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Uncovering Consumer Trends: Increased Competition for Occasions

Posted in: Truckstop Business, Marketing & Retail


Retailers are continually evolving, giving consumers more options for both when and how they shop. Even more importantly, shoppers are looking for experiences. This is a powerful force that increases the need for all retailers, including truckstops and travel plazas, to know and understand their customers while getting creative about what they offer. 

For years we’ve seen the increase in the blurring of retail channels. Large format stores are opening smaller footprints and small stores trying new concepts. Drugstores are adding fresh foods and some c-stores are adding more indoor seating. Everyone is getting creative, and now is the perfect time for truckstop and travel plaza operators to take a hard look at unproductive programs and under utilized space at their locations.

Clearly a core focus for NATSO members has always been the professional truck driver, but in a world where competition is increasing, operators need to look at amenities that can appeal to a broader audience. Why can’t we build businesses within our truckstops to service more than one customer base?

We have knife sharpening, showers and doctor offices all geared toward the professional drivers, but what if you were to convert a game room to a flower shop or dry cleaner? Your local four-wheel customers could fuel on their way to work and drop off their cleaning, then stop back in a few days later to pick it up. When you think about your car customer, think of a service or product that they could take advantage of right then and there in your location so they don’t have to go somewhere else. 

So many of NATSO’s members are experiencing a paradigm shift today, which is why it is so crucial to know your customer. Throughout the past year, NATSO staff has visited more than 200 stores and at each visit we have talked about the growing importance of the car customer.

I always encourage operators to think about the kind of experience locals would come in for. Maybe it is an old-fashioned candy store or a beer cave stocked with local flavors. When thinking about your locals, take a Cracker Barrel approach—have a range of gift and novelties that both locals and traveling customers would purchase. Build your store to appeal to who you are trying to attract as well as who is visiting your location. 

Photo credit: Bigstock

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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.