RoadChef has undergone something of a revolution over the past two years – splashing out £30m to reinvent its service areas in a bid to be the best operator on the motorways.
And with the company poised to open its 21st motorway service area on the M6 toll road in January, RoadChef’s new retail director, Nick Lloyd, is excited about the times ahead.
As our interview begins at the busy Clacket Lane site on the M25, Lloyd is quick to explain why he left his job at Legoland to join the distinctly less fun motorway services industry. The Welshman is unmistakably enthusiastic about his new role.
“I joined RoadChef because the business is about being the best on the motorways,” he says. “It’s so encouraging and refreshing to have John Greenwood, the chief executive, constantly pushing us to be the best. To be in that culture is fantastic.”
RoadChef’s 18-month programme to transform its motorway service areas included three major investments in Northampton, Strensham and Watford Gap. But the company’s investment strategy continues.
“The £30m was a one-off investment but we’re continuing to invest throughout the business,” says Lloyd.
One such investment was the Spar project at Clacket Lane, which involved £330,000 and made industry history as the first convenience retail brand on a motorway site. The ‘Clacket Lane concept’ brings five brands together on the forecourt – Total, Spar, RoadChef, Delice de France, and Costa Coffee – and is showing a 50 per cent sales increase since opening at the end of June.
Lloyd’s role sees him taking over responsibility for the Restore retail outlets on the forecourt and in the main buildings. Working closely with suppliers and site directors, Lloyd is tasked with identifying and implementing the best of retail concepts, shop layouts, product merchandising and promotion, to drive retail performance.
As retail director at Legoland, Lloyd led the way with a number of new initiatives including introducing new rides and experiences, which helped the park achieve profitability – a step change in performance. He was also responsible for rolling out best practice to parks in California, Denmark and Germany.
Lloyd began his career with Marks & Spencer. After graduating from the University of Glamorgan in 1992, he joined M&S as a graduate trainee. He fast-tracked through the retailer’s graduate programme. After managing a few sites in the UK, he got sent to Saul in South Korea for two years where he set up a franchise business for the company.
“When I went out there, there was nothing, and by the time I left we had seven stores, a multi-million pound turnover and had established a Marks & Spencer brand,” he recalls.
This experience is standing him in good stead for RoadChef. “The big thing you learn over in Asia is about service. Their approach to service is so far ahead of anywhere else I’ve ever been. Service is key to us at RoadChef,” he says. “Today’s consumer is much more demanding and discerning. They want the best they can get.”
With consumers’ standards rising, the challenge for the motorway forecourt industry, says Lloyd, is proving to shoppers that the days of old fashioned sites, poor quality, high prices and poor service are well and truly in the past.
“We pick up just five per cent of the people on the motorways so we’re trying to tell consumers that this is actually a really pleasant place to stop,” says Lloyd. “To persuade someone who’s travelling 70 miles down a motorway when they clearly have an end point to suddenly pull in is always a challenge.”
Another big challenge – and one that Lloyd relishes – is satisfying such a diverse customer base. “We haven’t just got one type of consumer, and I think that’s the great thing about motorway services. We’ve got the commuters, families on the go, professional drivers.
“We’re also finding now that we can give our customers a lot more choice on the forecourts,” says Lloyd. “You’ve got to consistently interject newness – you’ve got to break the mould.”
For example, RoadChef sold over 25,000 picnic hampers and folding chairs through its forecourts during the summer season.
“It’s responding to the season and peoples’ needs,” says Lloyd. “We are trying to break away from the mould that on the forecourt it’s just sandwiches, chocolates and drinks.
“But the key with it all is value. We’re not here to rip the consumer off. I want the RoadChef consumer to always feel they can get a great deal from us. With certain products we are more expensive than the traditional high street, but we are bringing it down. We were charging £16.99 for CDs, but we’ve brought the price down to £13.99.”
One of the most important areas of Lloyd’s remit is forging strong partnerships with oil companies. RoadChef currently has alliances with the five fuel brands – Texaco, Esso, Shell, BP and Total. “We’re working with these to make sure we’re pulling best practices together,” says Lloyd.
For example, the BP Connect forecourt team at the Norton Canes site on the M6 toll road will be working closely with BP. “Managing a forecourt is a complex business and some of these managers are dispensing millions of litres a week so we must ensure we are offering them the best training, both from a service and technical point of view.”
While RoadChef is learning from its partners, it’s also a two-way process. “BP is a great example because we’re looking at what’s happening at Northampton and seeing what else we can bring to Norton Canes. We’ve got both parties sitting round a table assessing what has and hasn’t worked. What BP is bringing to the party is a lot of detail regarding space optimisation, key selling lines and training.”
RoadChef’s experience at Northampton was that there wasn’t a lot of space for people using the shop. “You need to allow for parking because people want to enjoy the Wild Bean Café,” says Lloyd. “Forecourts were never designed for parking – they were designed for people to get on and off quickly.”
“One of the challenges we face is developing sites on existing footprints. The challenge for all forecourt retailers today is to optimise the space you’ve got – it’s making that space work harder and smarter for you.”
The next stage for RoadChef is in marketing. “Tomorrow is so important to us,” says Lloyd. As such, the company has just appointed a head of marketing services, Chris Proud, whose remit is to understand what the consumer wants.
“We know what the consumer wants today, but what do they want tomorrow?,” says Lloyd. “We know what is working well, but is there something missing? If we want to be the best we’ve got to be able to respond to the consumer quickly and launch initiatives with authority.
“I think over the next two or three years, we’ll continue to see change in the motorways sector, which is great news for the consumer.”