Mainstream Electrification of Vehicles is Coming: What Should Travel Centers Do?

Mainstream Electrification of Vehicles is Coming: What Should Travel Centers Do?

Mainstream electrification of vehicles is coming. It is certainly all the buzz and, depending on what side of the river you live on, it is either coming tomorrow, someday, in our children’s lifetime, in our grandchildren’s lifetime or in our grandchildren’s children’s lifetime. All this tells us that no one really knows, and it is difficult to build a business around no one really knows.

However, there is no doubt that things are moving in that direction whether it is Norway, the Netherlands, China or here in the United States. But again, when is it time to act?

Instead of focusing on when, I would like to encourage you to take a different approach and look at the question another way. What if we asked: “What compelling offerings and or experience does my location provide that will allow me to tap into the electric vehicle trend whenever it occurs? What can I do now that will enable my organization to be on the frontside of the change and not on the backside catching up?”

For the travel center industry in particular, I think we are in awesome shape for the future, even more so than those only in the petroleum c-store community. Customers will be charging their cars at home, at the office, at grocery stores, at sit-down restaurants, at the club, at concert and football events, at the lake, at the pool, etc. Sadly it does not look like that much at c-stores. But again, who knows? No one.

But here is the cool thing and where our niche industry fits in today: even customers in electric vehicles will need to use the restroom, eat, stretch their legs after driving 400 miles [ha, well maybe only 100 miles on a cold Michigan day], take the pooch for a walk, etc. And that is the ticket! That is what makes our industry ready for this disruption in my opinion.

Sure, there may be other disruptions that will come down the pike like in any business, but in the meantime, let’s embrace this opportunity. Heck even if all the trucks went electric tomorrow, drivers would still need a place to park, use the restroom, and eat a hot dog or two. Many things about our business really will not change despite how future vehicles are “fueled.”

However, most of our industry already struggles with converting our fueling customers into both retail or food paying customers. What type of juice they put into their vehicle will not change that. There is a lot of hype suggesting that electrified vehicle customers will come inside while their car charges. I don’t think this is the case unless you have compelling reasons for them to do so. We all know this to be true because, similarly, we have seen full truck parking lots in the evenings with no customers inside the store at 6:30 p.m.

There are many reasons for this and one that is occurring in your parking lots right now is the increased use of meal delivery. Drivers are sitting in their cabs enjoying their PF Chang’s or Five Guys Burgers they ordered via Door Dash, Uber Eats or GrubHub. No offense, but if you have nothing good to offer food wise, I myself am certainly ordering sushi from Sprouts to eat with my Twinkie and having it delivered to my Tesla while I wait. And, by the way, I ordered my sushi five minutes before I arrived at your location directly from my car.

In fact, I saw Domino’s deliver a pizza to the airport the other day to customers whose flight had been delayed and were stuck there for many hours. They did not want to eat McDonalds, I guess. This is the second time I saw this happening within the past month. The other time pizza was being delivered for workers at the airport.

11 Consideration for Whenever Electrification Shows Up
So keep in mind some suggestions for whenever electrification shows up at your store’s front door:

  1. Stop worrying about when and if and understand that it will be sometime in someone’s lifetime.
  2. Identify what your current conversion rate is for your fueling customers.
  3. Identify the reason your customers are stopping with you. Do not assume!
  4. Identify your niche. Do you have one? Is it cheap fuel? If it is, it might be time to rethink that strategy or maybe time to double down on it. Like the last Mad Max travel center offering fuel in the world…
  5. With your niche, conversion rates and reason for customers patronage in hand, begin improving them. Make it a Six Sigma or Hoshin Kanri plan of action if need be where you diligentl work on improving these identifiers daily, a little at a time.
  6. Get fast and friendly in all aspects that you do. Work on the environment and the experience. As Bobby Berkstresser, owner of White’s Travel Plaza and past NATSO chairman, is fond of saying, “Plant some flowers and watch business grow.”
  7. Figure out ways to get food to parked trucks, fueling trucks, fueling cars, etc.
  8. The above is important because over the past three years, I have been tracking what customers in electric vehicles are doing while their cars are charging. They overwhelming are sitting in their cars and not partaking in the offerings of your location.
  9. Get fast and get fast quickly. Did I mention how important speed is?
  10. Think about building future locations with possible car paid parking. In the future, you may not be able to charge for electricity for charging a car, but you could charge for the space to do so.
  11. Get diligent on fast fresh crafted food. No doubt donuts before kale, but you need to make those donuts look as fresh as possible.

So remember, whatever juice is powering the vehicles of the future, converting them to paying retail and food customers will always be the challenge. Those operators that are already working on ideas to do so are winning the future of fueling and they may not even know it.

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