The Connected Truckstop: Growing sales with an online presence

Smartphones provide on-the-go access for travelers and professional drivers no matter where they are. Whether they are plotting their next stop on a road trip, trying to decide where to stop for the night or looking for a great place to eat, people are using their handheld devices to make purchasing decisions.

To connect with those potential and existing customers, truckstop and travel plaza operators have to maintain an online presence and should work to control as much of their information as possible.

Dustin Trail of Trail’s Travel Center in Albert Lea, Minnesota, has spent the last year defining his online presence and making sure his information was unified across the web. He has gotten involved on social media sites, including Yelp and Facebook, and made sure all of his data was accurate on Google.

“Anyone can just create your business with or without accurate information. For us it was important just to go through and claim that stuff,” Trail said. “You wouldn’t let someone design your own billboard, would you? It is staying proactive on all of those different avenues.”

Trail also added a virtual tour to the company’s webpage to show people what the location is like, and it helps with online searches. “If you have high-quality photos on Google, you’re more relevant and will appear higher up in searches,” he said.

Taryn Brice-Rowland, NATSO’s information technology director, said searches are particularly important for mobile phone users. “Android phones are powered by Google Business and iPhone results are powered by Yelp,” she said.

Chris Heinz of Coffee Cup Fuel Stops turned to a provider, LocalVox, to help him clean up his digital presence, particularly on Google. “I was struggling to get Google to stay. We had one location that would consistently show seven miles away. It was painful and I couldn’t get it done myself, but these guys did,” Heinz said. “Now I have the password, everything is showing right and we have a current picture showing.”

While Trail’s main focus has been on Google, he also updated the company’s information on Garmin, Bing, Trip Advisor and Foursquare. “Foursquare is a good way for customers to shout out your location. It gets tied in with some Facebook stuff too,” Trail said.

When deciding which online platforms to pursue, Trail said it is important to understand your resources. “You would not overextend yourself >in your location, so do not do it online by maintaining virtual presences that you cannot sustain,” Trail said.

As a result of Trail’s efforts, the company’s web traffic has increased every month and so have sales. “From a year ago to today we have double the Facebook friends and double the Google Plus views and website views. With that, our sales are up,” he said.

Trail said most departments have seen 10 to 15 percent increases depending on the category. “Even if our customer count isn’t growing, we seem to be driving more inside sales. Our inside sales numbers are up around 10 percent,” Trail said. “Our restaurant sales are up almost 11 percent over last year while the industry standard right now is 2 to 3 percent. In a truckstop environment, full-service restaurants are dying and ours is growing.”

When coordinating an online campaign, Brice-Rowland said consistent branding is key. “Everything a truckstop does should reflect its digital presence and vice versa,” she said, adding that operators should be careful not to make their sites too busy.

While Trail now has control of his online presence, he said it isn’t something you can set and forget. “I don’t think the process ever ends. It is a constantly changing. It needs to be updated. It needs to be monitored,” Trail said, adding that operators shouldn’t feel discouraged when staking their claim online. “It took time to build your truckstop and it will take time to build it online, so plan accordingly.”

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
Source:
Stop Watch Magazine

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