Big chains dominate the motorway service station sector but Westmorland Services, just north of junction 38 on the M6 in the Lake District, is different. And that’s because it is an independent, family-run site and it boasts a farm shop.
Appearance: The large site was previously a remote farm. Services offered include a large caravan park and hotel with conference facilities. There’s also the Total service station and shop, and the main service area which includes a restaurant, coffee shop, retail shop and the farm shop.
Forecourt: The Total service station area is also large.There are five island fuelling points offering a full range of Total fuels and a separate area for HGVs. The site, although well used, is well maintained, clean and tidy. The usual range of services is available.
Shop: There are no displays in front of the shop. It includes a coffee bar and a full range of convenience products for drivers not wanting to take advantage of the main service area facilities. The shop looked rather tired and in need of some professional help.
Service Area: The design of the main service area reflects the owner’s passion for Cumbria. It’s a stone and wood building with large windows looking out to a lake and beyond to the fells. A great concept, but now a little shabby and let down by windows that needed cleaning and all the litter strewn around the entrance and lake. Temperature-wise, the whole of the building was too warm and it was a relief to finish my coffee and escape. The entrance area included an information desk that had seen better days and was not staffed but a pile of customer ’we’re listening’ response cards and a posting box were available.
The restaurant and ’Coffee Tree’ café offered a good menu selection including a range of ’made by us’ choices. The shop offered similar ranges to most other motorway service shops.
Farm Shop: Entry from the main shop is through an open arch and there is also a door via the forecourt side of the site. The farm shop looks a little like a log cabin and stocks an Aladdin’s Cave range of high-class expensive canned, packaged and bottled groceries. There’s also a range of produce, fresh meat, bakery and dairy products. A key seller seems to be savoury pies with a whole serve-over counter devoted to a locally produced range. Pride of place is given to bold displays of locally produced products and food. I bought some very good quality fresh beef, beetroot crisps, a locally-made chocolate Swiss roll and a £1.29 duck and plum pie. Not, by any stretch of the imagination, my usual purchases from a motorway service station!
Prognosis: Pundits say shops should be stocking and selling more healthy, fresh, organic and locally produced foods. Some are but I believe they are the exception. Clearly Westmorland Tebay Services is passionate about local food and culture and tries and sources much of its stock locally. It will not be easy to replicate this in every forecourt store but more must be achieved by the sector.
Diagnosis: In general motorway service stations have a bad reputation - for offering poor food at high prices. But the operators are fighting back - ’fresh’ offers abound and many ’partnership’ deals are bringing high street retailers to the sector. How can an independent operator differentiate itself in this company? Well, Westmorland has proved it is possible.
Prescription: Westmorland’s passion is demonstrated in so many ways tand I congratulate the enterprise on its success. But, I fear it is very close to becoming a victim of its own success.
The service station area is in need of some refurbishment. Some consideration must be given to the installation of air conditioning. The forecourt shop may benefit from becoming a member of a major symbol group. The selection of produce in the Farm Shop was poor.
Westmorland Tebay Services is a great independent enterprise, it has set its standards high and must work hard to achieve and maintain them.