M1 Lisburn was designed to be bigger and better than anything Applegreen had done before, and so it proved. At the Forecourt Trader awards ceremony in September, the company walked off with the biggest prize the Forecourt Trader of the Year trophy. "We were absolutely delighted to win this award we’re thrilled," says John Diviney, who took over as Applegreen’s UK managing director in December 2016, having worked in most departments in his four and a half years with the company, including finance, warehouse, food, marketing and loyalty.
"It really is a big honour for us. There’s a big team behind getting a facility like M1 Lisburn in place from the design, planning, construction, and ultimately the execution and operational level on site. All of those people can be proud of themselves that we won the award, we’re really happy with it."
The multi-million pound Lisburn site on the M1 southbound, opened in March 2016. It features a spacious modern forecourt, with HGV facilities to the rear of the building, plus extensive parking. The stunning building has a total floor area of 1,560sqm (16,000sq ft) which includes space to seat 300 people. A third of the building is dedicated to customer circulation enabling customers to circulate and rest no matter how busy it is; and since it has dedicated coach parking and is on a busy tourist route from Belfast City, there can be big fluctuations in visitors.
As motorists enter the double-height building, they are greeted on the left hand side,with a more traditional forecourt convenience layout up to the till, with a mix of grocery and impulse food and drink items. There is also a comprehensive self-serve coffee and snacks island, for those on the go. But for those wanting to take a break from the road, they are spoilt for choice. Applegreen M1 Lisburn is home to six food offers: Greggs, Lavazza, Burger King, Subway, Chopstix and The Bakewell, which is Applegreen’s own-brand café.
So far, so like the facilities found on a lot of service areas. But there is more a mezzanine floor, half of which is allocated to the Applegreen lounge, a discreet and comfortable area, sub-divided into an informal rest area and a number of meeting spaces. People can meet, do business, and break long journeys all while charging their mobile devices in the free charge points and while using the free wifi. The remaining mezzanine area forms the Lavazza Coffee Bar, a pioneering new concept designed and led by Applegreen, partnering with Lavazza. The spacious coffee bar area comes complete with plush soft furnishings and lighting, while the seating area is broken up by low-level dividers to create more intimate spaces. The products for sale have been chosen to be in-keeping with what Applegreen regards as a premium brand and layout, with a nod towards indulgence.
"We did our first mezzanine level on our site in Templepatrick," explains Diviney. "We wanted to create an area with a bit more relaxation. It can be very busy on the ground floor of a motorway services area, and we’re catering for someone who wants to stop for a bit longer, with more comfort.
"A high number of passing road users are travelling for work. We identified a customer need for an area within our services where people could meet safely, close to the motorway, which can be quicker and easier than going into town.
"Our site in Lisburn has raised the bar even further with an escalator to help people with less mobility; there’s also a lift. The addition of the escalator in particular, opens up the upper level to all customers regardless of age or ability. The upper level of this building has been designed to be an oasis of comfort to a tired driver and the escalator is the gateway to this area."
It’s the breadth of offers that Diviney thinks works so well on the M1 site: "More brands attract more people, so we have something for everybody whether they’re on business, commuters, tourists, or families taking a break letting the children run around in the play area, while the parents have a cup of coffee, and then getting back into the car refreshed for their onward journey.
"We see ourselves as a food company that sells fuel," says Diviney. "We’re there to feed the travelling public, provide a relaxing environment a health and safety stop, with good toilet facilities, good food facilities, coffee, tea and a good place to have a meeting.
"We’re constantly communicating with our customers about their thoughts on our facilities, because it’s ultimately for them that we’re building them. We have a customer-centric approach to design and operations. If we meet all our customers’ missions, we’ll ultimately meet our own," stresses Diviney.
Another great attraction to this award-winning site, which beats UK motorway service areas hands down, is the low fuel prices: "We’re a value brand, and our price commitment to our customers is that we’ll be low fuel prices always it’s on every canopy we have.
"At Lisburn customers are responding well to the high-street prices on the motorway so we’re very happy with fuel sales," says Diviney. "It’s certainly not the pricing that you would see on motorway sites in mainland GB, which we believe is insult pricing. In Lisburn, our price point is on the motorway you see it before you get to the site. We’re not afraid of that, we’d love to see it on the mainland also. We don’t have any motorway sites yet on the mainland, but currently have three in for planning Jct 33 at Rotherham, Kirby Hill on the A1M, and one on the M42."
Applegreen has a total of 332 sites, including 169 in Ireland, 68 in the USA, and 95 in the UK, following its recent acquisition of the Carsley Group’s seven sites. And, having recently gone back to shareholders to raise more equity, the company is able to continue its growth plan, whether that’s buying or redeveloping sites.
It’s most recent opening in the UK is the Spaldwick site on the A14, a knock-down-rebuild, which opened in September; one of around six that has opened since last December, in a stunning new format featuring separate zones such as a fast food or coffee shop, differentiated with different décor. They feature a Costa Café, Subway and Greggs in Applegreen’s own design, but approved by the brand partners.
Diviney says the company has shown growth rates of 20% both in revenue and gross profit for the first half of the year 2017 versus 2016: "We see huge opportunity here for the Applegreen brand in the UK," he stresses. "Relative to the top four independent groups ahead of us, we’ve a long way to go to catch up, but we are plugging away at that every year. We’re beefing up our property team to get more sites, both at the PFS level and the greenfield/brownfield level. You’ll continue to see Applegreen grow here in the UK."