Truckstop Operators Prepare for the Vehicles and Customers of the Future

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The customers of tomorrow, as well as the vehicles they drive, are changing, and during the closing keynote address at NATSO Connect, forward-thinking truckstop and travel plaza operators learned more about what lies ahead. During the session, Susan Alt, senior vice president of public affairs for Volvo Trucks, and Frank Beard, analyst of convenience store and retail trends at GasBuddy shared their insights into how truckstops can meet the changing needs of professional and four-wheel drivers.  

Changing Needs of Professional Drivers
Original equipment manufacturers are moving forward with new technology that enables automation, connectivity and electromobility, and today’s vehicles are all becoming more integrated, Alt said.

The truck is more often talking to the trailer. The tractor-trailer is talking to a dispatcher, so we know where the freight is if it is safely there,” Alt said. “That tractor-trailer may be talking to the truck behind it or the infrastructure. A lot of things are connected.”

The latest automated features, such as backing assistance, adaptive cruise control, collision avoidance systems and lane departure warnings have all been designed to improve safety. “In the near term, we will relax not replace the truck driver,” Alt said. 

She added that full automation is coming. “The technology is here. We could have a truck drive by itself and there are certain applications that make sense for it today,” Alt said, adding that it will take more time for public acceptance. 

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Changing Needs of Four-Wheel Drivers
During Beard’s presentation, he took a deep dive into retail, telling attendees that retail is not dead. “A lot of retail is doing quite well, but when customers have choices, dirty, boring and unexceptional retail is dead,” he said. 

He advised operators to focus on the basics to start. “Before you start addressing higher-level needs, you have to meet the basic needs,” he said. 

Beard studies GasBuddy reviews and found that throughout 2018, locations with above average cleanliness ratings saw 11 percent more visits than the industry average. Those with below average cleanliness ratings saw 13 percent fewer visits. 

Competition has increased, and truckstop and travel plazas now compete with fast-casual dining locations, drug stores, big box retailers and grocers, Beard said. He noted that customers care deeply about cleanliness, convenient location and gas prices. Top factors when deciding where to stop also include good lighting, payment options, and the ease of getting in and out. 

Beard also told attendees that a 2017 review of outdoor lighting showed that stations with above average outdoor lighting ratings saw a 50 percent increase in foot traffic from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. 

Overall, the most successful retailers know exactly who they are and what their brand proposition is. “Why should consumers go out of their way to visit your stores? I would highly suggest you figure that out quickly,” Beard said. “This is a market you have to be highly differentiated in.” 

Photos 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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