Victory for the ‘Battleship’! – Applegreen Lusk takes top prize

The captain of Applegreen Lusk Northbound, known affectionately as ‘the Battleship’, speaks to IF&CR following the site’s award-winning performance.

Battle cries erupted around the Ballsbridge Hotel on the 11th of September when Applegreen Lusk Northbound was revealed as the name on the golden Forecourt of the Year envelope.

Applegreen’s original Motorway Service Area (MSA), the first of their hugely-ambitious sites, opened in 2009, with its 80 staff affectionately calling by the nickname ‘the Battleship’.

And while it may be the oldest in the fleet, last month’s Ireland’s Forecourt & Convenience Retailer Awards showed it is still the best.

Applegreen Lusk Northbound site director Dave McClean
Applegreen Lusk Northbound site director Dave McClean

“It’s a very high-volume site,” said site director Dave McClean, who revealed its yearly revenues can top €15.6 million – before fuel takings are added.

“It’s amazing that a site, trading in its sixth year, has won this award,” Dave (45) said. “It makes us really proud it’s not just the new service stations that are winning awards like this – it actually makes winning even more special for us.”

It had been hat-trick of success for Applegreen on the night, who also celebrated their Mount Merrion site winning the Best Food To Go category, while the services at Lusk had earned its Best Forecourt nomination by winning the Store Of The Year Category 3 award.

“It shows our peers and the rest of the people in the industry that awards can be achieved when you set your mind to it,” Dave said. “We are thrilled. You can see from the smiles on everyone’s faces that the past few weeks have been great fun.”

The Lusk service station is staffed by a happy team, and Dave, who has been working in the retail sector for some 25 years, said their input had been instrumental in the success of the site.

“We had set out initially to win the category, and that would not have been possible if everyone had not put in so much effort,” he said.

Running a site of this magnitude – 12.5 acres in all – is a major task. Dave said that some 80 hauliers can be at the forecourt at any one time, while daily customer throughput can be anywhere from 15,000 to 30,000.

“Because this is a motorway service area, our obligations don’t end at the edge of the forecourt – we have to make sure people using the services can re-enter the motorway system safely, and we have an official role as part of the transit system,” Dave explained. “And with such high customer volumes, we have to ensure we are ready for service every single day. From when they walk in at 6am, we have to ensure we have a full complement of food, and be ready for business.”

And one of the ways this is managed is through a network of checks that keeps standards high.

The site operates daily food, hygiene and presentation checks, while Applegreen carries out its own external system of quality assessment, with detailed audits, and mystery shopper visits.

The vast interior of 'The Battleship'
The vast interior of ‘The Battleship’

The Lusk site, however, has consistently proven to be one of the best, with a 98.4 per cent quality assessment score, and a 97.2 per cent score by mystery shoppers.

“They are very, very high scores,” Dave said, adding that both sets of tests are “exceptionally detailed”.

Even their ‘happy or not’ toilet cleanliness poll always results in smiley faces all round.

“What it shows is a consistency in standards,” Dave said. “We go to our customers, and we ask them to tell us honestly if we’re getting it right.

“We want you to experience superb performance on a consistent basis, whether you’re a haulier, motorist, parent, or any other type of customer. We’re at the very top of all the parameters, and winning these awards has proved that we’re achieving that standard consistently, which is to me is the most important thing.”

To Dave, maintaining these standards is what drives him, but he tells us that the direction of the company is also proving to be an inspiration.

“We are still definitely in expansion mode, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “We’ve opened our fourth site in the United States – Long Island – and the company has been very successful, especially from an investment point of view.”

Dave said the company’s recent flotation on Irish and English stock exchanges – raising over €70 million – had been a cause for celebration for management and staff alike, and that it was an exciting time to work for Applegreen.

“It’s something the staff are proud of,” he said. “It’s exciting to part of a company that’s at the cusp of motorway services and the opportunities are huge. Almost 3,000 people work for Applegreen now, and many know the career opportunities are there. All the sites are full of positivity.”

And as ‘the Battleship’ continues its crest-of-a-wave journey, Dave explains that the job is not done yet.

“My biggest target is to create the highest level of customer satisfaction that I can,” he said. “Customer feedback is extremely positive, but it’s how you implement that feedback that helps the site develop and grow.

“We have customers that ask if we can add different food offerings, or change the menus in some way, and we love getting feedback like this. It’s one of the reasons why we have a Chopstix on site – it has 22 different chicken dishes alone, for example, and that helps cater for a huge range of customer palettes.

“We are meeting all these demands, and making changes in our business all the time to account for these different, and often changing preferences.

“In five year’s time we could have 20 different food offerings on site – it’s all down to what the customer wants.

“What we are good at at Applegreen is listening to our customers and altering our service to meet their needs – that’s a good place to be.”