Unaffiliated independents still make up the lion’s share of the convenience store market but the gap is quickly closing with symbol stores snapping at their heels. Many of those symbol names can be found on forecourt sites, particularly as many of these groups now have dedicated forecourt teams.
Bestway is a good example. Symbol director James Hall says the company recognises that the forecourt sector is an important marketplace in its own right and therefore treats the format differently by not simply bolting on its convenience store solutions. "The offer and services need to be different. We are working hard to deliver the right package for forecourt retailers and have invested in a bespoke team to support multi-site forecourt operators as well as tailoring the promotion and ranging requirements to deliver the right offer in store from great food-to-go solutions through to consumer offers that offer strong margins."
Its Best-One fascia has different models for different types of sites.
Hall explains: "For some operators fuel is the main part of their business, while for others convenience is taking an increasingly larger share. As a group, we work with each individual operator to ensure we develop the right layout for their store. We have different models for transient sites and others for convenience. We work out the optimum range and promotional mix for members based on their site size, location and customer demographics."
And this approach would seem to be paying off as Hall says Best-One is one of the few groups driving growth in the forecourt sector. The company has also invested in more business development executives to ensure Best-One members receive the best possible service and has introduced a Chilled Distribution Central Pick Service that has seen chilled sales rise by 33% and improved availability to over 97%.
Best-One members also benefit from the My Rewards rebate scheme. Based on criteria rather than revenue, My Rewards gives back as much as 5% of the member’s monthly spend with the average participant in the scheme recouping in excess of £7,000 per year.
Promotions are also a key part of the company’s success with customers committed to promoting 60 featured items. A full suite of free pos material is offered to help members increase footfall and loyalty including window bills, shelf talkers and promotional mail-outs.
Hall continues: "Forecourts are incredibly important for today’s shoppers. In the past, forecourts were simply destinations for fuel but now more and more forecourts are providing a good convenience offering. Including licensed and a comprehensive food-to-go provision encourages additional sales and passing trade. We are now at a stage where some Best-One members no longer see fuel as the main traffic driver to their forecourt."
Such has been the success of the company’s forecourt business that it has now created a multiple account division which offers multi-site retailers a Lifetime Cost Benefit model ensuring lowest cost of goods to both Best-One branded and other operators. This division recently scored its biggest result to date by signing an exclusive distribution agreement with Park Garage Group, which is currently ranked seventh in the Top 50 Indies and operates 48 sites under the Park and Shop fascia.
Steve Caldecourt, head of multiple accounts at Bestway Wholesale, comments: "Park Garage Group is one of the largest and most respected forecourt groups in the UK and our agreement demonstrates the real progress Bestway is making in our multiple account division. Our commitment to range, pricing, delivery and customer rewards is making a number of retailers think again about their supply partner.
"The addition of Park Garages to the multiple account business demonstrates that the group has the scale and infrastructure to deliver to large operators on a national level."
Sunil Tandon, managing director of The Park Garage Group adds: "As a business we were struck by Bestway Wholesale’s professionalism and the detail it had put into researching our business and our needs. When we looked at the Lifetime Cost Benefit model it developed for us which took in all aspects such as the cost of goods, investment, rebates, fees and surcharges we realised that not only could we make substantial savings but also increase our range to customers and profitability by switching from our previous supplier."
Meanwhile, Costcutter Supermarkets Group’s retail director, Daniel Quest, says: "Forecourt retailing is much more than just fuel. Some 20% of customers shopping in forecourt stores arrive on foot, so they need to be leading convenience providers, combining impulse, food-to-go and a wider grocery offer.
"As one of the largest forecourt retailers in the UK, we have a dedicated forecourt team who work with retailers to develop stores that meet the varying needs of the diverse forecourt store customer base. All of our retailers benefit from expert advice and support, our award-winning independent own brand and pioneering technology systems to help them run their businesses more efficiently and profitably, including our digital support, which helps retailers unlock the power of social media to engage with their customers.
"We pride ourselves on helping retailers give a truly local service to their customers, so we provide expertise in providing a convenient range including chilled meals, fresh produce and an extensive ’Direct to Store’ range helping retailers to tailor their ranges to meet local needs. We also provide leading food-to-go and coffee solutions.
"We support independent single-site operators all the way to large scale operators and it’s our Freedom within a Framework approach that enables retailers to draw on our expert support and best practice guidance, while also giving them freedom to create a truly local offer for their community."
Spar UK’s head of retail, Ian Taylor, says the group is making huge strides in the forecourt sector, with an increase of 41% in site numbers last year.
"Last year was an exciting one for Spar and forecourt retailing. Our forecourt sites now total 1,041, as the sector forms an increasingly vital role in the Spar Growing Together strategy."
He says that to keep up with trends it is developing a new format. "Spar Express will be a small forecourt development with a store of less than 1,000sq ft. These sites will have a focus on transient goods, such as impulse products, coffee, eat now and eat on-the-go products such as Spar’s Daily Deli foodservice offer.
"We understand that the strength of the food offer at the fuel site plays an ever-increasing part in the decision-making process so offering fresh and high-quality food ’on the move’ is a vital part of retailers’ future success."
Meanwhile, Jet Maybole in South Ayrshire was the first site to open as part of Spar and Jet’s five-year partnership, which was announced last year.
The 12-nozzle site, which has been part of the Jet network since 2007, previously was part of Premier. It has undergone significant refurbishment and is now four times its original size at 4,000sq ft.
Owner Brian Connolly comments: "Running this size of store, we needed guidance, and Spar has really helped us throughout the redevelopment process. We were keen to develop our forecourt offering to establish a modern shop within the town centre. We required a support package for this scenario and the obvious choice for me was to join Spar. When they announced an interest in branding within the forecourt market this seemed perfect timing, and when the Jet/Spar agreement was announced this was the perfect solution for us."
Brian says the support from Spar was first class: "We couldn’t have done it without them. From pre-construction meetings to merchandising, they helped us right the way through," he says, adding that the merchandising guys were fantastic.
Bill Mair, sales director for CJ Lang & Son Ltd, Spar’s wholesaler for Scotland, reckons that thanks to the partnership with Jet, Spar’s presence on forecourts will increase considerably in the future as more and more dealers see the benefits of partnering with two leading retail brands.
Another convert to Spar were father and son team Barrie and Jason Clements who made the switch from Londis at their Ruan High Lanes site.
Barrie and Jason have no regrets about the move. "Everything is better all round," says Jason. "Spar is an internationally-known brand, and its own- brand products and marketing are excellent. The product looks better in store, and so does the appearance of the store as a whole."
Booker not only offers retailers the Premier and Family Shopper fascias, it now has Budgens and Londis too.
Budgens dates back to 1872 but its ethos remains the same today in that Budgens retailers care about the quality, provenance and value of their food, and their communities’ needs.
Now owned by Booker, the Budgens brand can be found on 35-plus forecourts across the UK. These stores are known for their fresh offer, whether that’s essentials for a ’meal tonight’ or food-to-go to ’eat now’.
Budgens boasts offering retailers a high level of support across all areas of their business. This is matched with flexibility which enables them to tailor their offer to the communities they serve and stock local products from small suppliers. The group says it’s this twist on the daily shop that keeps customers coming back, and retailers’ sales growing.
Meanwhile, Londis has a dedicated forecourt team who are there to provide retailers with the "best business support to satisfy your shoppers’ needs for a modern convenience offer and ultimately improve your profitability and drive your business forward".
Petrocell operates 10 forecourts, all with Londis stores. Managing director Alan Spackman recently carried out a knockdown rebuild at his Hopcrofts Holt site near Banbury which saw the small shop, couple of pumps and the workshop replaced by a modern new 1,700sq ft Londis store situated on an easily accessible forecourt.
Sticking with Londis
Alan says he used his Lady Lane site as a template for the store and there was no question about whether to stick with Londis or not. "I’ve got Londis on all the other sites and I’ve got a good relationship with them. My customers know the Londis name. It’s not Tesco but they know what Londis is about. And I don’t think it’s all about the fascia, it’s more about the offer in the shop and as long as they come in and find what they want, they’ll keep coming back."
Alan’s key customers are ’white van man’, who Alan says ’blitz’ the place every morning. They head straight for the ’Good to Go’ area, where they are greeted by a Costa Coffee machine, Bake & Bite hot unit, Rollover hot dog stand, a microwave and a display full of cereal bars. And that area is complemented by chillers with sandwiches, pasties and pies, Rustlers burgers (which can be heated in the microwave) and lots of cold drinks. The sandwiches come from a local supplier Alan says they just work better for this site.
Business is good fuel volumes have nearly doubled and shop sales are three times what they were and, best of all, customers are happy. "People like the shop, they say it’s a great shop. It’s easy to navigate and the ’shopability’ is very good. Plus customers like the fact that we now have a lot more products," says Alan.
Nisa Retail says it is unique in the convenience sector as it is a mutual style company, which means it is owned by its independent retail members.
Retailers have the option to operate under four symbol fascias: Nisa Local, Nisa Extra, Loco and dual branded, whereby a member can maintain their true local identity while benefiting from the strength of the Nisa brand. Alternatively, a retailer can also choose to trade under their own fascia.
Within the last year, Nisa has developed its Store of the Future format, which has seen retailers, on average, achieve double-digit uplift in sales following conversion.
It looks at different store formats, customer demographics and shopping missions to ensure the right one is implemented in each location.
Nisa has also established a partnership with Greenergy, enabling it to offer its own branded fuel. This provides Nisa members with a transparent, competitive fuel offer allowing them to compete in a very price conscious marketplace.
Nisa says its flexible model provides its retailers with an "unbeatable breadth of range", with a 98% availability rate, to ensure they can provide a single destination shop for all their customers’ needs. This is supported by Nisa’s award-winning own label range, Heritage, which provides retailers with over 800 SKUs which have been reformulated and repackaged to ensure they offer great quality products at affordable prices.
Unlike other retail groups, Nisa doesn’t restrict its members through loyalty percentage rates or restrictive agreements. Through Nisa membership, retailers can source local products and then have them invoiced centrally, creating a simpler and more time-efficient process. All orders are placed directly with the individual suppliers, deliveries are made direct to store, but the invoicing and administration is managed centrally taking the hassle and complexity away from the retailer.
This is all delivered by Nisa’s supply chain which sees an impressive 99.9% of deliveries made on the day and 95.2% successfully on time.
Nisa provides a comprehensive support structure which retailers are encouraged to utilise to ensure they continue to drive their businesses forward. Support comprises a strong field team covering retail development managers and regional retail managers. In addition there are fresh food development managers, who encourage retailers to make the most of this important category.
Nisa has its own insight team which allows retailers to truly understand their customers and their marketplace, enabling them to modify their offer to match the local demographic.
Retailers can then use this insight in conjunction with Nisa’s category management service to create bespoke planograms, layouts and propositions within their individual sites.
Through Nisa membership, retailers can also take advantage of the Retail Academy which provides a complete training solution to develop their staff, to ensure their morale remains high and to help provide the best possible customer service.
Finally, Nisa provides retailers with a comprehensive marketing package incorporating bespoke leaflets, allowing members to personalise the leaflets to include local offers, local events and community news, as well as a personalised Nisa FM, which provides retailers with a strong radio network for their store.
Nisa says the joining process is made as stress free as possible through the member website and the support that retailers receive from the skilled and trained in-house staff across all areas of the joining process.
a Premier deal
Premier is the UK’s number one symbol group with over 3,200 stores nationwide. Owner Booker says it has delivered double-digit growth for 14 consecutive years.
Retailers sign up to a three-year contract with an agreed minimum spend level. And, unlike other symbol groups, Premier has a no-fee policy so retailers aren’t charged joining fees, marketing costs or membership fees.
Benefits include: four-weekly promotions; TV advertising; specialist merchandisers; 172 wholesale branches; free delivery service; a dedicated Retail Development Manager for your store; full point-of-sale kits to support each promotion; consumer-focused leaflets that are personalised for your store; consumer-focused email campaigns to help drive footfall into stores; The Premier forum where you can discuss best practice and find out the latest information on promotions, pricing and new services; and help with social media.
In April, Premier launched the ’Sell more make more’ scheme which head of Premier Martin Swadling says is all about helping stores to increases sales via simple changes that any retailer could make.
He says Premier has more regional development managers on the road who are keen to help retailers make good decisions and he’s aiming for a 20% sales uplift per store.
Greggs’ new improved app is Greggs Rewards, which is available to download now.
Not only does it offer ’tasty incentives’ for customers, it helps to make shopping across its 1,700 shops quicker and easier because customers don’t need to carry a wallet or separate loyalty card.
The improved app offers a number of rewards, including:
A free Greggs breakfast when customers top up with £10 for the first time
A free hot drink promotion buy seven drinks and get your eighth free
A birthday sweet treat
Exclusive seasonal offers throughout the year
Prize draw every month five lucky people will win £50.
The app has a simplified registration process, which means that customers can now download it and use it straight away without having to upload funds. Users can pay directly for purchases through a smartphone with PayPal, Apple Pay, by preloading money on to their account or with cash, debit/credit card.
Malcolm Copland, commercial director at Greggs, says: "We first launched Greggs Rewards in 2014, and since then we’ve listened to what our customers want; an easy-to-use app that allows them to pay quickly and easily via a smartphone, along with exclusive offers to reward them for shopping with us. We will continue to develop these offers over the forthcoming months."
Greggs on the forecourt
Greggs has a growing presence on forecourts. A spokesperson for the bakery firm says convenience is key in the on-the-go food market and it will continue to open and relocate shops to ensure that its estate is well positioned. "A high proportion of our openings are in areas away from traditional high streets as we diversify our portfolio in line with market trends.
"Working with franchise partners, we have extended the Greggs offer to previously inaccessible travel, workplace and other convenience locations.
"Together with franchise partners Moto, Euro Garages, Applegreen UK and Ireland, Wightlink Limited, Blakemore Retail, Compass and the Sandpiper Group, most of our new shops were opened in locations away from high streets. We also opened our first shop in Northern Ireland with franchise partner Applegreen."
As for the company’s plans for this year, the spokesperson adds: "We plan to enhance the customer experience further by continuing to improve our service offering, shop environments and locations, rebalancing our estate towards new convenient catchment areas, with help from our franchise partners in travel and other convenience locations.
"We expect to open 100-120 shops, including further development of our franchise partnerships, refit around 200 shops and close 50-60 shops.
"We are also launching a new improved mobile app and more flexible payment options." See box above for more details.
Pulled pork with a twist
Subway’s popular Pulled Pork Sub is back on menus nationwide until July 5. With a flavour and build revamp, customers can choose from a range of sauces, including Sweet Chilli, Chipotle Southwest or Barbecue, to top their seven-hour, slow-cooked pork sub.
The Pulled Pork Sub is being supported by a heavyweight, cross-channel campaign, including a new 30-second radio adv, which will run across commercial radio stations until July.
The campaign draws attention to the high quality meat used in the Pulled Pork Sub, cooked slowly, over seven hours to ensure the pork is succulent, tasty and tender. To bring this to life, the advert voices this slowly, in line with the brand’s signature tongue-in-cheek tone. This culminates with a call to action for consumers to visit a Subway store.
Commenting on the campaign, Manaaz Akhtar, regional marketing director for Subway, says: "When we introduced the Pulled Pork Sub last year it was an instant hit, which is why we have chosen to bring it back with a twist.
"We believe in making it easier for customers to discover new flavour combinations when choosing a great value, on-the-go lunch option.
"By allowing customers to add a sauce to the Pulled Pork Sub after it’s been made, we’ve found a new way to spice up one of the nation’s favourite subs."
With more than 44,000 stores worldwide in over 110 countries, Subway is the largest sandwich franchise in the world. And it’s one of the most popular franchises here. It already has over 2,300 stores in the UK and Ireland, with more than 650 stores of these open within non-traditional locations, such as petrol forecourts, convenience stores, hospitals and transport hubs, universities and colleges.
The good news is that the brand is keen to further expand, meaning more opportunities are available for convenience store and forecourt operators to partner with the franchise and open an outlet within an existing store.
Subway promotional material says partnering with the brand provides excellent dual-branding opportunities, high rental returns and increased customer count. Its outlets are known for being efficient, convenient and for providing a quick service, which draws a steady flow of customers.
The simplicity of the operation means there is an adaptable approach to the size and physical layout of its stores. The format means that staff levels can be increased at peak times and downscaled to one employee during quiet periods. What is more, a Subway outlet can maintain a full range of products to maximise sales throughout the day, while keeping wastage at less than 1%.