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Key Customer Considerations at Your Truckstop

Posted in: Truckstop Business, Darren's Great Ideas for Independent Operators, Marketing & Retail

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Welcome to the newest post in our blog series, Darren’s Great Ideas! for Independent Operators

Key Customer Considerations at Your Truckstop

Over the past few months I have been doing a lot of traveling to meet with NATSO members and nonmembers alike.

During these wondrous visits, I spend a lot of time listening to the issues our industry has, often about the issues they have with competition.

What I continue to be amazed by is the need for our industry to differentiate itself from one another. Too often in the areas of food, truck supply, and convenience we replicate what the other person down the street is doing rather than figuring out exactly who are our customers is and why are they pulling in from the street.

We all certainly agree that fuel price plays the biggest draw but from that point on, are there other reasons and do you understand those reasons? Furthermore, are you capitalizing on them?

To get you in the right frame of mind, let’s start with this awesome quote from Henry van Dyke….

"Use what talents you possess, the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best." -- Henry van Dyke

Here are some key points to consider: 

  • Traditionally the three main reasons potential customers visit your locations are fuel, restrooms and food. Sometimes for all three and sometimes for only one of these reasons. With this in mind, I encourage you to ask questions of your customers as to why they are stopping. If you see a trend developing of the only reason folks stopped by is that you are the only game in town, you will have a serious problem when competition moves in. If you are seeing a trend such as we had to get fuel and use the restrooms and your location looked so inviting, then you are on to something positive. Beside the main reason potential customers stop, develop reasons for them to return.

  • Are you looking for ways to develop relationships with local fleets, schools, fire department, police department, construction companies, hardware stores, delivery stores, flower shops, etc.? Are you looking for ways to connect with them directly, to develop a relationship with them? As Ernie Betancourt is fond of saying, “do you have a relationship with the customer or a relationship with their card”?

  • When potential customers do stop, are you driving them into your most profitable areas of your operation? Remember, most car customers spend less then two minutes in your store and if my uncles and nephews who are over-the-road drivers are the norm, they are spending less than a total of one hour in your locations a day, and that is in a 24-hour total. At a recent trade show I heard that over 50% of the drivers in a particular survey are now stopping only one time a day in truckstops and travel plazas.  While the remaining 50% are averaging three stops, I personally would be concerned about those making fewer visits.

  • Discover what type of customer is fueling with you, owner operator or company driver? Interstate car customers or local car customers? Discover if your customers are buyers or shoppers. Do they just come in and buy something and leave, or do they spend time looking before they buy? Developing promotions, store layout and design and suggestive selling programs with this understanding is imperative. If your store is built and designed for shoppers and your core customers are spending less than three minutes in your store, you will have a problem.
  • Understand what is a profitable customer and what is an unprofitable customer. Work diligently to make sure that your marketing and messaging is speaking to those customers that are profitable to your operation. Be sure those customers can feel positively about your brand.  While it is nice to sell lottery, if 85% of your inside sales on Wednesday and Saturday are lottery, you really want to investigate and research the profitability of these sales. You need to examine things like: is it offsetting the cost of labor and is it creating a customer service issue where other more profitable customers cannot quickly pay for their goods, etc. Based on the example of lottery making up 85% of inside sales on a particular day or shift, it would be apparent that the lottery customers are just buying lottery and nothing else” and this knowledge leads you to understanding that you may need to create a robust suggestive selling program around those sales or if you already do have one, it is obviously not working.

 

/// 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 joined NATSO with nearly three decades of experience in truckstop and travel plaza operations and merchandising, most recently as the Vice President for Retail Merchandising for TSC Global/Barjan LLC. Prior to his time with TSC Global/Barjan LLC, Schulte also worked for Petro Stopping Centers and Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores.