Keeping an Eye on Tomorrow's Truckstop Competition

In the past ten years, we’ve seen dramatic shifts in where and how of­ten customers are purchasing both food and fuel. Nearly everyone today is starved for time, which means that truckstop and travel plaza operators need to be mindful any time they see another business making it convenient for someone to buy what they can buy at their location.

A number of today’s drivers, in­cluding four-wheelers and profes­sionals alike, are seeing greater fuel economy, meaning they are stopping less. They are also seeing more and more options regarding where they fuel. Not only can they fuel up after grabbing groceries, some restaurants are adding fuel pumps.

For those of us in the highway-based business industry, we don’t always think about the big-box retailer or gro­cery store with a gas station being our competition and maybe they’re not to­day, but they very well could be.

We’ve all seen that competition for food sales has grown well be­yond restaurants. Several years ago Walgreens and CVS started focusing on providing convenient meal solu­tions. Even big box retailers, such as Target, have added grab-and-go offerings, such as sandwiches, sushi and salads, near their front doors.

Did you know that the home im­provement chain Lowe’s is adding food offerings at several locations as well? They are now getting market share from someone’s food service business. For truckstop and travel pla­za operators, that means the construc­tion workers that would fill up with gas and grab a sandwich at your store can now go to Lowe’s and get their sandwich while they’re getting their materials. That is competition.

Rudy’s, a barbeque restaurant in El Paso, Texas, offers sit-down dining, a take-away option and they’ve added gasoline pumps. What would stop them from putting diesel pumps out there in the future? They’re located right off of the interstate, which means I eat lunch and before I leave, I get gas. Now I don’t have to stop at my favorite truckstop when I leave.

A growing number of hotels are adding quick-service options to better serve their guests, which could possi­bly cut into sales for travel plaza oper­ators. In the past, hotel food offerings either didn’t exist or, if they did, were expensive. Today we’re seeing hotels that are offering grab-and-go options in addition to more robust continen­tal breakfast offerings as they work to provide more value to travelers.

For example, Hilton’s new Herb N’ Kitchen concept offers take-away and in-room options. InterConti­nental Hotels Group’s Even Hotels brand offers freshly prepared food and other pre-packaged grab-and-go items around the clock. Custom­ers can also purchase “Go” options they can pre-order at night and pick up the next morning as they leave. Those offerings minimize the need for a traveler to grab something right before they hop on the interstate.

Navigation systems and smart phones are also changing how travel­ers make decisions on where to stop. Now they can simply plug in that they want to go to the nearest Starbucks or McDonalds. Those locations might be inside a Wal-mart or a grocery store rather than along the interstate.

The Positive
Fortunately, there are also a lot of positives. Changes in competition can benefit us as well. CVS, which has focused on becoming a neighborhood grocer or a provider of quick meal so­lutions, has stopped selling cigarettes. That may mean that truckstops and travel plazas can capitalize on new customers. So, it is also important to look at someone that is competition today and how that may change, then ask how you can capitalize on it.

The benefit for our industry is that we’ve always been known for provid­ing fast, convenient service and con­venience will continue to sell. The world is getting busier and everyone remains in a hurry. Professional driv­ers are adhering to stricter hours-of-service regulations. Commuters and business travelers are working longer hours, raising families and partici­pating in more activities than ever before. The need for convenience, particularly grab-and-go, is becom­ing routine and that market share will continue to grow. Operators will be able to benefit from any solution that saves customers time while also meeting their needs.

Darren Schulte's photo

Darren Schulte

Darren Schulte serves as Vice President of Membership at NATSO. In this role, he directs recruitment, retention and customer service for truckstop and travel plaza members. He is also responsible for developing NATSO products and programs, particularly those relating to education, research and training for truckstop and travel plaza operators. Schulte also leads NATSO's Profitable Retail Review program. A Profitable Retail Review is a custom assessment of your truckstop, including recommendations for every aspect of your facility, from actionable ideas to improve revenue to tactical ways to improve your net operating costs. Schulte joined NATSO with nearly three decades of experience in truckstop and travel plaza operations and merchandising. Schulte has worked for: Love's Travel Stops and Country Stores, HESS Corporation, Petro Stopping Centers, and TSC Global/Barjan LLC.More
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