I try not to refuel at motorway service stations - I only use them as rest stops. But I needed fuel so stopped at the motorway service area at junction 4 on the M54.
Appearance: The Welcome Break site in Telford offers a host of services for drivers and their passengers - a separate HGV service and parking area; a Days Inn hotel and a range of self-service restaurants including Burger King. But my interest was in the forecourt and retail shop.
Forecourt: Access to the forecourt was well signposted and under a large, arching canopy there were eight pump islands providing a range of Shell fuels. The pumps were clean and all appeared in good working order. The site was clear of litter and there was space for some parking.
Air, water and a vacuum were available but no car wash facility. In front of the shop there was a large display of screenwash, newspapers, flowers and camping chairs. I decided to pay for my fuel and then to park in the main parking area near the hotel before completing my ’stealthcheck’ on the retail shop.
The two members of staff on the tills were cheerful and friendly and my fuel transaction was dealt with as if customer service really mattered.
Shop: The main parking area for access to the restaurant/retail shop complex is to the rear of the building. Inside to the right is the Burger King and other restaurants. Fish and chips were on special offer plus there was a ’kids eat free’ deal. Ahead were the toilets (clean and well managed), two free-standing ATMs, a ’gamezone’ and the retail shop area. The site also offered a fair amount of tourist information.
The shop had a large range of ’eat now’ snack items and a very limited number of ’use later’ products. There was a number of non-food lines - everything from a clearance of homeware products to clothes.
Those requiring a hot drink and not wanting to use any of the restaurant offerings had the option of a Coffee Nation unit in the retail shop.
There was the usual range of sandwiches, savoury snacks, chilled drinks and confectionery but nothing really grabbed my attention. There was a ’5-a-day fruit’ stand near the forecourt entrance but neither the apples or grapes looked anything like value for money.
Wanting to get away from the incessant piped music, I paid for my snack items and left. The sales assistant on the till was again excellent.
Prognosis: There seems to be a relentless growth in motorway traffic and it is right and proper that drivers are encouraged to take regular rest breaks. Given the cost of developing and running a large motorway service station, it is understood that the operators will need to maximise sales opportunities. Currently most do this by offering a wide range of services at what seem to be premium prices.
Many drivers and their passengers do not score motorway service areas highly and this has produced a rash of rebranding, refurbishments, trading partnerships and improved food offerings. I believe the ’jury is still out’ as to whether these developments will prove to be long-term solutions.
Diagnosis: It seems to me that motorway forecourt services are fine, similar to most modern forecourts but with the luxury of more space. There may be an issue about the price of fuel but this seems manageable. In fact, at Telford I paid a premium of 2ppl over the price I’d expect to pay.
So, the problem may be the foodservice offerings and retail shop. Moto is addressing the retail issue with partnership trials with M&S Simply Food and WH Smith. At Telford I felt that they’d not quite arrived at the correct retail format.
Prescription: Challenge the perception that the cost of motorway fuel is hideously high. Generate more theatre in the shop. Make greater use of themed pos material. Also address consumer concern about the environmental impact of food production and transport.
And support local foods - for Welcome Break Telford a starting point could be Heart of England fine foods (www.heff.co.uk).