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Ten Questions for Your Own Domestic Study Tour

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


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

Ten Questions for Your Own Domestic Study Tour

Learning from your peers is a great opportunity for operators to find new ideas to help improve the performance of their businesses.


NATSO has hosted a number of Domestic Study Tours that combine tours of premier retail locations and networking opportunities with other innovative operators. The 2016 NATSO Domestic Study Tour will take place in September 14 – 15 at Fairfield BP, Lee Hi Travel Plaza and White's Travel Plaza near Lexington, Virginia. (These tours always sell out. I would encourage you to register soon as the feedback has been phenomenal.)


For the ultimate study tour experience, I encourage you to join us.

But, you can also practice for the real thing by keeping your eyes out for certain things every time you enter a competitor’s location. You could even pick a day to visit a handful of locations and compare their operations while searching for your own great ideas.

Here are 10 sets of questions to ask yourself during your own, mini study tour. 

  1. Motor fuel volume is expected to decline or stay flat for most operators. For travel centers, the increased focus on four-wheel traffic could provide a boon for overall sales. Does the location you’re in focus on ways to help counter the motor fuel volume shortfall? What is this location doing that might work in your operation?

  2. Speed of service is critical for over-the-road drivers. How does the location improve its speed of service? Does that give it a competitive advantage? How can you increase service at your location?

  3. Image is important in our industry. How does the location you’re visiting portray itself? Does it focus on its image? If you’re visiting multiple locations, how do they compare to each other?

  4. We’ve seen locations pushing the envelope of design and layout. Does the location do this? What colors and designs are used?

  5. Is the location appealing to the mobile customer? Does it have a mobile app? Have you tried using it? What does the app include? Does it enhance the shopping experience at the location? What takeaways are there for you to consider adopting or implementing in your own app?

  6. What food service does the location offer? What do you like about it? What takeaways could you implement in your own location?

  7. Does the location have house-brand food and drinks? What are your thoughts on the program? Can you see your location creating such a program for your location? What could you do to keep the local, loyal, repeat customer in mind?

  8. What is this location doing with tobacco products that is different from what you are doing? Is there innovation in an old category?

  9. Shopify says, ‘People buy from people.’ What human engagement experiences is this location implementing/executing that would support that mantra? Even with more people shopping online, truck drivers are buying fuel, purchasing food and selecting merchandise inside the travel store. The travel plaza industry is still about human interaction. Is that changing as we work to increase speed and convenience? How is this location supporting human engagement? How does that compare to what you are doing?

  10. What is this location doing about alternative fuels? Can you get a sense of what they see as the future of alternative fuels, such as biodiesel, E-15 and natural gas? What are you doing at your location with alternative fuels? 


The 2016 NATSO Domestic Study Tour will take place in September 14 – 15 at Fairfield BP, Lee Hi Travel Plaza and White's Travel Plaza near Lexington, Virginia. Register to attend and learn from these best-in-class truckstops here.sectionseparatorplain.jpg

Photo Credit: Jules Clifford/NATSO

/// 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 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.