Five minutes with Sarah Dunning
After taking the reins of the family business in 2005, Sarah has built on Westmorland’s reputation as a motorway services business with a difference. Boasting branches in Tebay and Gloucestershire, stop in a Westmorland Services and you can browse the butcher’s counters, sample the farm shop and dine on local produce. We caught up with Sarah to find out how she works with local communities to create a truly unique offering in a congested market.
- What is the mission of Westmorland Services?
We’re part of the motorway services industry and our commitment has always been to offer something different. As a food business, our approach is centered around our farming roots and celebration of our place and our people. We hope that our difference is felt by our customers, our colleagues and our communities alike.
- How would you describe the culture and how do you look after it?
We’re a family business and a family of colleagues. We’ve been around for 45 years and I would like to think our colleagues feel proud of what makes the business different and that they value working together. The starting point is to know what you stand for as a business and then seek people who are engaged and interested in what you do.
- How do you prepare for the future world of work?
These are changing times, in retail as in many other industries. We are all having to think about how our customer proposition needs to evolve – think electric, driverless cars; think customers increasing interest in health-led food. We also need to think how our working environments need to evolve, to make sure we attract and keep talented people, especially in the rural areas where we operate.
- Do you do any work in your local community?
Our communities are really important to us. We focus our efforts on supporting our food producer communities and our colleague communities. In our producer communities, we work with many small local producers (70 in Cumbria and 130 in Gloucestershire) to support them and help them grow. In our communities we focus on food and young people in particular. We’re lucky in that there are many ways we can get involved in our communities, such as raising money, offering time and expertise, hosting events and accessing ten million customers. We run food programmes with our local primary schools and we have a food hub in one of our businesses for surplus food.
Gloucester Services works in partnership with Gloucestershire Gateway Trust, a charity which receives a percentage of our annual turnover (around £500k a year) and reinvests it back into our local colleague communities. Pull quote: We want our communities to see the businesses as something they’re proud of. You can’t do that in isolation from the world around you.
- In what ways do you collaborate with others and why?
Our work with our producers is a 50/50 partnership. We need their unique, beautiful produce and they need us as a platform to access a plentiful and national audience. We work very closely together to do this.
- What is the main thing that attracts talent and retains talent at Westmorland Services?
We’re a growing business and growth means opportunity. But above all, we are on a mission and hope that those who are interested in the same thing will want to join us!
- In your experience, what is the best way to build diverse teams?
The decision makers have to be diverse. Pull quote: You have to fight for diversity in an organisation if you want it. It doesn’t just happen. If the leadership doesn’t value diversity then it won’t happen.
- What has been the biggest challenge to your growth and how have you tackled it?
Going from a smaller local business to a larger one with a more national reach. We’ve tried to tackle it by bringing in people who know how to manage this.
- What one decision would you go back and change if you could?
I’m sure there are many, but I try not to look back too much!
- What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?
Be resilient and think long-term. It’s a marathon, not a sprint!
- What other organisation do you admire the most and why?
I admire the organisations that want to change an industry and have a unique vision in their industry, such as Anita Roddick’s Body Shop and John Mackey’s Whole Foods.
- What does a Vibrant Economy mean to you?
It is one that is dynamic and connected. Pull quote: You quickly realise in business there’s not a lot you can do on your own. Whether it’s the local authority, university, school or community at large, you can’t achieve much without working closely with others. A vibrant economy is a connected economy, joined up by a shared vision and plenty of energy.