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5 Tools to Know Your Truckstop Customer

Posted in: Great Ideas, Darren's Great Ideas for Independent Operators

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Welcome to the newest post in our blog series, Darren’s Great Ideas! for Independent Operators. The author, Darren Schulte, NATSO’s vice president of membership, brings to NATSO a wealth of knowledge about our industry.

Join Darren here every other Thursday for his biweekly retail column.

{Great Ideas} Five Tools to Know Your Truckstop Customer

During conversations with members as well as during my physical visits to members I consistently stress the importance of knowing your customers. It is not surprising to me the many of our members do not know who their customer really is. There are a lot of assumptions made and during the process of reviewing the operation it becomes apparent that often members are far off in their assumptions.

One of the biggest missteps in recent retail history is what is taking place with J. C. Penney. As I am sure you have read J. C. Penney is struggling mightily. In February 2012 via of the direction of Apple guru Ron Johnson, J. C. Penney’s new CEO, the company launched a new pricing plan that eliminated its long-time sales promotional coupon and percent off approach and implemented a three-tiered everyday low pricing strategy.

This major change to the shopping experience has left customers confused and frustrated. At this point in the year, J. C. Penney has redone their pricing strategy three times with the most recent tweak made last month. They’ve also updated terminology such as “best price” sales are now called “clearance,” in hopes, said Johnson, “that customers will better understand the pricing strategies. A new series of ad campaigns are also intended to clear up any confusion.”

J.C. Penney reported Friday a bigger-than-expected second-quarter loss of $147 million, compared with net income of $14 million in the same period last year. Sales plummeted 22% to $3.02 billion from $3.9 billion, and same-store sales tumbled 21.7% after an 18.9% fall in the first quarter.

Most retail analyst believes the retailer had not had conversations with any of its customer base. I know personally that my wife no longer shops at J. C. Penney, which was previously a favorite of hers for birthday and Christmas gifts.

So how can you avoid the same fate? Simple ask your customers their opinions. Do not assume and do not drive them to give you the answers you want. Some ideas for gathering this critical information include:

  1. Have lunch with different owner operators and company drivers who shop with you infrequently. Have some questions at hand and be prepared to take notes.
  2. Conversely, have lunch with owner operators and company drivers that shop with you frequently. Again, have some questions prepared and plan to take notes.
  3. Conduct a simple survey of your car traffic customers. Be sure to survey local, interstate and tourist customers. Ask questions such as:
    1. Why did/do you stop?
    2. What do you like about our operation?
    3. What was your experience like?
    4. Do you know what our messaging is? Did it engage you and make you want to stop?
    5. Have folks in your group of family and or friends that DO NOT shop your operation to give feedback on their customer experience.
    6. Engage your female shopper(s) as they have a very strong voice in where the vehicle stops.

Remember the old adage, Retail is in the Detail? Get this detail right to save a lot of pain.

/// Read more Darren's Great Ideas for Independent Operators posts here

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Join the conversation! How do you learn more about your customers? Have you had success with surveys?

Or have a different retail merchandising, marketing or operations question? Post your question in the comments and Darren will answer it in the next Darren’s Great Ideas! for Independent Operators.

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About the Author

Darren Schulte

Darren Schulte

Darren Schulte serves as Vice President of Membership at NATSO. In this role, he directs recruitment, retention and customer service for truckstop and travel plaza members. He is also responsible for developing NATSO products and programs, particularly those relating to education, research and training for truckstop and travel plaza operators.

Schulte also leads NATSO's Profitable Retail Review program. A Profitable Retail Review is a custom assessment of your truckstop, including recommendations for every aspect of your facility, from actionable ideas to improve revenue to tactical ways to improve your net operating costs. Learn about NATSO's Profitable Retail Review program here.

Schulte joined NATSO with nearly three decades of experience in truckstop and travel plaza operations and merchandising. Schulte has worked for: 

  • Love's Travel Stops and Country Stores,
  • HESS Corporation, 
  • Petro Stopping Centers, and
  • TSC Global/Barjan LLC.