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Plan Now for Your Winter Sales Drive

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


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} Plan Now for Your Winter Sales Drive


Fourth quarter, winter and holiday sales bring great opportunity to drive profitability to your operation, but it doesn’t bring the same customers with the same needs that have visited your location during the summer drive season. Those categories that traditionally spike during summer drive can be liabilities during the end of the year. To strategically prepare for the change in season, you should focus on these four areas.

1. Consider who your customer is.
As always, it is imperative to consider who your customer is. It is critical not to make the assumption that you have the same type of paying customer coming through your doors today that you did in August. For example, most of us have significantly more tourist/family vacationers shopping with us during the summer period; consequently, certain products sold during summer drive are not selling with the frequency as they did in July. Not sure how to evaluate who your customer is? I’ve shared 5 Tools to Know Your Truckstop Customer here.

2. Evaluate your product mix with the expected customer in mind to get the maximum margin.
You should plan your product mix to get the maximum margin from each category for the season. Specifically, you should:

  • Discuss your national contracts with your vendors now to ensure that you aren’t just continuing to order what you ordered over the summer. Your new order should benefit your operation for the season and provide the specific customers you expect with their needs while improving your value perception. Remember, collaborating with your vendor will increase your sales.
  • Get into the details. For example, discuss your cooler plan-o-gram with your vendor partners to ensure you are preparing for seasonable trends. In your cooler, you may want to add more lemon-lime and ginger ale types of sodas, because in many areas in the United States sales of these items increase during the winter.
  • Also be sure to prepare for any specific holidays. We’ve done the hard work by creating a sample truckstop marketing calendar as your blueprint. Download it here and use it to plan for upcoming promotional opportunities.
  • Don’t only adjust what you are offering; adjust how you are offering it. For example, soda beverages are a category that is historically heavily promoted during the summer drive, but during the winter, you shouldn’t offer as many take home packages such as 2 liters and 12pks. The space used during the summer for these items is better used during the winter for such products as Power Service and Howes displays.

After you have made your plans for the season, do not stop there. Maintain your build-to-books to monitor inventory levels and then update them to account for the decrease and or increase of traffic throughout the season.

3. Pricing Strategy
You should not continue the same pricing strategy employed during the summer drive, instead focus on the opportunity to enjoy full margin on the categories that are promotional sensitive during the summer. Consider again if you should be running promotions during your heaviest traffic times, which in the winter are different from the summer. Be sure to cross merchandise ideas to drive sales. For example, offer thermals and hoodies, additives and funnels, driving glasses and windshield thermometers and cross promote them by building end caps and floor displays that create sensible one stop buying experiences. Remember our core customer is often searching for time and he or she are not shopping, they are just buying. So make it easy for them to buy.

4. Promotional Material
Now that you’ve chosen the right product mix and the right pricing, you need to make sure your marketing collateral supports it well. All of your marketing collateral should support one marketing message. Make sure your window signs, decals and door signs are well edited to make an impact and they should not clutter the view into your store and or cooler. Your price tag moldings, shelf dividers and glide racks should all be in order to make a statement. Collateral during this time period is as important as it is at any time of the year. Buyers and shoppers will be bombarded with information during this period, so it is critical that your marketing message is clear and concise.

I promise if you follow these strategic steps, the joy you experience when looking at the sales and gross margin dollars produced during this time will be significantly more positive than in years past. 

Be sure to download our Sample Truckstop Marketing Calendar below to prepare for the entire year.




Join the conversation! How does your customer mix change during the winter? What products sell better during the colder months?

Or have a different retail merchandising, marketing or operations question? Post your question in the comments and Darren will answer it in the next Darren’s Great Ideas! for Independent Operators.


Photo Credit: Patryk Kosmidor/, 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.