Although there is no magic bullet for winning customers and increasing each transaction, truckstop and travel plaza operators said they are seeing tremendous success in certain categories, but what is hot today isn’t always what has sold in the past.
“You have to adapt and follow the trends,” said Damon Borden, operations manager for Broadway Flying J. “Hours-of-service has changed what we do and carry in the stores, and it is a different business now than it was 10 to 15 years ago.”
Know Your Customers
Knowing what to sell and how to position it goes back to understanding who your customer is, said Darren Schulte, vice president of membership at NATSO. “There may be a store that does well with cigarettes and beer, but another that doesn’t,” he said.
Schulte said there is a belief that ‘if you build it they will come,’ and while there is some truth in that, it isn’t always enough. “Look at what traffic is passing you,” he said. “What types of trucks are on the road? What is your marketing approach? How are you talking to your customers around you? Are you using your website or do you have a heavy presence on Yelp, Google Maps, Trip Advisor?”
There are standard things that sell very well if positioned properly, such as cellular, sunglasses, and food and beverage. “When you start with a travel center, you have to start with the base. What are the things everybody will want? That is how you start generating your strategy,” Schulte said. “Then you break it off and look at your demographics.”
“When you’re looking to grow a category or reduce a category, you do have to look at data, it has to be part of your commitment,” Schulte said, adding that NATSO can help members identify the demographics in their area. “If you don’t have the ability to do that on your own and understand what types of customers are around you, ask NATSO.”
Tailor Your Offerings
While food is one category that seems to be doing well across the board, not all food programs are created equally. “We used to have family restaurants in our locations, and people would come in and have a meal. For the past 10 years it has changed. Nobody has time to sit down and have a breakfast or lunch. They want fast, grab-and-go food,” said Paul Bhardwaj, CEO and founder of Golden Oil, which operates four truckstops and is in the process of building its fifth...