Located next to picturesque fields and hills on the outskirts of Alloa, the Auld Brig Service Station offers a welcoming pit stop for travellers. John McNee visited the 24-hour operation, Gulf-branded site to find out what it offers.
Penny Petroleum has built a portfolio of more than 25 retail sites since it began trading 21 years ago and owner David Penny has said he expects to grow the estate to 40 sites by the end of 2016.
In the last few years, the company has opened or purchased four in Scotland, the first of which was the Auld Brig.
Situated off the A907 between Alloa and Stirling, the 1.8m-litre Gulf-branded site includes a large, 24-hour Londis store and more than a few unusual features.
With ample parking available – enough to accommodate quite a few HGVs – it’s a place where motorists are welcome to stop for more than just a couple of minutes.
Several of the forecourt’s more interesting features reflect that. Customers are encouraged to take advantage of the free-to-use wi-fi lounge in its Londis store, which includes a Costa Coffee outlet and TV. Outside, tables and chairs are in place in the summer months, so customers can relax and take in the scenery.
Imaginative details like these have helped the Auld Brig rack up multiple awards, earning it a reputation as one of the most progressive sites in the UK, and one of the most eager to experiment.
From technological advancements to new convenience product ranges, there’s always something the team is willing to try in the hope it will capture the interest and serve the needs of customers.
When it opened in 2012, local produce was prominently at the heart of the business. A full range of locally-sourced items – including fresh fruit and vegetables as well as a wide selection of speciality beef, steaks, sausages and pies – filled a chiller the full length of the shop. It was something different for a forecourt, and intended to be a progressive USP. But it didn’t work out.
“The waste was just horrendous,” said Carol O’Hara, Penny Petroleum’s cluster manager for Scotland, and former site manager of the Auld Brig. “We found that people just don’t imagine coming into a petrol station to pick a pack of locally-sourced sausages.”
The answer, she said, came from David Penny himself – pet food.
“He said, I’ve got the ideal thing, we’ll bring in the pet food range, we’ll see how it goes. And it does sell.
“We’ve got rabbit food, guinea pig food, birdseed, treats for cats and dogs, all kinds of things. The big bags sell really well. It saves people having to make the trip out to a pet store.”
In fresh and chilled produce there are still a few products supplied by Londis – bacon, sausage, apples, pears, grapes – but they’re not the shop’s biggest sellers. Those are bagged sweets, soft drinks, scratch cards, coffee and food to go, including hot dogs and pies from Country Choice.
Customers are mostly commuters heading between Stirling and Alloa, but also include cyclists and joggers using a route that runs next to the site.
On the forecourt, the Auld Brig offers a wide range of fuels, including unleaded, super unleaded, diesel, high-speed HGV diesel pumps, gas oil, and LPG.
Greig Dickson, area business manager for supplier Certas Energy, said: “The site is a real asset to the Gulf network and clearly demonstrates that a fuel forecourt does not need to be limited to the sale of petrol products.
“Auld Brig offers an extensive retail experience for customers with new products or services frequently being trialled at a standard that other sites aspire to.”
And there is still potential for further growth. WIth plenty of room on the forecourt there is scope to offer further services, such as a car wash or car sales.
In the store, the National Lottery is due to be added soon, while the addition of an alcohol licence – yet to be granted – would open up a whole new category.
Cheryl Hudson, site manager, said: “We’re all committed to maintaining the highest standards, plus we’re always looking for new ways to improve our services and product range.”