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Great Ideas for Attendees and Vendors at The NATSO Show

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

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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 for Attendees and Vendors at The NATSO Show

Because I think attending and exhibiting at The NATSO Show is a great idea, I thought I would share a little personal perspective on why it is worth attending this week.

I have been blessed to be in this industry so long and am fortunate to have worked for travel plazas and truckstops as well as vendors and have attended past NATSO shows in both capacities.

Nearly 20 years ago I asked a mentor why we should attend trade shows. In reply, he simply said the following, “If you attend a trade show and learn one thing or bring back one action item that helps you improve personally, professionally or helps the organization improve its service, process, products, thus its bottom line, then the trade show was worth it, regardless of the cost.”

Below are some of my personal tips for travel plazas and truckstops operators attending the show:

  • Visit with other operators when you are at the show. Ask them specifically how they are handling issues that are vexing you such as “what is your net operating cost (NOC)?” 
  • Take time to sit down with vendors and talk about long-term strategies, such as developing seasonal in and out programs including summer drives, Easter campaigns and fall/winter classics.
  • Take time to work on your vendor relations. Find out from your vendors:
    • What are their plans for the future;
    • What are they seeing in the market;
    • What is working elsewhere; and
    • And what is not working?
  • Conversely, take time to sit down with vendors to discuss your strategies. It is imperative that they understand what you are trying to accomplish. For example, if you are focusing on less is more and they are focusing on stack it high, let it fly—you are going to have problems.
  • Take time to speak with the industry experts that are presenting. They very well may be able to spend quality time with you during the show, after the show at your location or even develop a great relationship with you via email and phone.
  • Seek out mentors in the industry veterans at the show. I am very proud that I speak with my mentors regularly. Two of my mentors have guided me from the first NATSO Show I attended.

Below are some of my personal tips for vendors attending the show:

  • Trade shows around the world are becoming less about selling and more about leadership, idea sharing, relationship building and solution selling. As markets expand and constrict, it is becoming increasingly more important to relationship build in our social world. Do not just stand behind your booth and hope to sell. Instead, get out from behind and engage. Giant trade shows where the only thing attendees want is your pen or lanyard to stick in their bag, do not improve your organizations NOC.
  • Every year we have attendees from around the world. Last year we had folks from China and Germany attend and this year we’ll have guests from Brazil, England and Scotland. Are you taking time out to visit with them about the trends, desires and needs of their countries? Seek them out and ask them, “Why are you attending the show?”
  • Like the operator should with you—find out what is important to them. Part of the job of a vendor is to teach and educate and it is difficult to do that on a sales call, but it is EASY TO DO IT AT NATSO. Questions to ask will create educational opportunities include:
    • Do they care about service?
    • Is lowest price most important?
    • Are end of the year/end of quarter rebates what excites them?
    • Or is it brand awareness/marketing?
  • Vendors ask NASTO all the time about specifics in the industry. While we certainly love being the knowledge and educational backbone of the industry, self-education at the show is an easy way to add to your own knowledge base. For example, regional differences and demographic differences are abundant within our industry. You will not know it unless you are engaging members from around the U.S. at the conference.
  • The NATSO Show is the perfect time to talk about features and benefits of your products and to sit down and develop strategies to help sell product. If you have the latest product, but no one understands how to sell it, it will not sell. If your product is considered a shrink risk, it will end up behind the counter locked up and you won’t sell a lot of product. However, if you know what your customer’s issues are, you can develop solutions to help increase both of your sales.

So, make sure you take advantage of this wonderful and amazing show. I promise it will make a difference in your personal future as well as your organization's. 

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

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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.