Every year, the RN team visits stores up and down the UK to learn about working life in independent businesses.

In the second of our blogs on our visits, editor Chris Gamm joins the Fraser Group's retail director Nick Fraser at his 24-hour forecourt near Reading.

This was the fifth time I had worked a shift in an independent store while working on RN. I wanted to pick a completely different type of store this time, and it took me to Spar Lower Earley, a busy 24-hour forecourt and lunch and snack-led c-store on the outskirts of Reading.

It is one of six Spar or Budgens forecourts owned by the Fraser Retail group. Retail director Nick Fraser tells me it is the group’s “challenging store” due to the competition from neighbouring branches of Asda, Iceland and M&S Simply Food.

Rather than focusing on growing basket spend or footfall, the challenge for this store is getting systems and efficiencies working as smoothly as possible.

Petrol footfall is extremely busy, meaning there is rarely no queue, but it’s often several customers deep and the pumps also need constant supervision

One way is through getting maximum value from staff and I experience this straight away when given the tasks of running a till and helping stock up tobacco – and both have their challenges.

Petrol footfall is extremely busy, meaning there is rarely no queue, but it’s often several customers deep and the pumps also need constant supervision.

Between customers, I help supervisor Nicole restock the tobacco gantry. It already contains around 40% plain packaging, which makes finding brands tricky. There are lots of gaps where 10-packs previously sat and the staff are in the dark about when it will change to accommodate the new range.

I see lots of great innovation in the store too; customers using the group’s loyalty card to get 20p off a cup of Costa coffee or a half-price car wash, and the Subway has good footfall.

Find out how the Fraser group is adapting Spar Lower Earley for the future in RN’s Store Lookbook in our 3 March issue