Home Office minister Norman Baker suggests petrol station should move to pre-payment pumps to deter drive-offs. Do you agree?
Monks Brook S/Station, Passfield Avenue, Eastleigh, Southampton, Hants
Star rating: 2
GENERAL APPEARANCE: Looks hopeful on approach – it’s a big forecourt, with a big shop. However disappointment begins to dawn as you drive onto the forecourt, with signs that it is in need of a lot of loving care and attention.
FORECOURT: There is no car wash, not even a jet wash, despite ample space. Water, air and vacuum units look shabby and rusty. At the time of my visit the pumps were busy – although five out of the 24 nozzles were out of action. The site has at least 12 parking spaces for shop customers.
SHOP: As I entered the Alldays-branded store it looked grubby – dirty even – and the smell! The air conditioning was having a really off time (I wonder when it was last serviced) and certainly the cleaners have been getting away with a third-rate job for some time. At 12.30 when I visited cars/vans were coming and going – but customers didn’t seem to be buying much! There were plenty of customers in line in the store. The service at the two tills (one had its cover off and didn’t seem to be properly working) was rather slow. In terms of lunchtime snack offers there wasn’t much to buy! Only three packs of sandwiches and a small selection of Ginster products. The good news: by the time I had paid for my purchases and was leaving, the sandwich shelf had been refilled. The bad news: the sandwiches that wouldn’t fit onto the small shelf were just thrown into the base of the cooler cabinet together with the pack of plastic spoons and shrink-wrapped pack of milk. If you wanted loose packs of milk, you had to go to the Coca-Cola chiller cabinet. But that wasn’t very appealing as the cabinets looked as if they hadn’t been cleaned for ages, and there was a lot of ‘Tate Modern’ splashes of dried milk on the door. I could go on about the empty beer packaging abandoned on top of the ice cream; the wall of crisp/snacks cartons that prevented access to the video section; the packs of confectionery on the floor cluttering the aisle to the tills; the wine chiller with its lighting tube and electrics showing and no header cover; the promotion posters coming unstuck from the window; oh and the out-of-stocks. But perhaps enough said. You get the picture. What a shocking advert for the Co-op (which acquired Alldays in 2002) this is – it reinforces the negative consumer stereotyping of a forecourt convenience shop.
PROGNOSIS: I passionately believe both the following statements to be true. ‘Forecourt shops are poised to take a greater share of the c-store market’… ‘Fresh and chilled is where it is at’. But if judged by the Alldays/Total site at Eastleigh, well forget it. This unit is hardly the entrepreneurial c-store forecourt site we expect from these retail focused organisations. I’m often thrilled – get a buzz, even an adrenalin rush when I shop in some c-stores. But I left this shop feeling deeply depressed. Depressed because of all the lost opportunities from what is an excellent location with great potential. Depressed because in my view both Co-op and Total are letting themselves and the forecourt c-store sector down.
DIAGNOSIS: At first sight you could be forgiven for thinking that this store may be a terminal case. If it is, put it out of its misery. But surely the Co-op/Total can’t allow this to happen. Cleary in the past it has been in receipt of considerable investment – perhaps it was a show store for Alldays whose head office is less than a mile away. So, not a case of first aid but major surgery and I am sure the patient could make a full recovery.
PRESCRIPTION: Go back to basics. Research indicates that what shoppers want more that anything else is clean modern c-stores, friendly and quick service and product availability. To that could be added fresh foods and food-to-go and then you will have a store to satisfy consumers’ wants. Come on the Co-op and Total – direct some of your considerable retail expertise and financial might to develop a site you can be proud of and one which I believe could make you considerable profits.