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Highlights from NATSO Connect 2019

Posted in: Truckstop Business, Marketing & Retail

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For two and a half days, the industry gathers to find knowledge, solutions and connections at NATSO Connect. Just like NATSO Connect, the NATSO Connect Magazine is your source for improving your travel plaza business operations. 

Highlights from NATSO Connect 2019

Truckstop and travel plaza operators came together in Orlando, Florida, for NATSO Connect 2019 and left inspired and informed. So many amazing things came out of the annual event. Here are a few highlights.  

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Insight Into the Future
We all want to know what the future holds, and much of NATSO Connect focused on helping operators prepare for the trends and technology that are coming down the pipeline.

During one keynote, NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings sat down with Dave Manning, president of TCW Inc. and Immediate Past Chairman of the American Trucking Associations as well as Dan Murray, vice president of the American Transportation Research Institute, to discuss the latest trends affecting truck drivers. Attendees got a first-hand look at how hours-of-service requirements, electronic logging devices and e-commerce are all changing professional drivers’ operating environment. 

Concrete Figures
We all know customers like clean restrooms, and during NATSO Connect, Frank Beard, analyst of convenience store and retail trends at GasBuddy, shared the numbers to back up the theory. 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. He also said that top factors customers consider when deciding where to stop include good lighting, payment options, and the ease of getting in and out.

A Look at EVs
Electric vehicles continue to make fancy headlines, leaving truckstop and travel plaza operators wondering what to invest in and when. Despite the latest buzz, diesel will remain the dominant fuel into the future, according to John Eichberger, executive director of the Fuels Institute. Eichberger told attendees that by 2035, electric vehicles will make up 43 percent of the vehicles sold. “That is a big number, but even at those growth rates, they'll equate to 10 percent of vehicles on the road. 66 percent of that number will be hybrids consuming liquid fuels,” Eichberger said. “There is time to adjust business practices to take advantage of new opportunities.”

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A Forum for Great Ideas
Once again during NATSO Connect, operators came together in The Great Ideas! Session to learn more about what is working for their peers, get inspiration from both inside and outside of the industry and think through how they can adapt ideas to work make them work for them.

The theme this year centered on the need for speed as professional drivers, the traveling public and local shoppers look to get in and out of locations even faster. As part of my presentation during the event, I reminded operators that Americans hate waiting in check-out line, and more than 50 percent will leave rather than wait. The majority—70 percent—of Americans said they have abandoned shopping trips.

Additionally I challenged members to really understand the time it takes for our customer to complete the entire fueling process as it is significantly longer than most realize. With this information it enables members to begin looking at ways to improve speed such as brining food to drivers while they wait in line, or while they are fueling, while they are parked at your location or looking at ways such as allowing them to order via an App or kiosk style ordering equipment while they fuel.

Real-World Examples
We had a lot of fun during the NATSO Live workshop. In addition to some fun moments of lip-syncing, a Letterman-style top ten list, and an endless supply of popcorn and candy, we heard from those in the field that have first-hand experience.

One of the presenters included Denise Scott of Husky in Canada. She told us more about how she has busloads (literally) of customers arriving every day from all over the world and selling them everything from funny signs to slippers. She has specifically created an Asian ready eat soup, Asian food section and comfy sock section [her bus customers LOVE comfy socks] for her patrons from South Korea who make up the largest percentage of her bus customers. She also brought along maple cookies from her store to share with everyone in the audience.

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Connections
Just like the name implies, connects were at the heart of this year’s event. Whether it was chatting over a cup of coffee with the board of directors, riding a rollercoaster together or swapping great ideas during a workshop, operators had a chance to get to know others in the industry and build their network. Those connections will pay dividends for years to come as operators look for their next great idea or added insight into meeting their customer’s needs.

So much more took place, but it is impossible to list it all here. Be sure to save the date for NATSO Connect 2020, to be held Feb. 6 - 9, at the Gaylord Rockies Resort and Convention Center in Denver, Colorado.

/// Get on the mailing list to receive information on NATSO Connect 2020 here. 

Photos credit: Lisa WebbNATSO

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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.