There are three companies in Britain operating the majority of motorway services in the UK. The largest of these is Moto with 58 roadside locations, as far North as Kinross in Scotland, stretching all the way down to Saltash in Cornwall. All of Britain’s major motorways feature at least one roadside services site operated by Moto.
Burger King outlets appear in both Moto and their closest rival Welcome Break’s locations, but most of the latter also have KFC branches as well.
Roadchef is the other significant operator of roadside service stations in the UK, again featuring WH Smith-branded shops. However, the 30 motorway service stations operated by Roadchef and Extra contain a McDonalds outlet rather than Burger King or KFC.
Coffee is a big seller in motorway service stations, with Costa the biggest player in this market. Both Roadchef and Moto sites feature Costa Coffee stalls, whereas Welcome Break features Starbucks.
Motorway signage does not technically allow advertising of any products, which had previously prevented the major concessions from promoting their brands to motorists. However, renaming each branch to incorporate the resident refreshments brand would avoid this loophole. For example, some motorway signs might say ‘Costa M&S Services’, or ‘Moto M&S’.
Another key fixture in roadside retail is petrol stations, most of which have special dispensation to accommodate heavy goods vehicles. The majority of motorway filling stations are operated by BP, which itself incorporates the Wild Bean Café brand. The other multinational oil companies such as Shell and Esso are a feature in some motorway services, but BP works with all service station operators.
Alongside refreshments and refuelling, the majority of motorway services include a hotel. This is largely under the American brands Days Inn and Ramada, although Moto is mostly aligned with Travelodge. All of these brands are owned by the Wyndham Hotel group, so there’s not much true competition in a sense.
Roadside services are often criticised for the high pricing model, with some basic food and drink items costing 40-50% more than you might find on the high street or in supermarkets. It is possible though, to save money by navigating your way to supermarkets located close to motorway junctions. For example, Leicester forest East services are located within 2 miles of two branches of McDonalds as well as two supermarkets and other restaurants.
All major roadside retail stations have a shop operated by WH Smith, in a similar business model to their presence at UK airports. As the retailer moves further away from their core purpose as a newsagent and stationer, could WH Smith soon take over the running of the whole service station business?