Experts on Loan: In NATSO's Human Library

At The NATSO Show 2013, NATSO will host its popular Human Library sponsored by Bridgestone Commercial Solutions. A handful of experts with decades of experience will be on loan for customized, one-onone learning experiences operators can tailor to their own objectives.


At The NATSO Show 2013, NATSO will host its popular Human Library sponsored by Bridgestone Commercial Solutions. A handful of experts with decades of experience will be on loan for customized, one-on-one learning experiences operators can tailor to their own objectives. This year’s experts can cover a variety of topics, ranging from complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act to re-vamping your website. Stop Watch sat down with a few of the experts to learn more about the information they can share at the show.

Nick Damoulakis on Building the Ultimate Website 
Nick Damoulakis knows what companies need in a web presence in 2013, and he is eager to share his expertise at The NATSO Show.

“There are going to be unique situations for each travel plaza. It is important to know your audience and know their needs,” Damoulakis said.

To better understand how customers are using their websites, Damoulakis recommends operators place Google Analytics on the website. “It is code you place on your page, then you can see what pages users are visiting and how many hits you’re getting,” he said. “You can place a survey button on your website and ask users what they want to see. Once you know what they want, you have to shape your website to that.”

Damoulakis also suggests operators link to Google maps so customers can find them on the go and recommends they find out how they’re represented in Yelp, a social media site that allows customers to leave reviews of businesses. “If people are traveling, I’m going to assume the majority come from mobile devices, so you want to make sure you have a responsive design,” he said.

At a minimum, Damoulakis said, operators should check their website regularly to ensure information is up to date and all links work.

During the show, Damoulakis will offer specific tips to operators based on their current website. To best help those who plan to attend his session, Damoulakis said he will review their website ahead of the meetings.

Bradley Gaskins on Complying with ADA Regulations
During The NATSO Show, Bradley Gaskins hopes to dispel some of the myths surrounding the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“One of the myths is that companies are grandfathered in. There is no such clause in the ADA. You don’t always have to make all of your corrections today or tomorrow, but you need to put together a plan on how you’re going to remove barriers. It is a one- to fiveyear plan.”

Gaskins said he frequently sees companies that would prefer not to know the ways in which they’re violating the ADA. “Some people think not knowing will limit their liability, but under the ADA it is the opposite,” he said. 

Gaskins can help operators understand everything from counter heights to parking spaces. “The reach range on the self-service areas have a 48-inch maximum to the highest part. Prior to 2010 it was 54 inches. You don’t have to lower it to 48 until such time as you touch it or change it, then you have to lower it,” he said. “So, you could remain compliant to the 1991 standard and not have to comply with the 2010 standards yet.”

The reach ranges only apply to self-serve items that are not prepackaged. Pre-packaged items are exempt from the reach range. “Coolers and freezers are generally always prepackaged, so you’re allowed to require them to ask for assistance. An ask-for-assistance label is not required, but it is not a bad idea to do that,” Gaskins said. “I’d put one label on my front door, so it notifies anyone who comes in to ask for help if they need it.”

For operators with specific questions, Gaskins recommends they bring photos that can illustrate their concerns. “A photo is worth a thousand words,” he said. “We get photos from people all the time and sometimes there are things we can identify right on the photos, or we can sketch right on the photos.”

Gaskins is writing a monthly blog series on the top 20 ADA issues seen in truckstops and travel plazas on NATSO’s blog.

Klaus Kokott and Dick Wood on Hiring
Klaus Kokott and Dick Wood, partners at Kokott, Wood & Associates, LLC, are among the experts who are taking part in the library. The pair works with businesses that are seeking top-notch talent, and pair businesses with employees at all levels. They’ve developed tips and tricks that can help all operators hire for long-term success.

“We find that most businesses don’t have an effective position description, so we help them create that,” Wood said. “We also find that most clients don’t have a specific on-boarding process when they hire. They say, ‘Here’s your desk. Have at it.’ They really short change themselves because of that.”

Wood said employers often lack a formal review process. “Reviews don’t necessarily mean there has to be a compensation increase, but just that there is a checks-and-balances process,” he said. “It is letting the employees know where they stand within their company.”

Wood suggests new employees have reviews every three months, then every six months then annually. Prior to hiring, Kokott and Wood suggest employers conduct thorough background checks. “We ask the candidate to give us a minimum of seven business references. We want to have two peers, two supervisors and two subordinates and an extra in each of those categories,” Kokott said.

For their clients, Kokott and Wood call three to five of the references and then hires a third-party services that sends out an electronic reference check to all the references. “It asks a number of questions and builds a profile,” Kokott said.

Meet the Experts 


Steve Arens, director, industry alliances, Category Management Association

Arens has over 30 years experience working with food, cstore, drug and mass retailers, distributors, suppliers, and their information and solution providers. He has worked with retailers’ and suppliers’ category management, marketing, sales, point-of-sale and supply chain management teams while working for Nielsen, SymphonyIRI and GS1 US. Arens has extensive experience leading and working on industry level initiatives in the food, fresh foods, food service and beverage industries.


Ed Brown, executive sales, strategic business development, Orion Food Systems

Brown is a seasoned senior sales executive with a proven track record in growing the equity of upscale lifestyle consumer products in multiple industries. His major strengths are in developing and implementing comprehensive plans in complex environments that result in multimillion-dollar brand development goals. His experience includes extensive national account and field sales management with top line and net margin responsibility. He also has expertise in  leadership and motivational skills that results in an environment of high integrity and performance. During the Human Library, he will talk with operators about how to improve their food service return on investment while improving the quality of their products and share information on the latest tools and analytics that will help them make the most of their food-service business.


Nick Damoulakis, president, Orases

Since co-founding the web-design firm Orases ten years ago, Damoulakis has established a proven track record of developing dynamic, logical and easy-to-use web-based solutions. His interactive business strategies provide tangible value to his clients, while delivering excellent end user experiences.


Bradley Gaskins, chief operating officer, The McIntosh Group

Gaskins has more than 25 years of experience in the practice of architecture and has specific expertise in the Americans with Disabilities Act and national building codes. Gaskins has gained recognition as an expert witness for clients with ADA compliance complaints. He represents NACS and is a full voting member on the International Code Council. His objective is to share the potential impact of the standards on the convenience store and truckstop industry.



Klaus M. Kokott and Dick Wood, partners, Kokott, Wood & Associates

With a petroleum marketing and convenience store industry career of nearly 25 years, Kokott provides deep insight into the aptitudes, attitudes, skill sets, experience and track record candidates must display to be successful in the truckstop and travel plaza industry. Having held positions ranging from accounting staff at a major U.S. oil firm to vice president of sales and marketing with a recognized leader in the convenience store industry, he has either managed or worked alongside professionals in nearly every department and utilizes his functional understanding to ensure candidates grasp the importance and interdependencies of their roles.

Wood utilizes his extensive professional background to help his clients achieve their business objectives and hire for longterm success. He began his convenience store career in 1972 and progressed to the level of senior vice president of marketing for a 1,125-store chain in the Southeast. In 1987, he started his own highly successful consulting firm, working both domestically and internationally providing operations, marketing, and supply chain expertise. He entered the executive recruiting profession in 2004 and has developed a very loyal business following.


2013logo.jpg Appointments in the Human Library must be booked in advance. To secure a spot, contact Kimberly Roberts at or (703) 739-8573.



This article originally ran in Stop Watch magazineStop Watch provides in-depth content to assist NATSO members in improving their travel plaza business operations and provides context on trends and news affecting the industry.

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