Anne Bruce
Petrol giant BP has created a convenience operations division and recruited buyers and other staff from Alldays, Aldi, Marks and Spencer, Tesco and Sainsbury.
The division takes in all 1,240 BP forecourt stores, which clocked up sales of £300m during the 2002 calendar year.
The BP Connect format will be at the vanguard of the development of a strong convenience retailing proposition, said BP's new UK retail brand manager Claire Grimes.
BP was already experimenting with fresh meat and bakery at pilot Connect forecourt stores,and was aiming for an uncharted premium ground with the format, she said. An extensive food to go offer for the store's integral Wild Bean Café would rival Prêt à Manger.
With a fresh food buying team on board, Connect would have a top-up shopping credibility on a par with a supermarket, said Grimes.
The 1,800 to 2,000 sq ft stores carry about 1,500 lines, with cross promotions to encourage linked purchases, for example on eggs and bacon.
Prices are benchmarked against Tesco, and a price fit manager controls pricing across the estate to ensure prices are in line with supermarkets.
BP has revised PoS for promotions, imitating Tesco's simple PoS for buy one get one free offers, and has reviewed its promotional strategy.
The Connect format is being honed through trials at six stores, including Milton Keynes and Rickmansworth, with processes and layout as well as range under scrutiny, said Grimes. For example, in one test site newspapers are sited in the Wild Bean area. There are open merchandising stands for food to go by the tills and special shelving units for eggs, so that customers can find them easily are also on trial.
There are now 80 BP Connect forecourts in England and three in Scotland and there are plans to open at least 10 more this year, including four in Scotland.
All but three Connects have an integral Thresher store, with PoS stating high street prices' to get away from customers' preconceptions they will be charged a premium for shopping in a Connect store.
Connect has scaled back its green ambitions and dropped the "novelty" solar powered forecourt concept last year.
Safeway and BP this week opened their 59th partnership store, a 24-hour forecourt in Rothwell, Leeds.
The BP/Safeway network now stretches from south-west England to Kent and throughout the M25 region, the Midlands, East Anglia, the north east, north west and Glasgow.

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