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Uncovering Consumer Trends: Experience Rises to the Top

Posted in: Truckstop Business, Marketing & Retail, Technology


For today’s shoppers, having an experience is a major factor that helps them determine when and where to shop, and a growing number of businesses are tapping into the trend. Target is combining shopping with relaxation, offering customers in some areas a glass of wine while they shop. Umpquah Bank focuses on its neighborhood feel by offering up community space for local groups, featuring local artwork and brewing up fresh cups of its specialty coffee.

Think about your own life. There is a very “What’s next?” approach to going about our days. We are often moving from one thing to another. The same holds true for your customers. Creating an experience contributes to what’s next in someone’s day.

Consumers want to personalize their shopping experiences and as a retailer, there are a number of ways you can help them do just that. We’ve already seen a shift in food service and a number of concepts focus on the “making it mine” approach. Shops now are making quick pizzas or burritos but out in front of you. In the old days it was behind you. Coca-Cola’s Freestyle machine let’s customers mix and match their sodas so customers can get a unique drink. 

The challenge is that everyone is talking about ways to let the consumer personalize their experience, so you have to find a way to stand out. You can do that by understanding your customer and what matters to them. Target and Umpuah Bank are offering products and services their customers can get from hundreds of other locations, but they’ve done something to make themselves unique.

During the Great Ideas! Workshop at The NATSO Show 2016, NATSO members shared a number of ways in which they’re driving home the experience of stopping at their locations. Keith Wade of Dodge City Petro has embraced the Dodge City theme, installing an outhouse near the restrooms. Hundreds of people have taken their photo with the outhouse.

White’s Travel Center recently added its Destination Station that features a Caribou Coffee, Subway, Popeye's Chicken, a made-in-Virginia store, pet wash, movie theater, barber shop and the country's first pharmacy at a travel center. FuelMaxx has every flavor slushie you could ever want and TimeMaxx makes itself memorable with a large M&M display that allows customers to create their own unique blend of colors.

Experiences can come to us in a number of ways, whether it is driven by the physical location of a business or the shopping state we’re in when we stop. Draw on your experiences and think about where you shop and why. What is the experience you have there? Can you take away any ideas to add to your own business? Have you already found a great way to make yourself stand out? I’d love to hear about it. 

Check out Uncovering Consumer Trends: Time is the New Currency and 15 Consumer Trends Shaping Retail Operations Today And in the Future for more on consumer trends disrupting the industry. 

Photo credit: Amy Toner/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.