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Oasis Travel Center Does Retail Right

Posted in: Truckstop Travels

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Oasis Travel Center in Robertsdale, Alabama, is a sight to see and a perfect example of a thriving retail operation. It is unique, memorable destination that is sure to make you smile. 

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Oasis Travel Center, which is an Ambest location, has created specific themes for its profit centers, which add to the fun. 

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The restaurant, the Derailed Diner, is one of the most talked about parts of the travel plaza. On the outside, it looks like a train crashed into the building. 

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Inside there is a full-size school bus and a train caboose. All the décor and collateral is related to travel and space craft. 

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Karen Brown, the location’s owner, wanted to do something different when it came time to remodel the restaurant. “Karen's mind began to wander toward novel ideas for the restaurant, and it hit her: It's a travel center. It's not just about food, it's about the journey. It's about celebrating the endless roads, and remembering the wheels that turn to make America happen,” the location’s website said. 

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The diner gets a lot of attention on social media. One Yelp reviewer from California said, “This is one of those places you must eat at before you die! I'd probably actually solely come back to Alabama to eat at this place.” 

TripAdvisor users have uploaded 108 photos of the diner. One user said, “The decor is awesome…old toys, trains, truck tailgates as tables. At the bar you can fly in a plane, ride a tractor, a horse or on a Harley. You can dine in an old Pullman car where each table is decorated with a different theme.”

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When you walk into the store, a hippie atmosphere welcomes you. There are Jimmy Hendrix posters, Volkswagon toy cars and nostalgic pieces for sale. Basically everything you think of when you think of the 70s is there.  

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A little further in you’re greeted by a giant pirate ship, with cashiers working right from the middle of it. 

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The area has a pirate and shipping theme. There are toys, stuffed animals and books all related to the ocean. 

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As you travel into the store, you’re met with the traditional grocery, soda and candy sections. There is a Subway and Chester’s Chicken for those looking for grab-and-go foods, a solid coffee offering and beautiful coolers. 

The location has even added a fuel lane dedicated to local customers.

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There is an old International Truck that has been transformed into the location’s fuel desk. It fits perfectly with the theme and adds to the atmosphere. 

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As you walk back towards the restroom, there is a store-within-the-store with a building filled with kids’ toys, coloring books and crayons, pens, candy and more, which is a genius way to tap into families heading to the restroom. There are little rocking chairs for the kids to sit in and another area where they can sit and color.

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Even more impressive is how well the location manages its SKUs and the overall retailing at the travel center. Dale Elks, the general manager, and Roger Gentry, the store manager, understand who the customer is and carry the products they want. He doesn’t let vendors control his offerings and has worked hard to avoid vendor creep—with more than one vendor offering a similar product. He knows what sells, focuses on what products he should be carrying and has crafted a solid product mix.

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Elks also understands that you may have to have some products that don’t sell well in order to have a set. You can’t just have a hammer and screw driver to have a tool set, for example. He understands that but still tries to make a set as profitable and with as many turns as possible.

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The location is a perfect mix of striking décor and product selection that make customers want to return. As one Google reviewer said, “Best truck stop around that I've found. Anything you need. Food, supplies, gifts, apparel, etc. Clean place with unique décor.”

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/// Did you know most weeks you can find me visiting a NATSO member truckstop location, spending three to four days, using my merchandising and operations expertise to help them grow their business? 


 Photos Credit: 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.