Independent truckstop and travel plaza operators are constantly seeking out new products, great ideas and the latest business innovations. But NATSO members aren’t just in search of new ideas, they’re more than willing to share them with their peers.
Hundreds of truckstop and travel plaza operators gathered together for The NATSO Show 2014 in Nashville, Tenn., and ideas were everywhere.
Whether they were presenting on a panel, chatting on the show floor or striking up a conversation between sessions, operators shared their ideas for growth as well as cutting costs.
Independent Operators Share Great Ideas for Growth
Operators shared their stories about the new programs and innovations that are helping their locations succeed.
/ London Auto Truck
London Auto Truck’s Chris Sanders said he is known for thinking outside of the box. Sanders has boosted his profits by adding new products and finding new ways to sell the products his location was already known for.
- Roast Beef To Go
London Auto Truck is well known for its roast beef in its restaurant, so Sanders is capitalizing on it. “I’ve taken the roast beef we’re famous for and sliced it deli thin and packaged it to sell. We’re doing the same with ham and cheeses,” he said.
- Ideas From The North
Sanders told Stop Watch that some of his best ideas have come from simply talking with his customers. “I found out that a lot of customers that stop at my location are from Ohio and Michigan. Instead of just looking at what is selling regionally, I started talking to my vendor and asked about what is selling well in Ohio and Michigan,” Sanders said.
As a result, he brought in a certain brand of chips, Grippos, that sell well in Ohio. “They sell like hotcakes. They sell so well that now I have four linear feet with the whole gondola full of those chips,” Sanders said.
Sanders also discovered that while his local customers like milder tasting products, people north of him like things spicy. “I brought in more of the flaming hot and that is selling really well,” he said.
- Candies And Coconut Water
Among out-of-town shoppers at London Auto Truck, nostalgia candies sell well as does coconut water. “You can’t please everybody, but you can take a look at who is stopping at your store. Since I’ve done that, my sales last year were up 10–15 percent depending on the category and this year I’m looking to be up 20–22 percent over last year,” Sanders said.
/ Lee Hi Travel Plaza
- Regional Specialties
Corey Berkstresser of Lee Hi Travel Plaza has found success with regional offerings. “We are trying to appeal to people that are traveling and looking for that unique gift,” he said. “We have cheese made five miles away, apple butter made by the local volunteer fire department and honey that is made five miles away.”
Berkstresser also sells Virginia peanuts and, during certain times of the year, salted Virginia hams. “We’re trying to work with our local artisans,” he said. “It is great to support your local farmers and growers and those that are trying to do something different.”
Fried pies have become a best seller at Lee Hi Travel Plaza. A Mennonite bakery delivers the pies twice a week.
Berkstresser recommended that other operators think of what their state or local area is famous for. “You have to remember your market. These people aren’t around you all the time,” Berkstresser said.
- One-Of-A-Kind Crafts
Lee Hi also sells postcards an employee creates. “We have a girl that works for us and she takes pictures of the area and makes her own black and white postcards. That is an item you aren’t going to find anywhere else,” Berkstresser said.
- Hometown Souvenirs
Berkstresser has also found that people want to purchase items that market the town as well as the truckstop. Lexington, Va., is the home of the Virginia Military Institute and Washington Lee University. Students often visit the location. After they graduate they come back for alumni weekends. “All the guys come in and say, ‘I used to come here all of the time.’ They want a Lee Hi t-shirt or hat. I sell 250 shirts a month,” Berkstresser said.
- Full-Service Pumps
Another way Berkstresser differentiates the location is by offering full service at the fuel islands. “We pump the fuel and wash the windows. It is an extra service and it gives the driver an opportunity to come inside the store, grab a cup of coffee and a fried pie,” he said.
Independent Operators Share Great Ideas for Cutting Costs
Improving operations isn’t just about selling more products, it is also about cutting costs.
￼/ Highlands Petro
- Energy-Efficient Lights
Matt Albrecth with Highlands Petro was able to cut his electric bill in half in certain areas of the business by installing new energy-efficient lights. For example, in the shop they went to energy efficient lights and installed motion sensors to automatically turn off lights when some areas weren’t being used.
Albrecth worked with a consultant who helped him measure their existing light and provide insights on upgrades. “We did the analysis and saw the energy savings,” he said, adding that after they upgraded lighting in the shop, they upgraded lighting at the canopy and at the fuel islands.
/ Lee Hi Travel Plaza
- Profits From Empty Space Inside And Outside
Lee Hi was able to increase revenue by renting what once was an empty office to a local trucking company. “We had extra space and now they have a hub here,” Berkstresser said.
Berkstresser encourages other operators to look around their locations to see if there is any wasted space that they could capitalize on. “We made a campground out of a hilly area that we weren’t using. It is an additional service to the traveler,” he said, adding that people who stay in the campground purchase camping supplies from the travel store and also eat in the restaurant.
Ten More Great Ideas From The NATSO Show
During the Great Ideas Session for Independent Operators at The NATSO Show 2014, operators told each other some of the things they plan to try throughout the year to boost their profitability. Here are ten ideas that were heard around the room:
- Implement a loyalty card.
- Cut services that are slow at certain times and cut down the number of options—you don’t need 20 types of peanuts.
- Add more and improve on healthy food options.
- Get rid of things that aren’t selling.
- Find new ways to incentivize employees either with profit sharing or an increase in sales incentive motivations.
- Train employees for better customer service and up selling.
- Prepackage food from the restaurant and sell it as a grab-and-go and purchase bulk vegetables and put them in cups for grab-and-go.
- Hire someone to handle social media.
- Increase quick-service restaurant offerings.
- Implement a card that will turn on the pump for people who want to pay cash so they don’t have to come inside and pay before fueling.
Save The Date For The NATSO Show 2015
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