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Truckstops Face New, Varied Competition

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

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

Truckstops Face New, Varied Competition

The truckstop and travel plaza industry is facing competition from a number of fronts. Last year in Stop Watch magazine, we covered some of those sources, including grocery stores and restaurants installing gas pumps and home improvement stores adding food offerings.

These and other forms of competition are becoming much more formidable as our customers continue to be starved for time and as vehicles improve their miles per gallon. Not only are drivers stopping less, now more than ever they are looking for the closest, most convenient one-stop shop. Retailers are responding by offering them more opportunities to stop, shop and fuel, which may mean less opportunities in our locations.

Hours-of-service regulations have made every stop more important to the over-the-road driver. As a result, we’re seeing carriers and dealerships beefing up their facilities, which could change when and why drivers stop at a truckstop once they hit the road.

Logistics provider Landstar System opened a training and service center near the heavily travelled Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex to provide its independent, professional driver contractors a home away from home. As part of its offerings, the $6 million, 10-acre facility provides showers, a business center with six computers, a lounge with multiple TVs, 140 truck parking spaces, secure and fenced parking and free laundry facilities. 

Dealerships are also improving their offerings. Murphy-Hoffman Co., which has 90 locations in its network, recently moved into a new, larger facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The facility, which is located just off of Interstate 75, is open 24 hours a day and offers a lounge, a shower and a washer and dryer. Likewise, Rush Enterprises Inc. has expanded its Rush Truck Center in Abilene, Texas. In addition to offering parts and service, the location now has a large lounge with shower and laundry facilities.

What’s more, Wal-Mart is venturing into the c-store space. It has opened Wal-Mart Express— a convenience store with an average size of just 12,000 square feet and shelves full of everyday essentials—and is piloting Wal-Mart To Go, which has the look of an upscale 7-11 or a Wawa with a deli counter and a make-your-own milkshake station. Out front there’s a gas station with six pumps. What if they decide to add diesel pumps onto their next test location? What is really stopping them? How would that affect your customer?

Part of staying relevant for our customers is understanding how their needs are changing. To do that, you first have to know who your customer is. If you assume that your customer is truly yours but you happen to be the only game in town, you may very well lose that customer when new competition, which might be more of a fit for that customer, opens up.

In Stop Watch I shared information on the home improvement store Lowe’s adding a Subway, which is a perfect example of how your customer could change. Are the construction guys really your customer or are they buying food at your establishment because nothing else is nearby? This makes a difference. 

While the expansion of dealerships or training centers or the opening of a Wal-Mart c-store here or there may not have an immediate impact on our industry, it is a trend worth watching. Even if it doesn’t change the way we operate today, it may eventually change the types of services and offerings our customers need from us.

Now is the time to ask ourselves how stores would change if this type of competition continues to increase and to explore the opportunities that exist within these changes. A driver who doesn’t need to stop for a shower or to do laundry may still stop for a meal or to stock up his cab with grab-and-go foods or other necessities while on the road.    

 

/// 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.