NATSO Connect Keynote Explores Changes Going on Throughout the Retail Marketplace


There is tremendous change going on throughout the retail marketplace, and no retailer will be exempt from its effects. As a result, retail channels must find an appropriate value proposition for their customers to remain successful, according to Michael Sansolo, research director for two of the Coca-Cola Research Councils.

Speaking at NATSO Connect in Orlando, Fla., Sansolo said, “The question is what changes are coming to us and what are we going to do about it? Retailers have to understand how to change in ways that will make them relevant to what people want.” 

Speed and Convenience
In today’s environment, speed and convenience are reigning supreme. Sansolo said c-stores are changing because they’re realizing their shopper is changing. “C-stores are getting brighter. The lighting is getting better, and the food quality is better,” he said. “They’re putting in tables, WiFi, higher-quality coffee, and all kinds of things to make the shopping trip more comfortable and enticing.”

Today, a growing number of women are visiting c-stores, which hasn’t always been the case, Sansolo said. Truckstop and travel plaza operators may see even more women visiting their locations as trucking fleets work to attract new drivers.

Operators also should be aware of how their competitors are increasing speed and convenience for customers. Domino's, for example, allows customers to order pizza via its app and have it delivered anyplace they want, including a soccer field or even a parking lot. "If you’re driving down the highway and you say, ‘I want a pizza to meet me at Exit 18,’ with apps like Waze, you could say, ‘I will be there in 30 minutes,’” Sansolo said.

While there is no single magic bullet to adapt to the changing marketplace, Sansolo said staff play a critical role in getting customers through the door and spurring sales. “We found that if people are even slightly more engaged, sales go up and satisfaction goes up,” he said, adding that the key to better engagement is better training of middle management.

The Coca-Cola study features tips and training to help companies improve middle management.

NATSO members can download the free study, as well as others, at

"You don’t want to overshoot the mark and lose what currently makes you relevant, but you need to figure out what it is your shoppers are looking for today and what they want,” Sansolo said.

Following the speech, Sansolo invited Lisa Mullings, NATSO CEO, Darren Schulte, NATSO vice president of membership, and Don Quinn, NATSO Services vice president, on stage to discuss current advantages and challenges the truckstop and travel plaza industry is facing. 

Schulte noted that independent operators have an advantage because they can make changes to their locations very quickly. He said, “You can take a tablet while a driver is waiting and say, ‘Can I get you something while you are fueling?’”

Both Quinn and Mullings noted that their greatest concerns revolve around government regulation and activity. 

Photo credit: Lisa Webb/NATSO

Mindy Long's photo

Mindy Long

Before launching a full-time freelance career, Long edited NATSO's Stop Watch magazine. Prior to that Long worked as a staff reporter for Transport Topics, a weekly trade newspaper, covering freight transportation, fuel and environmental issues. In addition to covering the transportation sector, Long has written, reported and edited for a variety of media outlets. She was the Washington correspondent for WCAX-TV (CBS) in Burlington, Vt., a criminal court reporter in Chicago and a freelance copy editor for Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine in Washington D.C. Long hold a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill., and a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Westminster College in Salt Lake City.More

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