DAS’s New President Steve Birli on Travel Center Retail and His Role

DAS President Steve Birli sat down with the NATSO Foundation during NATSO Connect to discuss travel center retail, what the future looks like, and what he likes most about the industry. 
DAS’s New President Steve Birli on Travel Center Retail and His Role

Article created for the digital issue of the NATSO Foundation’s  

Nearly 40 years ago, Steve Birli joined DAS Companies as a warehouse associate. Today, he is the president. Throughout his career, he has held several roles at the company, most recently as vice president of sales.

“I’ve basically done everything. There were 12 of us then and now there are 700,” Birli said. “There have always been opportunities to grow.”

Embodiment of ‘Servant Leadership’

David Abel, founder and CEO of DAS, said Birli has been a driving force behind DAS’s success. “This promotion is a long-overdue recognition of Steve’s lifelong dedication and invaluable contributions to our organization as he has embodied our core value of ‘Servant Leadership,’” he said.

DAS has been a supporter of NATSO at the highest level, Chairman’s Circle membership, for more than 15 years.

Birli sat down with the NATSO Foundation during NATSO Connect to discuss travel center retail, what the future looks like and what he likes most about the industry.  

DAS Broadens its Portfolio

DAS got its start in electronics and has broadened its portfolio while sticking to its core. “We are a travel center industry provider, and we are a full-service provider. We do marketing and in-store service engagement with the consumer,” Birli said.

However, times are changing.

“You have a lot of consolidation and challenges with the economy. Those create opportunities and challenges. We are looking to diversify our portfolio,” Birli said.

One of DAS’s newest additions is a line of Cummins products.

DAS is Engaging Four-Wheel Customers

DAS is also working to engage four-wheel customers. “More companies coming into NATSO and the industry are c-store companies, and they have a broad audience of four-wheel passengers—the traveling professionals and families,” Birli said.

“We partner with a lot of national brands and stay on trend with things that appeal to everybody while making sure we’re covering the needs of our core customer.”

Consumers are looking for a strong value proposition and a nationally recognized product. “The stuffed animal business is a great example. You can have a $3 12-inch plush and a $15 branded product and people buy the branded product,” he said. “People will treat themselves on some things up to a certain price level.”

A Key Focus on Connecting with the End Consumer

To help achieve that, Birli said that DAS is engaging more and more with the end consumer. DAS has engaged a core council of a dozen professional drivers for feedback on what drivers are looking for and trends and also taps into shoppers who have purchased its products.

“We have about a million drivers in our Road Pro family that we communicate with regularly,” he explained. “Most of the end consumers are repeat customers, so we’re going to engage with them as much as possible so we can continue to know what they want.”

DAS also has emerging channel products. “It isn’t what you see at Target, but it is similar. You can offer good nationally branded product at a value proposition,” Birli said.

While the products matter, Birli said the people are what he likes most about his role.


// This article was created for Stop Watch magazine, the magazine of the NATSO Foundation. The NATSO Foundation is the research, education and public outreach subsidiary of NATSO, Inc. The NATSO Foundation provides programs and products to strengthen travel plazas’ ability to meet the traveling public's needs through improved operational performance and business planning. Visit www.natsofoundation.org for more information. (Donate to the NATSO Foundation here.)

Donate to the NATSO Foundation

Subscribe to Updates

NATSO provides a breadth of information created to strengthen travel plazas’ ability to meet the needs of the travelling public in an age of disruption. This includes knowledge filled blog posts, articles and publications. If you would like to receive a digest of blog post and articles directly in your inbox, please provide your name, email and the frequency of the updates you want to receive the email digest.