An exemplar business

This weekend I drove with my family from one end of Britain to the other. It was a tour of the nation and proved to be an insightful foray into the two extremes of business, discovered, perhaps surprisingly, through a nations motorway service stations.

Heading north from the miseries of Luton airport, our first experience was of various service stations on the A1(M). They encapsulated all that is bad, hopeless and joyless about modern business. These were places decaying through underinvestment and greed. Commercial adverting was everywhere and relentlessly hounded a captive audience. Soulless global outlets, weary or disinterested looking staff, long queues, a neglected building and toilets that are unmentionable. I felt despair at the state of business in Britain. There were no excuses.

These were busy places heaving with customers, a captured market with no choice and with no competition. The owners of these services clearly felt no need to invest in anything other than the blatant exploitation of those unlucky enough to pull in. It was deeply depressing and showed how far capitalism has fallen. All that was bad about business was here.

As we travelled into Scotland the service stations were few and far between, sparsely spaced by market forces rather than the practical needs of drivers to be serviced. They were often equally tired and depressed but this time one might argue due to the reduced market leading to a lack of revenue from which to invest. These were service stations more symptomatic of economic decline and a north south divide. Different reasons to be disappointed.

On the journey south something wholly unexpected rejuvenated my belief in what business can be. We discovered a motorway service station motivated by love. That’s right…love.

This was a place more akin to a National Trust visitor centre than a motorway service station. So much so that the kids felt it more closely resembled the Waitrose farm shop where we used to live. The food was fresh, local, beautifully presented and served with a smile by happy, caring staff who took time to chat and high five with the kids. The architecture was beautiful, more like a classy restaurant than a service station. Exposed oak beams, vaulted ceilings and a nature reserve outside the expansive glass windows. It even had a fire place. Clearly this was no ordinary motorway service station. For starters there was not a single advert. No branded products, just the finest selection of locally made food. I decided to ask a member of staff what was going on. To my surprise he knew all about it and seemed proud of his employers. Wow, that’s a testimony.

It turns out that Tebay Services is no ordinary service station. It is what capitalism could be, should be, please Lord may it be….

This was a business run by local people who love their patch and want to keep it lovely. This was a place where every detail oozed care. Can you believe that, in a motorway service station! 

On the journey south I got on line to find out what lay behind this amazing business exemplar. Online reviews reveal others share our joy, but also show that not everyone is so positive. It turns out the food is a little more expensive than McDonalds! Of course it is. You pay for what you get. Perhaps that is the key lesson. It takes generous customers as well as caring business owners to create a truly good business. 

Wikipedia provides a clue to the roots of Tebay Services’ success. They are ‘operated by an independent family-owned company, rather than a national chain.’ Surely that is another key lesson.

Tebay Services is run by the Dunning family.  Their story is on their website; ‘We were the first family run motorway services on the UK roads. There are no franchises or fast food on our forecourts. Instead, a Farmshop selling locally produced food, a Butchery featuring meat reared from our own farms and a Kitchen serving homemade dishes produced daily using local ingredients. Proper food with locality and a sense of belonging is at the very heart of everything we do. We believe proper food matters. So we serve it where you’d least expect it – on the motorway.’

They stand firm for their values and have done so for over 40 years; ‘the Dunning’s viewed the M6 not as the death of their farm, but the beginning of a whole new chapter in how they ran the farm and that ethos of innovation and a desire to do things properly defines the Westmorland Family businesses. Forty six years on and we are still here, still family owned, still farming and still with a fierce passion for, and a pride in, our landscape, our people, our environment and its products.’ 

The Westmorland Family of businesses demonstrate what happens when the owners of a business stay deeply involved and deeply committed to strong values, people and places. They care, and it shows. It’s an inspiration to us all.

Tebay Services has been described as “…the Daniel Kitson’s of services”, a reference to comedian Daniel Kitson’s reputation as an accomplished comedic writer and performer who rarely appears in the media and therefore relies greatly on word of mouth. Sounds like some other Good News that needs sharing. This is why we have told their story.When we see a genuinely great business we are happy to do our bit and put the word about. Tebay Services is an inspiration to us all. You can discover more about the company and family behind it at;

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