Are you a forecourt with a difference? If so, Rich James Cross, aka Instagram’s theservicesking, could be coming your way in 2024. Cross – who has built an online reputation as a guru of motorway service stations’ food offerings, ambience, and toilet facilities – wants to focus more this coming year on independent fuel retailing sites.
His contributions to the Motorway Services Online website, as well as his posts on Instagram, Linkedin, and Facebook, frequently feature breaking news stories, and over 10 years of criss-crossing the country he has developed an encyclopaedic knowledge of service stations, and trunk road forecourts.
His favourite independent is Whitehouse Services on the A30 between Exeter and Okehampton. Owners the Snowdon family evolve the business every year, he says, having recently introduced their own food to go in their Budgens outlet. “They represent everything that is good about an independent site, watching trends, while having one of the very last sit-down restaurants on the A30,” says Cross.
Motorway services became the passion – he calls it an obsession – of Cross, 25, when he joined his truck driver father on the road on days off from school. Today, he visits up to five sites on a busy day, with his pastime funded by a home delivery job with Tesco at the weekends.
Forecourt Trader joined him in his natural habitat on a call during a visit to the Roadchef Northampton services on the M1 northbound, where he was finding out about the site’s new Coco di Mama posh pasta in a pot concession, the fifth for Roadchef with three more planned next year.
However, he is keen to cover more off-motorway sites. “I’d like to get more involved with independent operators and to meet the families behind the businesses,” he says. “This year I’ve met Rob Exelby, managing director of Exelby Services, a former Forecourt Trader of the Year winner, who I believe is a big fan of mine, and also Ron Perry, who runs a signposted service area on the A19 in Hartlepool.”
Cross says that he has noticed how independent forecourt operators are increasingly trying to lure locals in store with locally supplied food and flyers offering discounts. “They combine this with franchises and concessions to create a hub to get the right balance between locals and those travelling,” he says.
In early January he is planning a tour of sites in Sussex.