13 Great Ideas from NATSO Connect

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In this issue of Stop Watch, we’re featuring not one, but 13 outstanding ideas operators have shared. Operators shared their insights and best practices during the Great Ideas! Session at NATSO Connect 2018. The annual meeting is one of the highlights of NATSO’s annual gathering, and operators were able to swap ideas and learn more about what is working for their peers, get inspiration from both inside and outside of the industry and think through how they can adapt ideas to make them work for them. While ideas filled the room, here are 13 that stood out.

Host an Event: Nick Wollenman, assistant general manager at Deluxe Truck Stop, St. Joseph, Missouri, said his location has hosted ice cream socials for the local Chamber of Commerce in its parking lot when the weather is nice. “Not only do the people from the community come out, but also those passing by stop in and get free ice cream,” he said.

Hit the Road: Dan Alsaker, owner of Broadway Flying J, told his fellow operators that when he is on the road, even if he is flying to his destination, he makes it a point to hop in the car and stop at as many truckstops as he can. “I go inside. I get breakfast or a buy a sandwich,” he said, adding that there is always something he can learn from others.

Ask Drivers What They Want: Wanda Sheffield, vice president of operations for Miller’s, which is based in Norfolk, Virginia, wanted to hear first-hand what truck drivers are after, so she formed a driver council that meets quarterly. Miller’s has implemented several ideas that drivers shared, including adding a restaurant that serves breakfast all day, desks with phone lines, and computers and a big-screen TV.

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Get Social: Several operators reported finding valuable employees via postings on Facebook. Sapp Bros. set up Facebook pages for each of its locations, so employees and customers could interact on a local level. There is also a Facebook tie in within Sapp’s application system, so employees can have credit for referring a friend. “If employees go to our application site and to a specific job, they can share that link with someone or in their own feed,” said Mary Eriksen, human resources and safety manager for Sapp Bros. Inc.

Provide Additional Service: At one location, disabled customers can call ahead, and an attendant will go out and fill up the vehicle or deliver food. “We had one customer that was spending an hour to fill up and come inside. We do it for him now, and he never fills up anywhere else,” the attendee said.

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Sell Free-Refills Cups: Mitten’s in Oakley, Kansas, offered customers a free refill in 2018 with their free-refill cup, which brings them in the door. Once customers are inside, they usually pick up something else. The location sold the cups but also gave them away to customers that have in-house charge accounts.

Offer Medical Care: One NATSO member said he had hired a licensed nurse to perform DOT physicals. In addition to serving the public, the nurse was also available to help any of the location’s employees that were feeling under the weather.

Offer Self-Checkout: Chris Heinz, director of finance for Coffee Cup Fuel Stops, said the company had started offering self-checkout. As of NATSO Connect, the self-checkouts had been in use for about a month and were getting 40 transactions a day. “If you have an extra Smart-DESQ or if you’re looking to get one, you plug it in. It is credit card only,” Heinz said adding that customers of all ages were using it. He also said it could speed customers through, which is important for drivers in a hurry. “If we can move those credit card customers out of the diesel fueling lanes, you’ll have savings that are hard to quantify.”

Create Training Videos for New Hires: A top goal at Mitten’s is to lower turnover, so the location took three days and created a video that is helping the company retain new hires. “Every person that comes into our company, no matter what department they’re going to come into, sees me as the owner saying these are all of the opportunities and this is what we do,” said Matt Mildenberger, who is the third generation to lead the family-owned business.

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Give a Referral Bonus: At Sapp Bros. Inc., employees who refer new hires get a referral bonus that is paid in three installments, upon the hiring, at the 30-day mark and the 90- day mark. Employee referrals make up about 40 percent of Sapp Bros.' new hires, and those hires have a 20 percent lower turnover rate than non-employee referrals, Eriksen said.

Serve Pets: Ericka Schapekahm, director of human resources for Coffee Cup Fuel Stops, said drivers are enjoying the location’s welcoming dog park. “So many truckers have dogs as companions. Now they have a green space to walk their dogs,” she said.

Rewards Points Bin: One operator told attendees he has created a bin of merchandise that wasn’t moving and allows drivers to buy items with their rewards points. It helps move product that has been taking up space and gives drivers a benefit.

Ask Younger Employees for Input: Damon Borden, operations manager for Broadway Flying J, said he turns to his younger employees for new ideas to help him stay current with Millennials. Successful ideas to come out of those conversations have included a Friday night beer and pizza special as well as a Green Monster energy drink and breakfast burrito special.

During the event, Alsaker said, “There are geniuses in this room. I like to take your idea and then spin it one or two more times.”

Don Quinn, chairman of NATSO and the moderator for the session, reminded attendees that not all ideas are fully formed and ready to implement. “We can borrow other people’s suggestions and experiences and combine them with our thoughts and ideas to fit our needs,” he said.

Photo credit: Brittany Palmer/NATSO

Amy Toner's photo

Amy Toner

Toner markets NATSO products, services and meetings. She is the content editor of NATSO's core websites, Stop Watch magazine and Highway Business Matters biweekly articles. In addition, she provides creative services across all departments. Toner joined NATSO in 2006. Prior to joining the association, she served as director of membership services at an association for ambulatory surgery centers. Toner lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and son. More
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