I am expecting sales to grow further still."

Summer loving

Everyone loves a Greggs sausage roll but come summer, we sometimes want something a littler lighter. And that’s where Greggs’ summer menu comes in, full of salads and snack pots.
Available now are three new salads: Lemon & Herb Chicken and Roast Vegetable Grain Salad; Feta & Beetroot Dip Salad with Grains; and Honey Roast Ham & Free-Range Egg Salad. Each contains one of your five-a-day and rrps are £3, with all of them included in the meal deal.
There are also two new pots: Satay Chicken Skewers with Satay Style Dip and Tikka Chicken Skewers with Yoghurt & Cucumber Dip.

Retailer view: Catriona McQueen

Catriona McQueen turned to Lifestyle Express in 2017 when her store was struggling to generate footfall. Evelix Filling Station on the A9 in Dornoch faced trouble when two large supermarkets opened 15 minutes away. "They sold fuel for cheaper than we could buy it, so it was a real challenge," says Catriona.
Many of her customers were heading to the new petrol stations for the cheaper fuel prices and once they were there they would inevitably pick up their other groceries too.
"It was tough, but I decided to ride the storm out and looked at how I could refresh the store to attract my customers back. As I couldn’t reduce my fuel prices, I had to look elsewhere for ideas. It was then that I got in touch with the Lifestyle Express team.
"They were fantastic. Retail development manager, Derek Ramsay, helped us through the whole process; he drew up plans for the new store and found ingenious ways to maximise the layout to help us get the most out of what is really quite a small space. I really couldn’t have asked for more and the store looks stunning. We have the new grey fascia and we always get positive comments from shoppers telling us how smart it looks now. It’s made a huge impact to our footfall and our sales."
Keen to offer something that the superstore petrol stations didn’t, Catriona also added several new features, including hot drinks and baked goods.
"The Lifestyle Express team recommended hot food and drinks and while I was sceptical, I trusted their expertise and I’m so glad I did as all of the new additions have become hugely popular," she says.

Subway success for Sewell on the go

In 2016, former Forecourt Trader of the Year winner, Sewell on the go, opened its first Subway store in South Cave, Brough, as part of a £2m investment in the site. Alex Mortimer, finance director at Sewell on the go, explains: "Sewell on the go has very high standards and we needed a foodservice offer that reflected these. We carried out a lot of research and spoke to other retailers about operating a Subway franchise. We also looked at the payback from the investment and were impressed by what we saw and heard. The Subway brand has a strong customer following and is widely recognised. The relationship between the forecourt and the Subway franchise is proving to be win-win; the Subway store brings new customers to our site and we can offer our existing customers another great reason to visit us with a first-class food offer. In fact, when the franchise at South Cave opened, it sold 1,500 Subs in just the first week."
Sewell on the go has since opened a further two Subway franchises at forecourts in Hull and Cottingham.
As with all new business ventures, the greatest challenge came from learning how to operate the new franchise. Subway has a robust training and support system in place for all franchisees. Four managers from Sewell on the go attended the Subway franchisee training course.
Alex says: "The training is very comprehensive, with over 60 hours spent in the classroom and 33 hours in a training store. All of our managers thoroughly enjoyed the course and passed with flying colours."