Finding and Fostering Great Ideas with NATSO


As both consumers and business owners and operators, many of us have seen that the pace of change is accelerating. Technology is changing, the retail experience is changing and our customers are changing. That means we must observe the trends and innovate to remain relevant. Finding and applying great ideas has become so important, especially as our pool of competitors has grown. We’re not just competing with other truckstops for both customers and staff, we’re competing with every retail outlet.

The good news is ideas are all around us. During NATSO Connect, independent operators came together to learn from each other during The Great Ideas! for Independent Operators Workshop. We shared best practices and the little things we are doing to make the retail experience better for our customers. It was a great experience, and one I think we can continue throughout the year by tapping into the creativity happening all around us.


I encourage you to always be on the lookout for a great idea, whether you’re standing in line at the drugstore or reading the newspaper. I started in this industry pumping fuel for Sapp Bros. Since then, I’ve held just about every job in the industry. I learned a lot of lessons over those years, especially that when it comes to independent truckstops, there are no ‘cookie cutter’ or ‘one size fits all’ solutions to our daily challenges.

Not all ideas are fully formed, but we can borrow other people’s hunches and experiences, combine them with our hunches and modify the ideas to fit our needs. When you get an idea, no matter how small it is, write it down. As you accumulate your thoughts, you might find a pattern or see two seemingly unrelated ideas collide. 

Don’t be afraid to ask others for their ideas. During The Great Ideas! for Independent Operators Workshop, we heard from operators about how they tap into their customers and employees for solutions and insight. Sometimes uncovering the next big thing really is as simple as asking someone what they’d like to see.


Get out and explore whenever you can. NATSO offers structured study tours in which operators visit with their peers and other well-run retail establishments. I encourage you to take time to attend, but even if you can’t, you can create your own study tour. Whenever you travel, take time to visit a truckstop near your destination or set out in your home town and try a new restaurant or visit a new store. Look for the little things they are doing well and consider how you could adapt that to fit your customers’ needs.


You can also go on a virtual truckstop tour by tapping into the NATSO blog and reading about the many locations Darren Schulte, NATSO’s vice president of membership, has visited and reviewed.

Ideas are everywhere, and when we consciously look for new and improved ways of doing business, we will find them. Even if we try something new and fail, we move that much closer to our next success.

Next year, NATSO Connect will take place at Walt Disney World, and I think Walt Disney as well as his enduring legacy can serve as a steady stream of inspiration. His vision and willingness to continually learn from his failures resulted in one of the greatest commercial successes ever. Save the date for NATSO Connect 2019, Feb. 10–13, at The Disney Yacht & Beach Club in Florida, where we can come together to learn from each other and be inspired by our surroundings.

Photo credit: Brittany Palmer/NATSO

Don Quinn's photo

Don Quinn

Don Quinn is president of Sapp. Bros. He gained his initial first-hand experience with the truckstop and travel plaza as a truck driver. From there, he started working for Sapp Bros. pumping fuel on the fuel islands. That was 30 years ago, and he has held almost every job within the industry throughout his decades of experience at Sapp Bros. When not working, Quinn is involved in his church, serving in different ministries and on the endowment board. He has served on the Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministries endowment board as well. Don has been married for nearly 37 years to his wife, Ava. He has two children—a son and a daughter—and two granddaughters.
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