Chairman's Letter: Learning with NATSO

It’s been said, ‘the first third of our life should be for learning, the second third for earning and the last third for returning.’ This month, let’s not try to decide what stage of life we’re in as all three opportunities will abound at The NATSO Show. I encourage all operators to attend and gain knowledge from industry experts, their peers and our top industry suppliers. There are dozens of educational sessions, keynote addresses and networking opportunities, which guarantees you will take away something relevant to your business. Regarding earning, uncovering and implementing just one great idea can often ensure you get a return on investment from your trip. Regarding returning, please contact Brad Stotler at for information on the NATSO Foundation Fundraiser Social Event and NATSO PAC Party.

I’m still seeing dividends from the trip I took in September as part of NATSO’s International Study Tour. I, along with eight other NATSO members and staff, traveled to Europe to learn from our peers abroad.

As part of the tour, we joined in an international conference, The Future of Convenience, where over 100 companies and 40 countries were represented. From those companies came over 250 active participants who brought their unique experiences and wisdom. Not only did they bring new knowledge, they also showed us new ways to look at well-known data.

During the trip, I learned how my international peers are improving their fresh produce, deli and specialized food offerings, and saw how savvy entrepreneurs are off setting the low fuel margins with great store offerings. In the European market there is a passion for quality and customer service. They are also dedicated to creating a positive work environment and strong emphasis on the human resource part of the business.

It is always interesting to see a new take on an old idea. Many of our European counterparts are finding success with vending machines. They offer wall vending with fresh sandwiches, pies, cakes and fruit. They also have a wide variety of coffee vending options and electronics vending. Like us, they’re seeing revenues decrease in certain areas of their businesses, such as newspaper sales, and are looking for innovative new ways to increase revenue. Learning what they’re doing there can give us new ideas of what we can do here.

No matter where you choose to network, whether it is at The NATSO Show, the International Study Tour or even online via Twitter, the key is to be present and open to inspiration. Be active in the conversation. Ask questions and see your business in a new light. The one thing I realize time and again is that all of us are on the same pendulum, we’re just on different places on the pendulum. That means there are amazing opportunities to learn from each other.

While the best networking often takes place face-to-face, operators who can’t attend events in person can still join in the conversation. Visit NATSO’s blog or Facebook page to see what others are saying. Join in and speak up. You never know where you’ll find your next great idea or how inspired you will be from your fellow operators. 



This article originally ran in Stop Watch magazineStop Watch provides in-depth content to assist NATSO members in improving their travel plaza business operations.

The magazine is mailed to NATSO members bimonthly. If you are a member and not receiving Stop Watchsubmit a request to be added to the mailing list. Not a memberJoin today or submit a request to receive additional information.

Tom Heinz's photo

Tom Heinz

Tom Heinz is President of Heinz, Inc. and Coffee Cup Fuel Stops & Convenience Stores, Inc. Tom’s thirty-seven year business career has been in different segments of the petroleum industry. Tom’s primary business and day job began 31 years ago as co-founder/owner of Coffee Cup Fuel Stops Tom received the following degrees: Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Master of Science in Human Resources, and Master of Business Administration from Beacom School of Business at the University of South Dakota. Presently, Tom serves on the University of South Dakota Foundation Board of Directors, Vermillion, South Dakota, NATSO Foundation Board of Directors, Alexandria, VA, Dakota Hospital Board of Directors, Vermillion, SD., and is a member of David Nelson Petroleum Marketers 300 Study Group.More
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