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Grow Sales at Your Travel Center with an Apparel Program

Posted in: Truckstop Business, Marketing & Retail

Editor's note: Darren Schulte, NATSO vice president of membership, frequently visits NATSO members to review their locations and offers impactful merchandising and operations improvements. Contact Schulte at or (915) 526-5820 to learn more about the costs and details of this service.

Reno Junction Travel Plaza-Women's ApparelJI.jpg

Do you have an apparel program? If you do, are you doing all you can with it? If you don’t, it is time to get in this category. Apparel, when done correctly in our industry, can have margins of 50 to 100 percent profit depending on what types of products you’re selling and what you buy.

Apparel presents an amazing opportunity because people buy apparel all over the place. There are truckstops and travel plazas that have done well in apparel, but overall it isn’t something our industry embraces, and I truly believe locations that aren’t in the category are missing an opportunity. 

Apparel is more than a t-shirt program, and the product mix you create will depend on your customers and your location. If you’re doing a lot of showers, do you have shower shoes. If you’re next to a ski community, do you sell ski gloves or ski goggles? If you’re near a beach, do you sell flip flops, and if you do, do you push them down to a bottom shelf of do you draw attention to the offering?   


Today’s customers are open to finding products in unexpected places. I know NATSO members that have done well with Tommy Hilfiger and Vera Bradley, which aren’t something you’d expect to find in a travel plaza. Hat Six Travel Center in Evansville, Wyoming, offers high-end cowboy boots and ladies’ fashions, and has built a successful apparel program. White’s Travel Center in Raphine, Virginia, and the adjacent c-store, Orchard Creek has high-end purses and nice clothing. Pilot Flying J is creating a store-within-a-store concept with Bass Pro Shops. Sometimes you can hit a gold mine with the right products. 

To be effective, an apparel program has to be managed and carefully crafted. It isn’t a program you just put on the bottom of a wing rack or the bottom shelf of a gondola.

If you understand who your community is and who is stopping at your store, you have an opportunity to grow apparel sales. When we’re all fighting for margin and to grow our business, apparel is an opportunity to increase profits. You need to spend time and energy building the program, but when done properly it can add a lot to the bottom line. 

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/// Did you know most weeks can find Darren Schulte, NATSO's Vice President of Memebrship, visiting a NATSO member truckstop location, spending three to four days, using his merchandising and operations expertise to help them grow their business? Learn about NATSO’s Profitable Retail Review program here.


Photos Credit: Hat Six Travel Center and Darren Schulte/NATSO  

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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.